Archive for foster youth

Following his Lead

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by timtrue

Part 2 of last week, really.

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John 6:24-35

1.

Last week we explored together the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus saw a large crowd and realized they were hungry; and he quickly formulated a vision to feed them.

But remember Philip? He heard Jesus and was immediately overwhelmed by the vastness of his vision. “How we gonna do that, Jesus?” he asked. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough food to feed everyone even a little!”

Jesus’ vision was big. The funding seemed impossible. Philip was paralyzed.

But then there was Andrew. A little hope, it seemed, shone through his cloud of doubt. “Here’s a boy,” he told Jesus, “with five barley loaves and two small fish. Oh,” (and the silver lining fades) “but what are these among so many?”

Maybe in Andrew, maybe in the boy, maybe in both, there was a little bit of faith. And Jesus took that little bit and, through love, turned it into so much that twelve basketfuls were left over!

A miracle!

Now, a question I did not ask last week is this: Do you think the crowd knew a miracle was happening in their midst?

The five thousand people were sitting there, probably engaged in conversations and small talk, just as you and I would have been today, when all at once baskets of bread and fish came to them; and they did just what you and I would have done: they took some food for themselves and passed it along to the next group of people.

Of course they didn’t recognize a miracle was happening in their midst! I would wager money on it! It was just routine, normal behavior: grab a basket; take some food; pass it along to the next person; thank you very much.

Well, so why ask this question? Because of what happens next, in today’s Gospel.

2.

Today we find people from this same crowd—people who do not know that a miracle just happened in their midst—seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Some seek him for utility.

These folks are hungry. Jesus fed them quite satisfactorily yesterday; and so, they reason, maybe he will feed us again today. They’re asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” Not the right question!

Others seek him for expediency.

Jesus was the organizer of the event, after all; and he showed no small amount of competence. He gathered and fed us all; and he had some really good things to say. So, “I know!” some of them declare; “let’s make him our king!”

Overnight, Jesus has become not only their religious but also their political champion. They seek Jesus because he is a potential mover and shaker in society, because he will promote their political agenda (or so they imagine).

But again, to seek Jesus for expediency is self-focused rather than God-focused; asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for Jesus?”

Others still seek him for the miraculous.

“What sign are you going to give us then,” some of them ask, “so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?”

Really! “What sign are you going to give us?” Didn’t Jesus just feed about 5,000 people yesterday; and today you want a sign? A miracle took place right in front of your noses. How did you miss it?

The irony thickens even more when they say that Moses gave them a sign: manna from heaven. They know about manna, that famous narrative from their nation’s history; yet they fail to see the true bread of heaven right in their midst!

Anyway, do you see where this is going? Those who seek Jesus for the wonderful, the spectacular, the miraculous are more than likely going to miss it when it happens—and it does happen, right in their midst.

And others still seek him as a kind of intellectual pursuit.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea,” the text reads, “they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’”

They got to know Jesus some yesterday—they sat at his very feet in Bible study—and figured they could know him fully. Trouble is, how can we finite humans ever comprehend the infinite?

Anyway, whether for utility, expediency, the miraculous, or intellectual satisfaction, the crowds in today’s Gospel seek Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, once they re-prioritize their focus, they find him easily.

Right in their midst, the miracle occurred; right in their midst, he is the true bread from heaven.

3.

Last week, also, as a kind of modern-day parallel to the feeding of the five thousand, I posited to you an idea I’ve been chewing on for some time: creating an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County.

Full disclosure here: positing this idea wasn’t just an exercise in conjecture; I wasn’t merely throwing out some impression off the top of my head to consider hypothetically. Rather, I’ve been thinking through this outreach vision for a while now.

For a few years now, I’ve been working with Vida Joven.

Over the past year, I’ve been on the phone and in email conversations with people from the NAES, San Pasqual Academy, and Imago Dei Middle School.

In the spring I presented this idea to our diocese’s Executive Council.

In June, while in Sewanee, I brainstormed with a headmaster there about whether he might be able to bring a similar program to his school.

Just since last week, several of you have approached me about the next step. You’ve said things like, “This idea sounds awesome, Father Tim; how can we do more?”

And in two weeks I will host an initial gathering, to form the New Life Academy Exploratory Committee—a team that will be formally recognized by the NAES.

This vision is getting real!

But, to be honest, like Philip, the whole thing feels overwhelming to me; even paralyzing. It feels risky and vulnerable even to speak about it to you all today.

I mean, what if it fails?

So first, before telling you how I envision going forward with this idea, I want to admonish us all—myself included—really to hear this week’s Gospel.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to apply Jesus’ mission in this way, the creation of an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County?

If so, then let us not do it for the wrong reasons.

Let us not do it for utility—seeking things that feed our egos but do not fulfill our souls.

Let us not do it for expediency—hoping to promote a political agenda.

Let us not anticipate the spectacular or miraculous—missing Christ in the world all around us because we are looking for him only in the grandiose.

And let us not engage in Christ’s mission only as some kind of intellectual exercise—failing to see God’s image in those we serve because we are preoccupied with doing it right.

If any one of these is our chief motivation for realizing this vision, then we are headed for failure right from the starting gate.

Advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us is not about any of these things. It’s not about us! Rather, it’s about Jesus—seeking, finding, and leading others to him; and when we re-prioritize our focus we realize that he’s already here, right in our midst, waiting to be seen.

4.

So then, my sermon’s over, really; but for those who are interested, here are the important logistical details: “how I envision going forward with this idea.”

I mentioned an initial gathering. It will take place here at St. Thomas on Saturday, August 18, from 10am to noon. The plan is to meet in the St. Benedict Conference Room; but if the crowd is too large we can move into Julian Hall—or even the nave (although, so you know, I am not planning to feed you).

The agenda is simple: introductions, introductory comments, a video, and maybe a Powerpoint presentation; followed by group discussion and strategy. My hope is to put together an exploratory committee to carry this vision forward.

Please call the office and let me know if you plan to attend.

Jesus is in our midst. Let’s follow his lead and see what happens.

Love’s Superhighway

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2018 by timtrue

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John 6:1-21

1.

The information superhighway (i. s.) was supposed to be this awesome thing: awesome because now, at our fingertips, we have access to more information than ever before in only a matter of a few seconds!

You want to find a good restaurant? