Apr 112019

Palm Sunday and the human experience

human experience

Palm Sunday is the ultimate reminder of the human experience. Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of joy and praise. Less than a week later, the very same people would be calling for his execution. They turned on Jesus so quickly! If they could do that to someone who had healed the sick, feed the hungry, and raised the dead, why would we think that people would not turn on us.

I have experienced that type of behavior dozens of times in the church. People who said they loved you, people who claimed they would stand by you forever, turn on you at a moment’s notice. They have various reasons for their actions, but in the end it is really because of their own brokenness.

I have had some people get very angry at me for talking about brokenness. “I am not broken! Being broken is a bad thing!” It is all about perception. If you view your brokenness as a bad thing, then you will react negatively to it and any situation that might bring it to light.

However, I choose to see my brokenness as a good thing! It is my proof that I lived my life. I experienced so many things in my short life here on earth. In addition, some of those experiences left scars, they left little cracks and breaks in who I am. They made me the person that I am today and for that I am thankful!

Celebrate your brokenness. It is proof of a loving God. God loves us and uses us even with the cracks and breaks in ourselves. Without those breaks and cracks, we would not be able to relate to other broken people. We would not be able to share with them the reality that their brokenness makes them stronger and better.

Moreover, let’s start living a life that celebrates the wide breadth of our experiences. Celebrate the fact that you have lived a life full of experiences that makes you a stronger and better person. And let everyone know that we are not diminished by being broken individuals, rather, it makes us a better version of ourselves.

At Saint Francis, we celebrate our brokenness. We celebrate our uniqueness. And we want you to join us in our journey!

Apr 042019

Diversity and equality ARE Christian Values

diversity

Earlier in the week I shared a version of the song Color of the Wind from Disney’s adaptation of the story Pocahontas. The lyrics spoke to me very deeply and I could not shake it. They speak of the need for us to embrace diversity and equality of all people, not just the people like us. This is what we are trying to do at Saint Francis. Here are those lines from Color of the Wind:

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew

As we remember today the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, a martyr and saint, these lines seem even more apt. Far too often we treat people who are different than we are as less than human. We refuse to see them as beloved children of God.

However, we each hold a spark of the Divine within us. It was given us when we drew our first breath and it stays with us until we breathe our last breath. And each of us has it! Religious affiliation, race, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation and/or identity, social status, financial status does not remove that spark of the Divine.

Dr. King worked his whole life promoting the idea that we are all children of God. And for his efforts, he became a martyr. He knew that this was a possibility. The idea that someone might find his message to be so foreign that they felt the need to kill him weighed on him daily. But it did not silence him. Rather, he used it to embolden his spirit to speak out against injustice and to fight for equality.

Standing 51 years after the death of Dr. King, I look back at his messages and his work and wonder how he would view us today. Have we made the world a better place in the last 51 years? Are people more equal today than they were 51 year ago?

I believe that we have made some progress, but we still have much work to do. The resurgence of racism and bigotry should be the death throws of an archaic way of thinking. The work to segregate society and to make people less than others should be thrown on the trash heap of history. And churches or pastor’s who promote these backward beliefs should join them in the trash.

I said on Sunday that if we want to be real Christians then we need to “smell like shit”. What I meant by that was that we needed to go out and embrace all people. We should especially embrace those we consider “smelly or dirty”. It is commanded of us to embrace all people and to acknowledge the “spark of the Divine” in them. How we treat others is how we treat God!

I am asking you today to join me, join Saint Francis as we work to reach out to EVERYONE. Help us embrace all people and to honor the spark of the Divine in them. Come and be part of building a parish that loves and respects all people.

Come live a different way of being Catholic!

Mar 282019

Your good IS good enough

good enough

Sometimes the good we do is not good enough. At least for some people it is not good enough. This week has been an endless parade of that simple fact.

For Pastor’s like myself, this is almost a way of life. No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we sacrifice, no matter what we do, it will never be enough. There will always be those who will blame us for the issues in their own lives. They will work to discredit us, attack us, destroy everything we have sacrificed to build.

