Thanksgiving and Conflict

This time of year we gather around the Thanksgiving table with family. Fall colors, generous portions of pie, football games, and a golden brown turkey are all on the menu. The warmth of hearth and home fill our hearts during this special family holiday. If only the actual members of our families were as pleasant and cozy as this idyllic image. Brothers we exchanged harsh words with, uncles without manners, controlling mothers and alienated daughters sit around this family table. We love family, it's people we have a hard time with. Why is this so painfully true? Because people are not idyllic, they're real.

What makes relationships worth having is the fact that we can't control them. We are thrilled when someone freely chooses to love us because we know they didn't have to. But if they are free to choose us they are also free to reject us. Human will is so mysterious, so independent, and so free that it has the power to baffle and frighten. So, is the goal of a loving family culture possible? Yes it is, if we strive to become the kind of person who is capable of communion.

We can start by learning how to have conflict. Since people are real they will be different. That difference is what leads to conflict. It's natural, it's normal, and it's not necessarily bad. When two people dance they have to adjust themselves to each other's movements. If one partner imposes his will on the other, the dance becomes stiff, ugly, and toes are stepped on. When a couple dances gracefully, however, they may tread on each other's toes, but they continually learn how to become more fluid in their movements, together striving to solve the missteps. They don't fight each other.

When people have conflict they tend see themselves on opposite sides of a line of battle. They lob arguments, emotions, and strong words in hopes of winning. But we're not at war with our family and friends. We're on their side. Rather, like a dance, we should see ourselves in a circle, looking at the problem together, not like a war, seeing ourselves on either side of a battle line. The win is when both of us change and we learn to gracefully step in unison.

Conflict is normal because we're different. Our love and friendship compel us to tackle this problem together as partners not enemies. When we do, the warmth and joy it brings is truly something for which to be thankful.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is on the horizon and some are asking why and for what reasons should we be giving "thanks." Our nation is in a recession. Thousands of our young men and women are engaged in a conflict far from their homes and loved ones. A double digit percentage of our workforce finds itself without jobs. Many banks have depended on government loans. Others have failed. The cost of fuel for our homes and our autos continues to fluctuate. Many people cannot afford health insurance. It's one dark thing after another. Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may not be too bright but it is there and it's getting brighter. It was dark for the early settlers of our nation too and yet in nearly all the early colonies people celebrated a day of thanksgiving despite their hardships and tribulations. And so, too, it was bleak 146 years ago when President Abraham Lincoln established a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated in November every year hence. A civil war had been underway for over two years. Tens of thousands of young men had suffered and died in that conflict but with the fall of Vicksburg on July 3rd and the end of the battle of Gettysburg two days later a light appeared at the end of the dark tunnel. The war would continue for nearly two more years but the end was in sight. More suffering would ensue but President Lincoln on October 3rd of 1863 issued a proclamation to a war weary nation calling upon the people to give thanks to God. The proclamation is rather long (It's available on the internet.) yet there are parts of it which speak to us today.

"The year that is drawing toward its close has be filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.... No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out the gracious gifts of the most high God.... It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledge as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people."

It is the hope, the desire and the prayer of the Hammonton Ministerium that on November 26th all of us may join together in thanking God for all the blessings He has bestowed on us as a nation and pledge ourselves, in the final words of President Lincoln's proclamation "to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony (and) tranquility." Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Reflections on "Retreat to Go Forward"

When I was a student in Rome studying at the International Seminary of Propaganda Fide (The Propagation of the Faith) I recall acting as a tour guide to a group of American tourists, who anxiously wanted to see the statue of Michael Angelo's Moses, housed at the Esquiline Hill. I remember we arrived at the church at 12 noon when an old priest was locking the doors of the church. The people were insistent and complained and asked why he was locking up the doors of the church, where upon he replied; "You Americans are always in a hurry! Rome is the "Eternal City" the statue of Moses has been around for four hundred years, come back tomorrow!" But they continued their protest and inquired; why do they close the doors of the church at 12 noon in Rome? Where upon the old priest replied: "Why? The reason is that here in Rome... between the hours of 12 noon and 3pm, even God takes a siesta!"

In our day and age it has been said- "We're too busy making a living...We have no time to live." Today everybody is stressed; everybody is doing more and more. We are losing what I would call our "sacred space of listening." We fail to realize that the present moment is all we can call our own!

