Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wishes for 2011

We are now a few hours away from the New Year - 2011.  Each year some hearty souls attempt to make New Year's resolutions many of which are long forgotten by the time the year is half over.  Knowing that when we make plans God laughs, it is not my intention to make any resolutions but rather share what I would call my wishes for the New Year.  What wishes do you have?  These are mine:

1) Peace - I know this probably sounds very naive as we look at a world where there is no peace especially in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Koreas.  Yet should we not keep praying for the peace that Jesus came to bring and hope that somewhere, somehow the message would get through to those who lead the warring factions that further violence only brings more of the same.  At the same time we pray for peace, however, let us not forget the men and women of our armed forces who are in harm's way as they fight to protect our liberties.  We owe a great deal of gratitude to them and pray that they will be kept safe and be able to return safely to their homes and families.

2) Political Cooperation -  We experienced a great deal of polarization in our country during the last election campaign.  There was anger and name-calling and promises to upset whatever the opposition proposed.  I don't believe the American people want more of this polarization.  During some of the exit polls taken after the last election, one of the wishes of those interviewed was that of unity - people want to see cooperation among our political leaders.  That doesn't mean that one has to abandon one's principles but it does mean that those elected must remember who they are called to serve, viz. not their own personal political interests but the public they represent.  Some of the seeds for this cooperation have been planted; let's hope they continue to grow.

3) Respect for Human Dignity -  There are billions of people in the world and every one of them is a child of God deserving of human respect from the unborn to aged and terminally ill.  My wish is that their human dignity will be respected by all those who in any way have contact with them from political leaders to those in the medical profession, family members who may have the care of those sick and disabled, etc.  Each of us has been made in the image of God and therefore deserves respect.

4) Economic Recovery - Each of us, I believe, has in some way been affected by the serious economic condition in our country: to the loss of a job to a lessening of buying power, to the inability to continue to pay our mortgage and therefore facing foreclosure.  On and on the problems go.  My wish is that we will see an economic recovery in 2011 and that those most impacted by this recession will enjoy relief - particularly the poor among us.  (And it would also help everyone if the gasoline prices could come down.)

These are some of my wishes for 2011.  Many might say they are unreachable but I continue to pray that there will be some movement toward realizing them in another year given to us.  May you and yours enjoy peace, happiness and prosperity in this coming year.  If I do a blog like this in late December of 2011, I hope that at least some of these wishes are realized.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Bells

Bells are a traditional element in our Christmas celebrations.  Church bells ring to announce the birth of the child Jesus; we have familiar carols like Carol of the Bells and Silver Bells.  Watching the annual Christmas musical presentation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir last evening brought to mind another carol concerning bells that was highlighted during their performance.

In the midst of the Civil War, the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem about Christmas bells.  He had suffered a number of losses during those early years of the war including the tragic death of his beloved wife, Fannie, who died in a house fire, and then the wounding of his son who had gone off from home to join the federal troops.  Longfellow was suffering a great deal of despair and hopelessness as he witnessed a nation being torn apart along with his own personal griefs.

Two of the stanzas of his poem that was later set to music read like this:
       And thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom
       had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men!

      And in despair I bowed my head:  "There is no peace on earth,"  I said;
     "For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!"

Does that not resonate with us today?  We look around our world and find war and violence, hatred of one group for another because of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever.  Do we bow our heads in despair and feel that the song of peace on earth has been mocked?  At times I think we all do.

Yet today we commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace; a child - divine and human - who came among us to show us the kind of love the Father has for us and told us to emulate that love toward others.  Yet even the most religious and holy among us know that emulating that love is not always easy.

What are we to do?  Are we to continue to bow our heads in despair or do we make the effort - however small it may be - to bring peace to our world in our own - even limited - sphere of influence?  That is the challenge of Christmas; to have the Prince of Peace come alive again in our hearts and to bring his love to all those we know and meet.  If we make the effort we can then sing the final stanza of Longfellow's poem:

     Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:  "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
     The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men."