And despite all of this, we work to build sanctuaries for those that suffered abuse and are hurting. We continue to build schools for those who cannot afford education and homeless outreach ministries for those viewed as unworthy of help. Even while under attack, we continue to minister to the sick and dying. In our deepest pain, we still are there for you, the parishioner who sees our work as not good enough.

Let me say this to parishioner and clergy as well: Your good work IS good enough. I refuse to allow those who are unwilling and unable to see their own brokenness to continue to make me question my self-worth. God called me to ministry to help those willing to accept help. I am not called to force those who don’t really want help toward help.

As the old Saturday Night Live skit with Stuart Smalley used to say, “And I’m gonna help people! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!” This is my new way of thinking. Because 90% of our own health and outlook is based on how we view ourselves. I will no longer accept that my good is not good enough. Instead, I will focus on doing the best I can and allow those who wish to detract from my hard work to find a different path.

You are good enough and so am I. And together we will continue to do good works for those who need and are willing to accept our help.

Mar 232019

Vilifying others is not a Christian value

One of the great issues of our day is that we look for anyone and everyone to blame for the bad things that happen in society. This has led many people to vilify people of color, people of faith’s other than Christian, and people who identify as LGBTQ. We are even willing to start pointing fingers at those who are allies and supporters because they are not 100% perfect.

Recently, I received emails and social media messages from people calling for my death or great physical harm. Why? Because I am a minister and person of faith. Some of those people were LGBTQ individuals who assume that I am a bigot and hateful person simply because of my faith. Others are those who have either been hurt or angered by the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal. While I understand both sides and their pain, I am a member of the LGBTQ community and a relative abused me as a child.

I have worked hard as Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International, our parent jurisdiction, to make this a loving and accepting church. We have worked hard as a national jurisdiction to make this a safe and protected place where there is zero-tolerance for abuse of any kind. We require our clergy to undergo testing, background checks, and a discernment period that allows us to make sure they are not abusers or hateful people.

Despite all this, I refuse to allow myself to vilify others. We must take a hard look in the mirror before we start pointing fingers at others. We cannot allow ourselves to vilify others just because they are different.

Living as a Christian means that we take more time working to improve ourselves than trying to judge or change others. During this time of Lent, let us work to make ourselves better Christians rather than trying to force others to change.

Mar 142019

Prayer and forgiveness

prayer

I do a lot of praying. You have probably seen the various prayer request I post from time to time. And you know that we offer masses for various prayer requested each week. Most of the time those prayers are for people we know, friends and family, or friends and family of our friends and family. But what about the prayers for those that hurt us? Prayers for those we may consider our enemies?

This past week, I encountered an individual who I must now bring myself to forgive and pray for. This individual attacked me for supporting the LGBTQ community. In particular, he was angry that I support transgender individuals. It further angered him that I had a transgender daughter that I love and support. As a result, he decided to claim that I must abuse people and be addicted to porn. None of this could be further from the truth. I was abused by a relative in my childhood and I would never abuse someone else, adult or child.

He started making threats to have me investigated by various police agencies. This spawned a PTSD flashback. You see, when I was first ordained, the local Roman Catholic Priest convinced my family and the community that I was delusional. After all, there is only one “Catholic” church in the world, he claimed.

They were so concerned that they sent the police to remove me from my home at gunpoint. I was drug to the local police station to have a mental health evaluation done. They determined that I was not delusional. In fact, they documented that there was indeed an Old Catholic Church and that the local Roman priest had filed a false report.

However, that experience, coupled with the abuse I suffered, has left me rather leery of police in general. And when confronted by them, it does tend to cause me to have PTSD issues. Because of this one person’s lack of knowledge, lack of compassion, and their unchecked bigotry, I have dealt with that PTSD and depression all week.

I have struggled in silence all week. That was my own choice because I am trying to be more positive and uplifting in public. I did not share with anyone but my therapist because I did not want to burden others. This was a mistake. I could have used those prayers and the support of my family, friends, and faith community this week. I have no one to blame for that except myself.