How often we fail to live in the present moment. As a result we become frustrated and anxious having to come to the realization that yesterday has gone and we can not change it. Tomorrow has not come yet and it is not necessarily a promise, but a gift. Living in the present moment frees us to live and cherish the real.

Recently I took a mini-retreat, (even we who supposedly are God's ministers need to take "time-out" to allow God to re-create His spirit in us). Too often, we're a part of the "doing church" and fail to be a part of the "being church". Some people wish for things to happen, some people wait for things to happen, while others watch things happen.

Retreat, for me is a time of mystery, when I am a part of the "waiting, watching, & wondering Church", in which I allow God to speak to me and un-clutter my life and empower me to listen to His voice. Making a retreat for me, is a moment of truth which delivers me from the heresy of over action and enables me to put my life in perspective.

I thank God for the opportunity of such an encounter, and I hope and pray all could have a similar experience. We need that sacred space and time to wait on God as it were, and to listen to His voice...as it is spoken very often in the sounds of silence.

CROP Walk 2009

Hunger and poverty are rampant in our world, and escalating in the current economic conditions. Something can and must be done about them. Our local CROP Hunger Walk is a great place to start. For a few hours and a few miles, friends and neighbors will be coming together to, in the words of I John 3:18: "...love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

On Sunday, October 18 at 1:30 p.m., the Hammonton CROP Hunger Walk will be held to show our love and active concern for neighbors in need near and far. The participants, ranging from newborns to nonagenarians, will be raising funds to change the world in real and measurable ways -- digging wells that will bring clean water to villages; providing seeds and tools so that people can grow their own food; helping communities and families rebuild after disaster. Whether it's responding to devastating floods across the central U.S., or helping to construct a sand dam in Kenya, CROP Hunger Walks are making a difference.

CROP Hunger Walk funds will benefit the overall work and ministry of Church World Service -- working around the world to help those in need help themselves through refugee assistance, self-help development programs, advocacy, and disaster relief. And, it's important to note that 25 percent of what we raise will help local food pantries in their important work here in Hammonton.

So please mark your calendars and come CROP Walk with us! Together -- with your family, group, or congregation -- we can walk to change the world, one step at a time.

And if you can't walk on that day, or just want to broaden your horizon of sponsors, you can walk on the Web with us. Visit cropwalkonline.org to find out how.

For more information, please contact Rev. Giuseppe Mattei at 609-561-4488, or visit us at www.hammontonministerium.org.

The walk will start on the grounds of St. Martin R.C. Church on Egg Harbor City Rd. in Hammonton Sunday, October 18 at 1:30 p.m.

Turbulent Waters

It was a beautiful day, early in the morning. I had the day off and my friends and I decided to spend the entire day deep sea fishing. We paid a considerable sum of money to "enjoy" turbulent waters loaded with smelly, slimy and elusive creatures.

Leaving the calm, still waters of the bay I enjoyed the view lazily passing by. The Jersey shore really has a beauty all its own and I'm glad I live in this part of the country. As we emerged from the inlet the captain kicked the boat into high gear and we roared out to the deep. This was fun. I love roller coasters and the speed of our boat was like being on one. What I don't like are amusement park rides that spin round and round repeatedly. Soon we dropped anchor and began to fish from the top of a spinning round and round amusement park ride call a boat. It only took a few seconds watching the horizon go every way but right to incapacitate me.

The deep heaving sea sickness was worse than the flu. My body took over all cognitive functions. It was thinking for me, commanding my stomach, mouth, lungs, arms and legs to perform the most violent and grotesque dance known to man. I was a ridiculous spectacle spewing forth every meal I had for the last week over the side of the boat. All the while my friends, completely free of my affliction, were have an outrageously fun time catching fish after fish.

Then I noticed on the deck of the boat, sprawled out along the side with his head securely fitted in a port hole so as to allow his departing meals a clear path to the ocean, was Sam, just as incapacitated as I was. Now you'd think that someone who has suffered the same fate as another would feel pity and compassion on them, but not me, I felt comfort; comfort that I wasn't the only one jerking and convulsing like a whirling dervish. I wasn't alone. Someone shared my experience. Someone understood my problem.