May the peace and good will that Jesus brought to us all be with you and your families this Christmas and throughout the coming New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Have We Lost Christmas?

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavently host with the angel, praising God and saying:  "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."              (Luke 2: 6-14)

No matter how many times I hear this Gospel reading I am always moved by it and by what it has meant to the world.  A child was born and the world changed.  He came, born in Bethlehem (the city of bread) and is found in a manger - not to show us how poor he was but because the manger was a feeding trough and he came to be our nourishment throughout our faith journeys.  And he was not born in "the inn" because the inn (Holiday or otherwise) is a place for transients and he came to stay with us.

I found an interesting article recently from the Huffington Post written by Father James Martin, S.J., the culture editor for America magazine.  He was lamenting the ever encroaching hold on the holiday by commerical interests who are interested in their bottom line but, in his words: You've seen the endless TV commercials and web ads that wink at Christmas (red and green sweaters, evergreen trees, red and green ornaments, wreaths) without daring to mention "He Who Must Not Be Named."  Christ may be the new Voldemort.

I found an number of things with which I agreed in Father Jim's article but could not enthusiastically support his final suggestions.  He says the war on Christmas is lost.  He believes the commerical enterprises in our society have succeeded in basically burying Christmas and ignoring its religious significance.  He finds that many religious people have difficulty in resisting the commercialism and keeping the day holy.  He is right to a certain extent.

His final suggestions are that we should surrender and realize that we have lost the fight about Christmas, and to go underground in engaging in passive resistance by reading Scripture, not buying as many presents, not sending as many Christmas cards, etc.  These are the suggestions with which I find difficulty.

I do not believe that we have lost Christmas.  I have heard in the past few weeks a number of examples of how ordinary people rise to the occasion and truly live out the spirit of Christmas.  A local school district near where I live recently had a number of its students visiting and bringing presents to a center that treats the most severely disabled children some of whom could not even react to the generosity being afforded them.  There were "letters to Santa" written by adults who are facing very difficult times this Christmas season because of unemployment.  Reported on ABC news, this brought out an outpouring of gift giving from around the country.  Another story told of a young football player (at college level, I believe) who passed on the final game of his season to give his adult stem cells in an effort to save someone's life.  My own daughter had an experience where she had left items in a grocery cart that were meant to become gifts for her co-workers.  She figured that someone finding them might just take them as a "find" but when contacting the store found out that they were turned it.  Something small, you might say, but another example, I believe, of how people do keep the spirit of Christmas through giving just as God gave us his greatest gift on the first Christmas - his only Son.

Christmas must be in our hearts and if it is, it is not lost.  Regardless of the commercialism and the seeming secularization of the holiday, we can all make Christmas come alive.  I still plan to give gifts to my loved ones and I have sent out my Christmas cards because I want to stay connected to the people who have meant something in my life.

May the true spirit of Christmas first set forth in those beautiful words in Luke be with all of you and your loved ones and may that spirit carry forth into another new year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We All Need Laughter

We are closing in on the season of Christmas - a time when we gather with family and friends, exchange gifts and wish each other well for the coming year.  It is a time of joy as we Christians remember that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  For some who have not had many good things going for them it may become a painful season as they see others enjoying themselves while they are suffering from either physical or mental anguish of some kind.  It is good for us to remember those for whom Christmas is not a joyful time and keep them in prayer that somehow they will come to know that they are loved by the God who gave them life and is with us in all of our moments - good and bad.

As we look around our world, however, we are also struck by the fact that there is much going on in the world that would not make us joyful.  As we read our daily newspapers or watch the televsion newscasts we are reminded that there is violence, war, corruption, abuse of all kinds and numerous other things which make us wonder how anyone could be joyful.  Yet we are called upon to be joyful - not just in this season but at all times.