As I sat to write this, I found myself unable to find the positive aspect in it. I reach out again to my therapist distraught that I wanted to share this experience, but I also wanted it to convey a positive message. My therapist pointed out that this could be a good lesson on forgiveness and prayer. And as usual, he was right!

This person who attacked me knows nothing of me. And that is part of what made the attack so difficult work through. I already struggle with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and worthlessness. This attack only fed into those feelings. And I let it feed into them. I should have started immediately praying for him and working to forgive him. Rather, I allowed myself to vacillate on the pain.

Today, I am praying for him. I am forgiving him for the pain he caused me. He is forgiven for his attack and the flashbacks they inspired. And I will pray for him. I will pray that he finds peace and joy. My prayer will be that he finds love and acceptance. And I will pray that he learns to love and accept others.

I will do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard. And it will make me and hopefully him, a better Christian. Join me today in praying for those that hurt you. And let us together forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Mar 082019

Ministry is worth the effort

ministry

In my life, there are so many times when I consider giving up and walking away from my calling. There are those who have abused and defamed me. My life has been a struggle with one health issue after another. This week, in the midst of dealing with heart issues, I received a reminder of why I continue to do the work of ministry.

A lovely older lady requested that I come to see her. She had not been to church in 40 years. Guilt, pain, rejection, and a host of other reasons kept her from experiencing the grace that is supposed to be freely given. Her granddaughter called me because she wanted to go to confession.

As I stood by her bedside and listened to her confession, it struck me that she had done more than enough penance over those 40 years. You see, for 40 years she had beaten herself up for the sins she had committed. She had lived in guilt and pain that was unspeakable. What penance could I give her?

I gave her no penance. She had spent a life time making amends for the things she had done.

I did give her absolution. And as I spoke those comforting words of absolution, she sobbed. All that guilt, pain, self-imposed separation was now gone! She was free! The chains feel off and she could truly smile and be at peace.

I even offered her communion. And she received with such piety and grace. She held the Blessed Sacrament in her mouth until it was completely dissolved and the tears ran down her cheeks again. When she opened her eyes again, I could see that she was a new person. The women I met on my arrival was no longer here. She was a new creation in Christ!

Several thoughts came to mind as I left. The first of these was that this lady had spent 40 years away from the church and the sacraments. Just like Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years, she had come to the end of a long journey.

The next thought that came to mind was one of sadness. The family of this lady had called several Roman Catholic priests in the area. None of them would come to her bedside because she was not one of theirs. She had been gone from the church for 40 years and was worthy of their care. They not only denied her the grace she needed, but they denied themselves of the grace received by helping her. It was a great loss for them to experience this wonderful, transformative moment.

Lastly, it struck me that far too often we all allow pain, guilt, and doubt to stop us from reaching out for the grace God gives to us freely. The image of Adam lazily reaching out to God who is reaching beyond 50% of the way to Adam is an accurate depiction of grace. God does not call us to meet him half way, rather God calls us to reach out. We need not have 100% faith or be 100% perfect. We just need to reach out as we are.

Today, take time to reach out. Be there for those who need it most regardless of who they are or what they have done. Do not turn your back on those who need our help. And above all, love without counting the cost.

Mar 012019

Looking back to grow into the future

I have spending a lot of time looking back on the person that I was and who have become today. I think it is important sometimes to look back to see just how far we have come. And my journey has been a long and interesting path. Would I change any of it? No!

I was driving down the road the other day when a song by King & Country came on the radio titled Fix My Eyes. I want to share a few lines from that song with you:

Hit rewind
Click delete
Stand face to face with the younger me
All of the mistakes
All of her heartbreak
Here’s what I’d do differently

I’d love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on you, on you

I learned the lines and talked the talk (Everybody knows that, everybody knows that)
But the road less traveled is hard to walk (Everybody knows that, everybody knows)
It takes a soldier
Who knows his orders
To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk

King & Country. Fix my eyes. (c)

I realized that while I do not regret any of the things that happened to me because they made me who I am today, I do wish I had lived like the chorus says. I wish I had loved like I’m not scared, given when it was not fair, taken time for a brother, fought for the weak ones, spoken out for freedom. It is my wish that I had stood tall.