Jesus has shared our experience. He is able to understand and sympathize with our struggles. We can turn to Him in our need and know He will have compassion. Life is difficult. We sail through turbulent waters, but we do not sail alone.

Enduring the Journey

Growing up I enjoyed running; I enjoyed the exhilarating speed, the cool wind in my face, the rush of blood to my cheeks and the dizzy feeling in my head, surely caused by the oxygenation process. Soon my legs were so fast I couldn't keep up with them and hardly felt the ground under my feet. I enjoyed racing other kids over small distances. Relay was also so much fun. I showed my focusing skills and speed when we played "Capture the Flag," another summer game we played often, in addition to soccer.

The older I got the longer the distance I tried to cover. To my dismay, I realized I could not go too far. I was a sprint runner and not a marathon runner. What I lacked was endurance, which needs to be cultivated. It takes intentionality and the willingness to withstand the rigor of the training.

A Christian's life is much like that; we move from milk to solid food (see 1 Corinthians 3:2) from basic training to one that is more complex (see 1 Timothy 4:7-8). Clarity on the end goal (2 Corinthians 10:7) trains one to endure the hardship of discipleship and faith development (Mark 13:13).

I find myself thinking of Milton Quiles, he is truly an example of committed endurance to me. Mr. Quiles has a passion for reaching out to people and give to them what is most precious to him, which, he believes, is God given: the ability to support harmonious, integrated growth. He reaches out with the intent of supporting people in their growth as spiritual beings. Master Quiles is the karate instructor to my children at the Hammonton Health and Fitness. He is also a devout Christian. He talks to people (especially to children) in ways that inspire desire to reach one's full potential and integrate body, mind and spirit. This he teaches with a relentless trust that enduring the training with dedication and focus will support the development of the confident, whole person that one can be. My sense is that, when he looks at people, he sees the person they can become. I personally have witnessed how my children are developing their own potentials with grace thanks to Master Quiles' influence.

The meaning we give to the hardship of the present moment will stimulate endurance for the journey. No present hardship will discourage a Christian's endurance (2 Corinthians 4:7-10) because we live in Christ.

The Ritual of Christian Service

On January 20 an American ritual unfolded before the global congregation: People from around the world virtually gathered around the altar of the most powerful president on earth to witness to his swearing in ceremony. This time around, the moment was punctuated by even greater then usual enthusiasm: We have the first African American president of the USA, marking another step toward the realization that "We the People" constitutionally affirm that all divisions are humanly fictitious. It was undoubtedly a captivating moment filled with promises and expectations.

In the Augsburg Confession (1530) Martin Luther and others teach that "all governments of the world...were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order" and that "Christians are obliged to be subject to civil authority and obey its commands and laws in all that can be done without sin. But when commands of the civil authority cannot be obeyed without sin, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29)."

What service can Christians best render to the nation and the world? We can practice the greatest commandment of all, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:30-31)

Love for God can be practiced in all honesty and virtue when we seek peace through justice for the neighbor. Those who are hungry, who have no land to call their home, who have no shelter to repair under, who have no champion to pick up their cause, who have no companion ready to dry their tears, indeed creation itself abused and violated by our greed and careless way of life wait for the revelation of the children of God. (see Romans 8:19)

The best service Christians can render to the world is their practice of compassion and generosity, authenticity and wisdom, humility and moral rectitude. That Love, that service is what Christians celebrate in their rituals. There are plenty of promises and expectations there. Is our practice of Love passionately captivating? Do people see us practicing what we preach? Do we embody Love and Hope and new Life?

Time

Time is defined as the system of sequential relations that any event has to any other as past, present or future. It’s also been defined as a continuous duration regarded as that within which events succeed one another. For us, in our normal lives, it’s those segments of life which can be measured on a clock for that’s how we really view time. We may call it history or the present or the future, but simply it’s a measurement in the existence of the universe. It is a measurement we live by, depend and take for granted. 

Down through the centuries various means have been used to determine time. It may have been by a sun dial, a sextant, a sand or water or spring mechanism or an atomic clock. All those inventions were dependent on one thing - the perfect symmetry of nature. It doesn’t take much to realize that there must be an intelligence behind the existence of nature. It’s too perfect to be otherwise. It is not haphazard. In fact, it proves the existence of a superior being who created what there is. It proves the existence of God. 