Are we finding it hard to laugh?  Do we find that there are fewer and fewer things about which we can rejoice and be thankful?  But as the heading of this blog says: we all need laughter.  I think the words of Psalm 126 say it for us:  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."  The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

I want here to give credit to some great folks whose thoughts have inspired me to present this blog.  For his wonderful stories, I thank Father Bill Bausch; for his insights into the importance of humor in our lives, I thank Father Edward Hays; and for her commitment to spreading the good news of laughter in our lives, I thank my friend Sister Anne Bryan Smollin.

We rejoice because Christ came for us and we need to keep rejoicing and laughing.  As my friend, Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin reminds us: laughter can do much for us; it makes life more enjoyable and helps us to live longer and healthier lives.  It enhances respiration and increases the amount of oxygen in our blood.  Muscles relax throughout our bodies when we laugh.

We can make the choice in life to grasp the beauty of the moment (or the season) and find joy.  It is never too late to be happy and more fully alive.  As Mark Twain once said:  Let us endeavor to live, so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

Does our prayer have to be somber?  Can we not rejoice in that act of speaking in love with the Lord?  Have you ever noticed that some people in prayerful meditation often seem to look so serious?  If you didn't know they were praying you might think they were attending a funeral.

We all have difficulties in our lives, troubled times, pain and even sometimes rejection, but as I noted before our God is always with us even in these difficult times.  And it is often in the little things in life where God comes to us and is revealed to us.

The man whispered, "God, speak to me."  And the meadowlark sang.  But the man did not hear.  So the man yelled, "God, speak to me!"  And thunder and lightning rolled across the sky.  But the man did not listen.  The man looked around and said, "God, let me see you."  And a star shone brightly.  But the man did not see.  And the man shouted, "God, show me a miracle!"  And a life was born.  But the man did not notice.  So the man cried out in despair, "Touch me, God, and let me know you are here."  Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.  But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

There is a story about a troubled old man.  Life seemed to hand him one jolt after another, but he faced each obstacle with a smile and cheery disposition.  An acquaintance of the man finally asked him how he managed to stay so happy despite his hardships.  The old man quickly answered,  "Well, the Bible often says, 'And it came to pass,' but never once does it say, 'It came to stay.'"

We need to live life more fully by finding those joys for which we can give thanks and not dwelling on the negative.  As the Chinese proverb states:  You cannot prevent birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.

I am continually amazed by the spirit and joyfulness shown by my younger daughter.  She has had to cope with serious physical difficulties since her early teens (see my earlier post:  What is CMT?).  Yet, in spite of these difficulties she has continued to be cheerful and possesses a unique and wonderful sense of humor.  To better appreciate how that humor has sustained her I would recommend her blog to you.  Entitled Grace Lines, it can be accessed by going to  Presently she and I are engaged in a "blog war" wherein we try to outdo each other (all in good fun) by citing how many "hits" our blogs receive and where in the world our blogs are being read.  I don't mind if you give her some "hits" because I think you will be inspired and also have a good laugh.

We also need to have the ability to laugh at ourselves.  Being able to do this is a sign of mature spirituality.  Instead of fearing what others think, we can learn to think outside the box and learn new things about ourselves.  There is something very sad about one who can laugh at others but cannot have others laugh at him/her.  So let's not take ourselves too seriously.  Mark Twain reminded us that humans were made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.  As the Book of Sirach tells us:  Do not give yourselves over to sorrow, and do not distress yourself deliberately.  A joyful heart is life itself, and rejoicing lengthens one's life span.  Indulge yourself and take comfort, and remove sorrow from you.  For sorrow has destroyed many, and no advantage ever comes from it.

The writers of the Gospels might have overlooked the facet of Jesus' humor but I am sure there were many occasions when he had to laugh (particularly at the foibles of his disciples).  Maybe the Gospel writers felt that God should be taken so seriously that humor could not play a part.  But as the author Father Edward Hays states:  We humans are made in the image of God, so humor - so much a part of our humanity - must also be a godly trait.