My resolution while looking back was that I would not get stuck looking back. And so I resolve to do better in the future. By looking back I can see that the person I am today lives more closely this anthem. And I hope that everyday I help others around me to live their anthems.

Each person marches to their own anthem. And your anthem may not be mine, but I can be supportive of your effort to march to your anthem. And you should be supportive of others as they strive to march to their anthem.

As I watched the movie Bohemian tonight, I cried as they performed one iconic song. It is a song that I hope the new me of today embodies too:

I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions

Queen. We are the champions. (C)

We are champions. Whenever we help others to find their path. And when we support others as they struggle to be themselves. When we help them find their spiritual path. That is when we are the champions.

So this week, take time to live as a champion. Help those who need it most. Listen to those who are in need of a caring ear. Show support for those who are trying to be themselves. Offer a shoulder to those who need to cry. And give those who need love the love of our Christ.

And show the world that being different is a gift, not a curse!

Feb 222019

Respect is a Christian Value

respect

I have started to wonder if we as a people have lost common respect and decency when interacting with one another. In the past week, multiple opportunities to confront phobia against the LGBTQ community multiple times . I have also had to confront bigotry and racism cloaked in the robe of religion several times too.

Since when did showing others common courtesy become a violation of the teaching of the Christ or of Sacred Scripture? When did respect for our fellow human beings become an evil act? I have searched Scripture extensively and have not found any order to treat those different from us as evil.

What I did find was this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Or what about this:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

James 2:1-9

There are many more verses just like this in Holy Scripture. But I think you get the idea.

It is our calling to love all people. This means even those you think are unworthy of your love, or those you disagree with. This especially means those who are different from the “norm” and who society treats as outcasts.

The LGBTQ community, our family who are people of color, migrants and refuges, and those who do not fit into our neat little boxes are the people those verses refer to. We should treat them with love and respect too!

It is not evil to use a person’s preferred pronouns. You are not being Christ-like when you misgender someone, when you call them derogatory names because of their gender or sexual orientation. Instead, you are refusing to follow the teachings of the Christ.

One last point, I have had many ministers throw Saint Paul’s words in my face to prove that trying to be supportive of the LGBTQ community or of other’s religious beliefs is teaching a false teaching. Since when did Saint Paul’s words suddenly become more important than Jesus’? Last time I checked, Jesus kind of out ranked Paul!

So before you attack someone else, before you misgender them to prove some false religious point, before you neglect the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, remember that Jesus called on you to love all those wonderful human beings. After all, Jesus reminds us that all human beings are created in the loving image of God!

Practice a different way to be Catholic by following the true teachings of the Christ.

Feb 082019

My experience as a priest

experience

In a week, Saint Francis Old Catholic Church will be adding a new Priest to our staff. Deacon Matthew Schnabel will be ordained next Saturday to the priesthood. I would like to dedicate this blog post to looking at the 20 years of experience I have as a priest.

In all the chaos of the last month, my anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood slipped by me unnoticed. It was a very important milestone as it was my 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. (In June, I will mark another huge milestone with the passing of my 20th year since my consecration as a Bishop.)

In that 20 years, I have learned a lot about myself and my ministry. I started out as a wide-eyed, conservative, bigoted product of my ultra-conservative upbringing and my Opus Dei-like devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. My separation from Rome was traumatic as many of the people I looked up to, suddenly had no desire to even know me. I was not a pleasant person to know and even worse to work with.

I expected and, yes, demanded respect. After all, I was a priest. People should respect me. And once I was consecrated as a Bishop, that only got worse. I drove away laity and clergy alike with my hubris. Some of those people died before I had my Saint Paul moment and my conversion of heart. If they were still here, I would want to beg them for forgiveness for the way I acted. I was not Christ-like. I was not even anything I would call Christian.

What changed? I found myself in a spiritual crisis that rocked my faith. My mind started to betray me. I started to suffer from depression and the years of mental and physical abuse from my mother. I started showing signs of PTSD, though it would take another decade and a half to officially be diagnosed. My mind was damaged and my faith told me all I had to do was to pray. Pray like I never prayed before and I would be healed.

But no matter how hard I prayed, my mind was not healing. I was not getting better. Medications helped, but even that felt like I was betraying God. After all, I shouldn’t need medications, if only I had more faith, I would be healed. My faith came crashing down around me. In that moment I finally realized that all I had been taught was wrong.

Father David Jennings and my very patient wife, Deacon Dana Godsey, started to help me pick up the pieces of my shattered life and faith. The lovingly helped me find myself and my faith again. In that process, I finally started to understand that I was not called to be an authoritarian leader demanding people follow my form of faith. I was called to be a servant. My calling was to help those people who had lost their faith, who needed gentle guidance through their crises.

I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I still have my moments when I am depressed. There are those days I feel so alone and unlovable. And yes, there are days when I look back on the pain I caused people early in my ministry and I cry.

However, there are also days of great joy. There are days when I get to officiate at a young (or old) couple starting out on a path together forged in love. I get to be at the bedside of people when the gates of Heaven open wide and welcome them home. I get to bring Jesus to the sick and suffering. And I also get to stand at the altar and see Jesus smiling back in forms of bread and wine!

Those are the moments that make the crisis of faith, the struggle to find myself, the mental health and physical health issues seem so small.

My family, it has been and will continue to be my honor to serve each and every one of you for another, God-willing, 20 years.

I do ask you for one thing: Pray for your priests. Pray for Matthew. And pray for me. Pray for your deacons and bishops too. Remind us when we go astray of our calling to be servants. Keep us humble and loving. Remind us often of what we mean to you. Like we remind you that God loves you, remind us that God loves us and that you do to.

My fellow clergy, continue to inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. Remind us that we are loved and remind us to tell you and others that we love them. Take time to remind us to be positive and humble. Come and check on us and never be afraid to pick up the phone and call. After all, we are all family!

And my brother Matthew: Remember that you are always a deacon. Remember that you are loved. You are chosen to do this work, not because you are perfect, but because you are broken. And yes, you are broken just like I am. And it is through those cracks that the light and love of God shines out into the world around us.

I hope to see you all at Deacon Matt’s ordination and to give each and every one of you a big hug! God loves you and so do I!

Feb 022019

Trust in God is not an option

Trust

God reminded me of an important lesson that I should have learned a long time ago. Trust in God is not an option.

My dear brother, Saint John Parker, Jr, a Bishop in our church until his death in 2003, used to say that very phrase all the time. I was by his side when he died on August 28, 2003. He bled to death when the cancer breached his carotid artery. He knew he was dying and that his wife and I could do nothing to save him. With his last bit of strength he signed to us that he loved us. His very last act on this earth was to make the sign of the cross. To his very last moment, he lived that statement. He believed that trust was not an option.

As you all know, my family has experienced a very difficult time over the last month. There have been many ups and downs. Setbacks and slow forward progress as well. And then we found out that we would not have any income for a while. My heart sank and my stomach started its predictable rotations.

Today, a dear friend and fellow worker in the vineyard of our Lord, came to me with some assistance. It was out of the blue and completely unexpected. Then, as I sat here preparing to write this posting, I had an issue with the church servers and went to fix them. Everything crashed and nothing would install or correct.

I despaired again. As I sat here in tears, Deacon Dana came to my rescue with love and support. In what was only a miracle, suddenly the answer came. And everything fell into place. The server is back up and seems to be no worse for the experience.

Twice in one day God reminded me that trust in God is not an option. I failed the test, but learned from the experience. We as Christians claim to be followers of the Christ, and as such that means that we should trust him. Part of love is also the ability and/or desire to trust God.

Today I was reminded of this truth. I ask for God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of my church family for not trusting more. And I ask you to join me in this journey toward total trust in God.

Together, we can overcome any obstacle if we only trust God.

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