Today we hear of a rift between science and the Bible on creation. Did creation of the universe take place over a number of days a few thousands years ago (Bible) or did it take place in a series of steps over a period of billions of years?(science). The real argument isn’t about how long creation took. The real argument is about the existence of a supreme being who created things so perfectly. Is there one or isn’t there? Science which many use to deny God really proves that there is God. Surprisingly, the latest part of the scientific argument begins with a Belgian priest, Monsignor Georges H Lemaitre who propounded a theory which his detractor, astronomer Fred Hoyle, derisively called “the big bang theory.” Lemaitre spoke of the “primeval atom” from which the entire universe evolved. Modern science accepts his theory and is trying to prove it. Through the use of the Hubble telescope and other instruments it is attempting to go back in time to the primeval atom. And if it can? Monsignor Lemaitre was quick to use an old Latin expression, “ex nihilo, nihil fit - from nothing, nothing comes” and asked, “If this theory is correct, where did this primeval atom come from? His answer, “It couldn’t come from itself if it didn’t exist, so it had to come from something that already existed and that something is the intelligent God.” The present rift between science and the Bible should not exist because both the Bible and science agree to a common answer to creation. The answer is, indeed, God. 

The Hammonton Ministerium wishes you a happy summer TIME.

When We Don't Understand

Recently, the step-daughter of someone very close to me passed away unexpectedly. She was a vibrant and talented young girl, only 15 years old. There were no warning signs, but within 10 short minutes her body went from functioning as a normal teenager’s body to completely lifeless due to a severe asthma attack. Fortunately, her brother and step-father were with her in her last moments here on earth. Although they tried all the emergency procedures and called emergency services, they were unable to revive her.

In life, we experience situations and times when we cannot understand why certain things happen. We might ask, “What plan of God's would include the loss of life of a teenager?” And though some of us can come up with some plausible, even biblical, explanations; none of them seem quite adequate for the situation.

In times like these let me suggest that we stick with what we know. There are many things that we don’t know or understand, but there are also things that we know without a doubt; truths that are embedded in our souls about who God is and what He is like. When I face a circumstance in life that I don’t understand I try not to let it affect the things that I know for certain. What I do know is that God is good; He is the One who created the universe and holds it together by His power; God loves me; I am saved by the power in the shed blood of Jesus who is the Son of God; Physical death is not the end for me or anyone who has put his faith in Jesus Christ. When I am faced with something I don’t understand, these truths and others give me the stability that I need to keep going.

Summertime

Summertime and the livin’ is easy; the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. Or as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it:

The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to keep silence and a time to speak. Better is a handful with quiet than two handfuls with toil. I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. God has made everything suitable for its time. Go, eat bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart. For God long ago approved what you do. Enjoy life with the spouse God has given you in modern vernacular.

Stop and smell the roses and coffee. Even God rested after bringing harmony into the chaos that brooded over the face of the deep (Genesis 2:2) in order to rest up for the next step in Creation, which is Salvation. I think God is giving us a message in this continuing act of Divine creating. It would be a good idea if we took a rest occasionally so that we can get ready for the next step in our process of being created that is called getting out of the way of God so that we can behold the fair beauty of the Lord.

So take a break, at the shore or the mountains. But in any case, take a break!

Patience

We have all seen or been involved with errant small children in a home or a supermarket. They argue or fight with one another at home and they cry out for candy the whole time they're in the store. We feel sorry for the mother but we know exactly what she's thinking, "Lord, give me patience." We hear those same words when a teenage son tells his father that he has to be driven to a game right away while dad's trying to get something done around the house. We think those same thoughts on our way to work when we get behind a driver who insists on driving 25 miles an hour in a 50 mile an hour zone and there is so much traffic coming the other way that we can't pass. "Lord, give me patience." In most instances the call for patience is not strong. It's just a way we have of letting off a little steam. But there are instances when the expression become very real and deep seated. We think of a woman whose mother is afflicted with Altzheimer. She is in constant fear that her mother will wander out of the house on a freezing day without a coat or who will turn on a stove and forget she has done so. She really needs patience. Or we think of the man whose wife of 40 years has been diagnosed with cancer and his whole world is collapsing around him. We know he needs patience to confront his world. Or we think of the parents who can't sleep because their daughter is on a date and it's after midnight and she promised to be home by eleven. In these and many other instances we think of people crying out for patience. "O Lord, give me patience."