We are always asked to step out in faith and with total trust in our God - the God who smiles upon us and is happy with his creation of us.  A 90 year-old man was being asked a series of questions by a doctor; the doctor finally asked, "Tell me, how was your childhood?"  The man answered, "Well, Doc, so far so good!"

Our trust, our willingness to be able to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously, and to maintain the heart of a child, will guarantee not that we will never have problems but that we will be able to rise above them and be joyful.  As we approach the great feast of Christmas, let us remind ourselves that a healthy spirituality that is laced with joy and humor can lead us to wholeness and holiness.  So live, love, and laugh and have a wonderful Christmas season!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas: Real or Commercial?

The Scripture readings for this second Sunday of Advent present again to us - as they do every year at this time -  the most colorful character in the Advent story - John the Baptist.

Thanks to an idea I received from my good friend, Fr. Ed Deimeke, I chose to use a little imagination in my homily for this weekend.  I asked the congregration to pretend that we had a time machine that could transport someone from the distant past to the present.  Then I said we would transport John the Baptist to today and each one of them would be his guide to answer any questions he might have,

I decided to bring John into the center of Crossgates Mall (one of the largest malls in the Albany NY area) in the early morning of "Black Friday."  (For my readers in other countries, "Black Friday" in the US is the day after Thanksgiving Day and is the busiest shopping day of the year.)  I asked the congregation to picture John in the center of the mall as the doors swung open and shoppers began pouring (and running) into the mall to find their bargains.  I expect that there would be a bit of culture shock for both the shoppers and John.  They would see this scraggly looking individual shouting "Repent!  Prepare the way of the Lord!"  Would they flock to him (as the people did in the Gospel reading)?  I think rather they would create a wide berth around him.

And John would have questions.  He would ask what all the frenzy was with people rushing in and out of stores sometimes pushing other people aside.  He would ask what all the decorations were - trees lighted and covered with decorations.  His guide would tell him that we were preparing for Christmas.

"What's Christmas?" he would ask.  We would tell him that we celebrate the day when Jesus - our Lord and Savior - was born and that it is our custom to give gifts to each other on this day as a reminder of the great gift God has given to us in the birth of his only Son.  We also decorate our houses with lights and special trees because of the joy we feel at the coming of Christ.

Now these are good answers.  I'm not sure whether John could appreciate our response as he watched shoppers running and jostling through the mall.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with shopping at Christmas or decorating our homes.  We just need to remind ourselves of the real reason for which we do these things - in other words, to make sure that we celebrate a "real" and not "commercial" Christmas.

Why do we celebrate this feast each year?  Yes, it is because Jesus came to live and die for us and bring us salvation but he also came to do something - he came to build a kingdom of justice, love and peace.  This kingdom is reflected in this Sunday's first reading from Isaiah who presents a picture of a "peaceable kingdom" where the "wolf is the guest of the lamb,...the calf and the young lion browse together,...and the cow and the bear are friends."

We know, however, that we are a long way from realizing that peaceable kingdom.  We still have war and insurrection, violence and abuse, and the various "isms" that affect society - secularism, consumerism, racism, sexism, and homophobism.  All these things are present in our world but John the Baptist would tell us that it is our responsibility to build up that peaceable kingdom.  We might ask ourselves - how can I do this; I'm only one person?  We can begin by building up peace within our own homes and families - particularly when we reconcile with someone in our family from whom we have become estranged.  We can help build the kingdom by working toward the good of our church and community.  We can prepare for the celebration of Christ's coming by taking time during Advent for prayer and reflection on the Scriptures.  We can avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for those times when we have failed to build up the kingdom.

My hope and prayer for those who read this blog is that you would go out and help to build the kingdom, have a prayerful Advent and a "real" Christmas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

As we come again to another annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to share some of my thoughts as to those for whom I must give thanks this year.  I want to thank:

1) Almighty God who has brought me into existence, has loved me and nurtured me throughout my life and has blessed me with a call to service in his Church;

2) my family - my wife, Carol, who has been a constant source of love and support to me throughout our 47 years of marriage and who in my belief is a living saint (not just because she has had to put up with me) because of her loving concern for the less fortunate and for the hours she spends sewing and making many articles for those in need and who has begun three groups of ladies in three different parishes to use their talents in knitting and crocheting to benefit the needy; - my children: Helen who has exhibited for me the need for perseverance as we face the various challenges in life and for her dedication to those whom she serves as a teacher; - Paul whose talent is evident in his daily work (and he works extremely hard) and in his love for music and the way he uses his musical talent to benefit others particularly in the Church; - Christine who while facing a number of adversities in her life always shines through with her great sense of humor and caring concern for others.  To this group of family I must add my thanks for a hard-working daughter-in-law, Joanne, and for my two wonderful grandchildren - Jessica and Julia.  Only grandparents can really appreciate what it means to have these young ones about you.  My thanks to all the rest of my extended family - cousins both here in the United States and abroad.  May we always stay connected;

3) my Church into whose service I was ordained as a deacon 16 years ago.  The Church is made up of saints and sinners and has its share of problems - some quite serious.  But for me the Church is home; I could not think of being apart from the community of disciples we call Church;

4) my brothers in the diaconate and the presbyterate; it is a joy to know I am a part of such a wonderful fraternity of men who give their lives in service to others.  I also thank the wives of our deacons whose love and support and the use of their own gifts in ministry make them true witnesses to what it means to be Church;

5) my bishop, Howard Hubbard, who has been not only a great shepherd but a wonderful friend;

6) those communities where I have had the privilege of serving in my diaconal ministry: the many friends I made while serving the community of St. Margaret Mary in Albany (now All Saints Catholic Church); the wonderful people who make up the parish of Our Lady of Grace in Ballston Lake where I had the privilege of serving as pastoral leader for four years; I especially wish to thank the hard working and dedicated staff of Our Lady of Grace who made my role so easy to carry out;

7) the communities where I now have the privilege of serving: my new home parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Troy - a vibrant parish community with a remarkable parish leader, Sr. Kate Arseneau; and the good people of St. Matthew's in Voorheesville where I have the chance periodically to break open the word, and with a special thanks to the pastor - Fr. Tom Chevalier - a good friend;

8) and finally, my country: We live in difficult times and we are blessed to be citizens of this great nation.  But we always need to be aware that national greatness can succumb to pride and forgetfulness of those who need our care and concern.  The last national election was an example of how fractured and polarized we have become as a nation.  While everyone has the right to his/her political views and how the country should approach its many problems, we need to find a common ground where we can put aside pettiness and recrimination.  Our country needs to be united as it faces its problems.  We pray that the leaders of our nation will see that it is the people they serve and not their own interests.  Having said all this, I am still thankful that I live in a country where free expression of one's views can be heard without penalty.  May God continue to bless the United States of America.

This is my list of thank-yous.  I pray that our good God will bless all of those for whom I have given thanks this year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are We the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?

The Gospel reading for this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C) tells us about Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.  The Pharisee, who is self-righteous, almost asks God to thank him for being such a good person while the tax collector recognizes his failings and asks God for mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus tells us the latter goes home justified rather than the former.

This lesson speaks to us about the quality of our own prayer.  Are we like the Pharisee when we pray?  Do we thank God we're not like all those other people (of another religion, another race, another political persuasion, another sexual orientation)?  Or do we, like the tax collector, pray fervently from our heart recognizing our own faults and failings and sinfulness and ask for God's mercy and forgiveness?

God does not expect us to grovel on our hands and knees to ask for his forgiveness; God will always be ready to forgive when the request for forgiveness comes from a sincere and humble heart.  That is the kind of prayer God looks for from us.  If our prayer is one of gratitude for God's great gifts to us; if we persist in our prayer; and if we pray sincerely for forgiveness, when our final time on this earth comes we can say with St. Paul that we have fought the good fight, we have finished the race, and we have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Civility and Politics

I don't know if you're like me but I will be glad when my TV watching is not interrupted constantly by political ads.  It will also be nice when the landscape is once again freed from the numerous signs advertising political candidates.  On the other hand, we have to be thankful that we live in a country where such freedom of expression exists and where we have the opportunity to elect those we wish to represent us in government.

The thing that has annoyed me the most this political season (and I'm sure there have been other such seasons in the past) is the negativity often found in the ads and statements made by various candidates.  Is the term "civil politics" an oxymoron?

I see nothing wrong in a candidate referring to his/her opponent's past record as long as the candidate says what he/she can do to correct the situation being considered (property taxes, etc.).  When the candidates sink to the point of name-calling and suggestions about a candidate's personal behavior I believe this steps over the line.  Certainly we do not want people serving us who are "immoral" because that immorality might carry over into their political decisions.  But cannot the candidates talk about the issues facing the state and the nation (the economy, the state of education, immigration policy, etc.) without getting into personal attacks on their opponent?  I would like to see this happen.  Maybe then I would not be so eager to see the ads and the signs disappear.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Do You Envision God?

On last evening's world news on ABC there appeared a report concerning Americans' views of God.  Two researchers had done a study that discovered 28% of the studied population believe in an "authoritative" God - one who is judgmental but involved in the world.  Another 22% accept a "benevolent" God who is engaged with the world but is a God of mercy and kindness.  Other groups (percentages not included) believe in a "critical" God - one who judges at the end of one's life but is not too involved otherwise, and a "distant" God - one who has created the world and then left it to its own devices (something like the deists of the 18th century).

Reviewing my own life, I must admit that in my earlier years I would have fallen into the first category (the 28% who believe in an authoritative God) because I felt God would be judging my every action and finding me failing.  Thanks be to my God I now find myself in the 22% who accept a benevolent God - one who is just but whose justice is tempered with mercy and love.  This is the God Jesus Christ presented to the world and one I am happy to embrace in my beliefs.

To those who see God as "authoritative" or "critical" I would suggest they review the New Testament and find there the God Jesus wants us to find - a loving Father who loves us unconditionally with no strings or preconceptions.  Will be make mistakes?  Yes.  Will we sometimes fail to be the people we ought to be?  Absolutely.  But God is always there to accept our desire for repentance and reconciliation with God or with others.  God will never abandon us - the only way we can separate ourselves from God is by our own conscious effort to do so.  Thank God that God is God.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Faith Is Saying "Yes" to God

The Scripture readings for this past weekend concerned faith.  In the first reading the prophet Habakkuk says that the just person because he/she has faith will live.  Jesus tells his disciples that if they had faith they could cause a mulberry tree to be transplated into the sea.  What is faith?

If I were to ask a group of folks to define "faith" I would probably get as many different definitions as there would be folks in the group.  So what is it and how do we arrive at it?

Faith comes to us through revelation - revelation received from others (such as our parents who planted the seeds of faith in most of us; faith formation teachers who continued to bring us the message of Jesus, etc.).  We also receive the revelation of nature:  the beautiful colors that span our landscapes at this autumnal season, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or the grandeur of the ocean.  Some of our own life experiences reveal to us that there is a purpose in life and someone who is greater than all of life.  For those of us who are Christians, the ultimate "revealer" is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  And what does this revelation tell us?

It speaks to us of a God who loves us unconditionally, without strings or preconditions.  I recently heard the statement:  God can never love you more than God does at this moment.  We might ask some questions about that:  if I pray more, if I attend Mass more often, if I am a better friend and neighbor - won't God love me more?  The answer of course is no; we cannot earn or merit God's love - it is a free and unbounded gift from a most generous God.

Faith is our acceptance of that love; it is saying "yes" to God.  And what happens when we accept it and say that "yes?"  We want to offer thanks to God and because we are not isolated individuals we best can do that in worship in a community of faith.  This acceptance will also lead to "good work."  If we accept God's love for us we want to do those things which are "good" - which benefit others.

One author said that we experience faith in our everyday lives; it takes faith, for example, to get on an elevator or ride in a plane; it takes faith to fill a prescription or put money in a bank.  But as he (Warren Wiersbe) states: our faith is only as good as its object.  If the object of our faith is other people, we get what other people can give us.  If the object is money, we get what money can give.  If the object is ourselves, we get what we can give.  But if the object of our faith is God, we get what God can give and that is a boundless, unconditional, infinite love for each of us.  All we must do is to say "yes."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are We Afraid of Islam?

There is no question that there has been much discussion and many comments in these past several months from a variety of people concerning Islam.  Much of it began when it was announced that a group of Muslims wanted to open a cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City.

Then, of course, we heard about the attempt on the part of an evangelical pastor to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.  Just where do we stand as Christians and Jews or people of other religious persuasions (or none) on the topic of Islam?

There is no question that Muslims in New York have a constitutional right to build a cultural center wherever they can obtain property and have the financing to do so.  Whether they should build it within several blocks of Ground Zero is the question.  I believe that if they would bring more discrimination against Muslims by doing it they might want to reconsider.  But they have a right and should be able to exercise that right.  I was pleased to see how well received a similar cultural center has been accepted here in the Capital District of New York.

What are we afraid of?  People need to remember that those who perpetrated the attacks against the U.S. at the World Trade Center were "radical" Muslims - people who had twisted the message of Islam to meet their own needs and hatreds.  Muslims were also the victims of 9-11.  There are extremists in any group or religion who tend to alter the basic beliefs of the group to their own ends.  We should not let the actions of people like this to change our attitude toward the larger number of peace-loving and God-fearing members of a group or religion.

"Islam" means "surrender."  Perhaps we need to reach into our own hearts and surrender any prejudices we may have against those who practice Islam.  We are all God's children no matter what name we use to call on him.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tony Blair

I just finished reading a great book - A Journey: My Political Life - by former English Prime Minister Tony Blair.  I found it a most interesting read and would recommend it.

Tony Blair was a progressive Prime Minister succeeding to that role after several years of domination of English politics by the conservative or Tory party (one of whose Prime Ministers was the famous Margaret Thatcher).  The book outlines Tony's struggles to rebuild the Labour Party and trying to infuse change into the political scene.  He was elected PM in 1997 and won two more elections, resigning from the post in 2007 during the middle of his third term.  He is now involved in a number of international efforts toward peace one of which is a Faith Foundation through which he hopes to see the world's religions working together toward peace and harmony in the world.

While one may not agree with all of the policies or political stands he took in his political life, he comes across as a genuine individual whose primary concern was for the welfare of the people he was called to serve and his country.  I think what he says toward the conclusion of his book speaks of the life he has led and continues to lead:

My new life takes me around the world.  There is a common theme to what I do.  My theory of the world today is that globalization, enabled by technology and scientific advance, is creating an interdependent global community, in which, like it or not, people have to live and work together, and share the world's challenges and opportunities  The drivers behind this are not governments, but people, and it is an unstoppable force.  Its consequences, however, are a matter of choice.  We can choose, in the face of this force, to co-exist peacefully, to be tolerant and respectful towards each other, to rejoice in the opportunities now available to us, and try to share them.  Or we can see globalization as a threat, as displacing our traditional way of life and culture, as undermining our identity.  The first leads to a world at peace; the second to conflict.  Both choices are an offer.

Would that politicians and world leaders would heed these words; they could mean so much to our world if they were heeded.  Thanks to Tony Blair.

The New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are in a race to the finish to see if they will top the Eastern Division of the American League (they are now 2 1/2 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays - their closest competitors).

I admit to being a Yankee-phile and look forward to them winning another pennant and hopefully another World Series.  But let's look at a little history.  I wasn't always in favor of the Yankees.  Some years ago I did not want to see them succeed; I thought they were too rich and could buy their way to victories, etc.