The word "patience" comes from the Latin root word "patior" which means "to suffer." If we think about it, we realize that patience is, indeed, suffering. Not a physical suffering but a mental suffering and anguish that can gnaw at our inmost being day and night and will not give up. It gives us no satisfaction. It's a call to reject what we cannot accomplish. It is a punishment - usually for something we didn't do. It is a distracting thought we cannot banish. What can we do about it? The answer is in the very expression itself - "O Lord..." It is a time to cease relying totally on ourselves and request the help of God Himself. Will He take away our pain, our suffering? Probably not. But He will lessen it to a point where it is bearable or help us to understand why it's happening. Jesus told us that God is a caring and a loving Father Who will stand by us in good times and in bad. Learn to rely on Him when we cry out for patience for He will reply. Our God really cares for each one of us.

End of School Year

The school year has ended and, in the ancient words we heard so often as children, "no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks," applies now. Things haven't changed much. Children still look forward to sleeping late, swimming, sports of various kinds, other activities such as visiting a zoo or a museum or a park or taking a train ride or getting a tan or just plain resting, goofing off, enjoying life. Many are graduating this year from kindergarten ("Now I'll be with the big kids."); from primary grades to junior high ("Now I'll be with the bigger kids."); from junior high to high school ("Now I'll have more personal freedom."); from high school ("Now I'm going to work or go into the service and have a lot more time to celebrate with my friends."); or to college ("Now I'm preparing for a grown up life and will share experiences with classmates and room mates.") If you're an adult working in the business world or caring for a home, a vacation is a joyous event for you, too. It's wonderful to anticipate, prepare for and enjoy a vacation whether near or far.

One sure thing, however, if you're in school or college or if you're working in the grown up world, you do need a vacation, a time to rest the mind and the body in preparation for another year of study or work. The Hammonton Ministerium would like to point out, however, that while we all need a vacation (even your ministers and priests), there is no vacation from God. He's always there ready to hear from you at anytime in your day. And He's anxious to do so. It's nice to greet a new day with a word of praise to God. It's nice to ask His blessing at each meal. It's nice to thank Him at the end of each day. The great thing is - it's nice for Him too and He enjoys it. So, while you enjoy your vacation, don't forget Him. He doesn't forget you. We even suggest that it's not impossible but even commendable to spend 10 or 15 minutes each day of your vacation reading the Bible. There may be words there that touch your mind and heart, making your vacation even more enjoyable.

Have a wonderful and wonder filled vacation, a summer of sharing with your family and loved ones including God. May God's choicest blessings be with each one of you.

Saying Goodbye

Unlocking the door while juggling my laptop and thermos, I wrestled the keys out of the lock and entered our dimly lit office. The morning sun crept through the blinds giving the room a warm, tranquil feeling. Spring was in full bloom which normally would fill the day's labor with an energy that could mitigate any stress from our work. Soon my co-workers would arrive, but today I knew that one chair would be empty. Karen, my friend and assistant of twenty years, passed away at the end of the previous week. Even the beauty of spring could not wield its magic against my aching grief.

So began the torturous process of dealing with her absence. Besides being the best man at Tim and Karen's wedding, Karen and I worked so closely together over these last twenty years that she truly felt like the sister I never had. The challenges we faced together created a deep camaraderie. Now I had to face the loss of a key staff member without the help of the very person who normally I would rely on in a situation like this. Tackling it would be made worse by having to sort though the notes and work of my friend, each page and file reminding me of her absence. After a while, it seemed like the grief would never end.

It's very hard, however, to resist the beauty of spring. Each blossom, bird, and fragrance subverts the gloom that seeks to rule over me. Its magic has power after all. And more magic yet seduces me; the laughter of my friends, the innocent joys of my children, and the love of my wife. Each compels me to conclude that there is too much good to wallow in sorrow.

Raking over Karen's emails, notebooks, and files I'm reminded of my loss. But, unexpectedly, I also remember a myriad of wonderful things about her: that incredible smile, her tenacious faith, the attention to detail, and her warm spirit. I realize that the loss of the good should never overshadow the good that was. Life moves on and things change. Each season gives way to another. We shouldn't curse this inevitability and stubbornly cry about what is lost. Children grow up, leaves change colors, and people die. The wonder of what was should never be crushed by the change that will and must come.

So goodbye my dear friend. You made a difference.

God Is Counting On Us

Back in the not so good-old days in The Sixties, some Advant-guard Theologians were shaking up The Pius establishment by declaring, as Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche had, that "God is dead", one enterprising pastor caught a ride on the publicity bandwagon by declaring, "God is not dead; he's only asleep!" To substantiate his claim, he cited various pervasive evils in our society that no self-respecting god would permit if awake. The "drug culture", the "sexual revolution", violence in the cities, and certain other blemishes on the face of our culture as exhibits A through Z. To prove that God -- if still in the business of being God -- had, at least "nodded off".

Similarly in Psalm 59, David assumes that God's apparent absence or apathy in the face of evil is that God has fallen asleep at the switch. But David skates periously close to heresy when he demands of God, "Rouse yourself, come to my help...awake and punish the nations." (Psalm 59-v4, 5)

But our God is not dead, nor does He sleep. As another Psalm asserts, "He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:3-4)

The Philosopher Rabindranah Tagore, and Indian mystic, was once so appalled by the suffering children on the crowded streets of Calcutta, that he lifted his tear filled eyes to heaven in the reproach, "God, why don't you do something about all of this?" and he reported that the answer came to him from Heaven: "I most certainly have done something about it; I made you!"

As President Kennedy said so well in his Inaugural Address, "We continue asking His blessings, asking His guidance, but mindful that here on earth, we must make His work our own."

If evil thrives where you live, who is it that is really asleep? The world that is asking whether or not God is alive or dead...can only find its answer in us!

Our Religious Landscape

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently completed a survey in which they polled 35,000 American adults exploring religious affiliation. Some of the interesting findings included;

  1. Close to half of all Americans have changed religions or denominations at least once in their lifetime. This describes the fluid movement between churches and denominations. (e.g. Mainline to nondenominational, Catholic to Protestant etc)
  2. Christians make up 78% of the US total population. We are not going to lose our Christian identity anytime soon. The specific breakdown of the population includes 51% Protestants, 24% Catholic, 2% Jewish, 16% report they are unaffiliated!
  3. Of the 16% unaffiliated almost 8% report they had no religious or church upbringing!
  4. While immigrants do contribute to the religious diversity of the US, 70% report being Christian. (46% Catholic and 24% Protestant)
  5. The 30 - 49 age group make up 40% on average of all church members.
  6. The New Jersey religious landscape is unique from the American average in that 42% are Catholic, 30% Protestant, 6% Jewish.

Overall the survey describes the American religious landscape as "both very diverse and extremely fluid", however overall religious membership percentages have remained fairly stable over the last 30 years!

I believe that religious diversity is one of the strengths of our country. After all the United States of America was founded on religious freedom and we must maintain that principal. It distresses me when I hear someone make an offhand remark disparaging any religious tradition. Anti Semitism and anti Muslim sentiment still litters the landscape of our country! We all must remain tolerant of our difference and taken a step further we must love those different from us.

Tolerance and love also should apply to the diversity we find in our 78% Christian body as well. Catholics and Protestants, Evangelicals and Mainline Christians, liberal and conservatives must respect and love one another. Though there are many issues that divide Christians (abortion, gay rights, war, and stem cell research, etc) we must acknowledge that ultimately we are more similar than diverse: we all believe in the same God!

Joe Oil

I saw Joe Kennedy, of Kennedy Family fame, on TV the other day promoting "Joe Oil." "Joe Oil" is a foundation set up by Citgo Oil Company and the "people of Venezuela" to provide oil for Americans who cannot afford to pay for oil. I am sure that if you asked anyone who has needed to tap into this resource, they were glad it was there for them, and it gave them some breathing space.

Besides my obvious political concerns about dealing with a country ruled by a ruthless dictator, who many believe would like nothing better than to hold the United States hostage to their product, I am wondering why people should have to look to the government of Venezuela and Citgo Oil for help, when help should be available from their own communities?

Right here in Hammonton there is much affluence, and people are willing to give when they are made aware of a need. A full nine percent of our town's population falls below the poverty level. Of that fact, not many of us are aware. That means, if our town population is about 18,000 people, just over 1600 of us fall below that poverty mark. Sixteen hundred people, right in our midst - and that does not include our yearly influx of seasonal workers. Sixteen hundred people in varying degrees of the psychic and emotional pain that comes with the helplessness and hopelessness of poverty. National statistics show that twenty-three percent are chronic, so we have to accept that there will always be the poor among us. That leaves sixtry-seven percent, who are in varying degrees of transition: those newly out of a job, single moms, those newly unable to work due to illness, and many others who fall through the cracks of our helping systems for reasons most of us can't even imagine. And the question has been raised in recent discussions as to how one can be expected to live on seven dollars an hour. The answer is, they can't - without help. How much pain are we willing to watch our brothers and sisters bear without offering a helping hand?

Recently, concerned citizens here have come together to develop solutions under the auspices of the Hammonton Area Ministerium. We are not laboring under any false assumption that we can save the world, but we believe we can help those around us. We are aware that we have a responsibility, and we are working to build a foundation of help that will last. Right now we are all aware that economic conditions may be worsening, so the ranks of those needing help will probably grow. We want to be prepared. We want to use wisdom. We know that there are all kinds of people out there who may try to take advantage of available resources when they don't really need them. We also know that just because someone is poor, it doesn't mean they are likeable or noble, and that they may be sometimes hard to deal with (just like the general population!). But we also believe that we still have a responsibility to help as much as we can.

So, I say forget Joe Oil. Tell them "we don't need your help here - we are helping our own!" Lay up some treasure in your heavenly bank account so you can draw on it when you need it, and help someone right in your own home town. If you don't know anyone who needs help, I sure do.

Farm Work for the Long Haul

I was involved with harvesting only once in my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Don't take me wrong; it was really hard work. The story goes like this: I was seventeen and I joined other youth from around Italy to harvest grapes in one of the vineyards in southern Italy. This was through the Church. We paid our way to get to the field; the wage, however, was totally given away so the Church could drill a well for drinking water somewhere in Africa. We gladly got up at the crack of dawn and went to work for several hours, bent down and sometimes crawling through the very low vines. We would stop for lunch and then at it again. Only two simple and sympathetic rules: "Don't cut yourselves with the shears and eat as many grapes as you can." Once back in the barracks, we would shower (cold water only, mind you), go for a hour Bible study, take a dinner brake and then go to a two hours worship service (every now and then you would hear someone placidly snore). I didn't mind the hard work. I enjoyed the experience because I knew the purpose (providing revenue for a well) and the sacrifice didn't face me.

Jesus spoke often with images from farm life. His intent was to let people savor how generous God is with God's resources for the purpose of bringing healing and salvation. God, the Farmer, saws abundantly and expectantly. Joseph G. Donders, teacher and chaplain at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, writes that "Jesus sowed his seed in our heart, then off he went...He knew things would not be ideal. There were the birds and the droughts, the weeds and the insects, the parasites and the blights. But there was also the power of the seed itself." The seed has the power to withstand the harshness of death, to break through, and finally grow strong and yield fruit. All happens as the Farmer tends to the soil and nurtures the plant.

Are we docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and grateful through persevering prayer as the farm work is being done in us? Or are we rebellious and restless wanting things done our way and immediately? Secondly, do we do our part in receiving the seed and cradle it through a virtual life 'till full grown? Or do we seek what's most gratifying for the less amount of work?

Two simple and sympathetic rules for this kind of work: Love God with all your heart, mind and energy is the first. The second is similar to the first: Love your neighbor as yourself. And watch those shears, will you?

A Christmas Carol

If, like many of us, you read the op-ed page in the daily newspapers, you know that we must be close to Christmas. The prophets of gloom and doom are at it again. It would seem that the world has never been in a worse state. Those writers would have us believe we are caught up in a war that cannot be won. That there are more and more people out of work. That the number of single family homes has grown by leaps and bounds. That the prices of petroleum products have been forced so high by the financial gougers that more and more people are forced to live in ice cold homes and cannot afford to purchase gasoline for their automobiles. That marriage has become an occasional thing for the stars of the world. That more and more deathly illnesses are occurring. That crimes, particularly murders, has increased to such an extent that everyone must now look over his or her shoulder constantly. That the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And on and on and on. We are reminded that gloom and doom have become our way of life and that this is the worst the world has ever been.