What changed my mind?  It's rather not what changed by mind but who.  Two people became part of the Yankee organization and those two helped turn my loyalty around to supporting the Bronx Bombers.  The two are Joe Torre (former Yankee manager) and team captain Derek Jeter.  Both are to me examples of quintessential gentlemen who work hard and play hard but are good examples of what good sportsmanship is all about.  There was some diminution of my affection for the Yankees when they failed to offer Joe Torre a reasonable contract a few years ago which saw him leave and become manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But Torre is still loved in NY (witness the reception he received the other evening at the ceremony for the unveiling of the Steinbrenner monument).

Derek Jeter is a remakable baseball player - both offensively and defensively.  He no doubt will someday be placed in the Hall of Fame but still has some good years of playing ahead.

So thanks to Joe and Derek for helping me to like the Yankees and let's hope they go on to victory again this season!

What Is CMT?

CMT - Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder (named for the three physicians who discovered it in 1886) is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy.  It affects over 2 million persons worldwide and is found in both males and females and all ethnic groups.  It is a disease of the nerves that control muscles (unlike Muscular Dystrophy which is a disease of the muscles themselves).  It is slowly progressive and causes loss of normal function and/or sensation in the lower legs/feet as well as hands/arms.  It is not usually fatal or known to affect life expectancy but can become severely disabling.

Why do I write about CMT?  At age 13, my youngest daughter was discovered to have some kind of neurological problem.  It was not until she was 25, however, that the diagnosis was confirmed by her primary physician.  She now wears leg braces to assist her in walking and recently had to begin using braces for her wrists because of the degeneration of the nerves in her arms and hands.  She can no longer work in her chosen occupation - teaching (for which she obtained two master's degrees).  She has a very upbeat personality but there is no doubt that the disability has affected her overall well-being.

This week (September 19-25, 2010) has been designated as National CMT Awareness Week.  It is hoped that through more awareness of the disorder funds can be raised to assist in research to find effective treatments for the disorder.  If you wish further information about CMT, you may contact the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association at 2700 Chestnut Street, Chester PA 19013 or visiting online at

What Do We Do With the Poor?

In Psalm 113 we read:  Who is like the Lord, our God enthroned on high, looking down on heaven and earth?  The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap, seats them with princes, the princes of the people...(NAB)

If God has a preferential option for the poor can we do less?  It has been both disheartening and heartening over the past few days to read about the various reactions to poverty in our nation and in the world.  In a story the other day in the Washington Post, it was pointed our that there was little reaction from politicians in Washington over the news that now one in seven Americans is living in poverty - what has been called a "national emergency."  Yet the reaction on Capitol Hill reflects what the writer calls "a stubborn reality about the poor - they are not much of a voting constituency."  It would seem from this reaction that what many are saying about our elected representatives may be true - they may be more concerned about their election chances than worrying about a segment of the population that are not usually in the voting mainstream.  One representative put it this way:  "Politicians ten to talk to people who get involved."

It was also disheartening to hear a comment made by a candidate for major public office in this state that New York (supposedly under his leaderhip) would no longer be a haven for "the poor and the disenfranchised..."  Where are the poor to go?  Are they no longer welcome in New York (or other places where folks may feel the same way)?

The heartening news has been that the United Nations has been conducting a summir on global poverty in an attempt to meet the goals set out in 2000 - the Millennium Development Goals.  These goals set the year 2015 as a target year for aiding the poor throughout the world by asking nations to commit to aid the poor.  Of course when there is an "open mike" for world leaders to make their points it is unfortunate that some have chosen to focus on international disputes rather than focusing on the issue of poverty.  A pledge from French President Nikolas Sarkozy should be well received by those concerned with dealing with poverty in the world.

God has a preferential option for the poor - where do we stand?

Monday, September 20, 2010


This is my inauguration into the world of blogging.  I hope to share some thoughts, views, etc. as I go forward.  Please let me know your feelings and thoughts about what I may share.  Thanks.