164 years ago Charles Dickens wrote an epic entitled "A Christmas Carol." If you read that rather short story, you will discover that things really haven't changed that much in over a century. There were gougers then including the central character, Ebenezer Scrooge. That, even then, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. That people were out of work then. That so many poor people couldn't afford coal for heat. That illness was a way of life. That crime was rampant. And on and on and on. Things haven't really changed that much. In fact, if you study history, i's apparent that things haven't really changed that much down through the centuries. So what do we make of all this at Christmas time?

A Christmas Carol gives us the answer in the words of Bob Cratchit as he looks with love at his wife and children, "We have each other." On that first Christmas night far from their home, Mary and Joseph could say the same words. So could the shepherds up in the hills. So can we today. We have each other and what a blessing that is. We have warmth and comfort and joy and love in each other. And we have Jesus. As we together celebrate His coming, it is the hope and prayer of the members of the Ministerium and all of their parishioners that for you and yours Christmas day will, indeed, be a day of joy and happiness for you and the loved ones with whom you will share.

Rewriting Our Software

I've learned a lot about life from writing software. "Rendering" is a concept in software that describes how data is interpreted or "rendered" by a program. For example, you can tell a program your age, weight, sex, and other details about your life and it can calculate how much of an insurance risk you are. But in order to do this accurately, the program must not mistake your age for your weight. It must "render" your input accurately.

Here's another example. Suppose a program needs some date information. How you enter the date needs to be understood by the program. It does this through a renderer. The renderer uses a mask to interpret the date. If the mask is, "MM/DD/YYYY," then the renderer knows that you will enter the date in this format: "10/08/2007." If, however, you are a European, you may enter the date like so, "08/10/2007." The day and the month are reversed, but the renderer doesn't know that, so it thinks you are saying August 10, 2007, not, October 8, 2007!

What does all this have to do with life? Each one of us has a renderer in our head. We hear things according to our own ideas, judgments, and experience. This is especially true when listening to others. They may say, "You are a real friend," meaning that they look up to you and appreciate how loyal and kind you are. If, however, you have had bad experiences in other relationships, woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or are harboring unforgiveness in your heart, you might hear, "You are a real friend," with a spin of sarcasm, meaning, that they are upset and berating you. Our renderer can get us into a lot of trouble.

What are we to do? How can we get our renderer to interpret accurately what others say and mean? The first step is to admit that only the person giving us the data can provide an accurate rendering. In other words, we don't really know what people are saying. "To come to know other people, we must begin by admitting that we do not know them," says Mike Mason. To love others means giving up our prejudices, judgments, and preconceived ideas and really listen. Only then will we have an accurate renderer.

 

God Bless the Animals!

On Sunday September 16th, I officiated a blessing of the animals ceremony at Penn's Angel's Beagle Rescue 7th annual barbeque. There were more than 30 assorted beagles and a good time was had by all!

The blessing of the animals is a custom that is held in honor and remberance of St Francis of Assisi whose feast day is Oct 4th. He is well know for his love of animals and is the patron saint of animals and the environment! In his writing The Canticle of creatures he declares "all praise to you O Lord for all these brother and sister creatures!" Kevin E Markin, a Franciscan monk writes "I believe that every creature is important and the love that we give and receive from a pet can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life and into the wonder of our common relationship to our Creator"

The bond between person and their pet is like no other relationship because communication is at its most basic and characterized by unconditional love! We know that pets can be therapeutic and many nursing homes have resident cats and/or dogs! My hospice uses therapy dogs to visit and draw out patients! Owning a pet can reduce ones blood pressure and boost the immune system. But the bottom line is that pets bring us comfort and make us happy!

The custom of blessing the animals began in the middle ages and is offered these days in many Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches and a smattering of protestant churches! One of the most well known services is an annual blessing that takes place at the Episcopal Cathedral St John the Divine in NYC! Elephants, camels along with dogs, cats and fish process down the center aisle to the altar where they receive their blessing!

The blessing of most of the beagles on Sunday was appropriate, for many of them had been rescued from abusive and terrible situations by Penny's Angels and now were surrounded by love and attention. The blessing offered was with a hand on the dog's head and the words "May you blessed in the name of God and may you and your family enjoy life together for many years!"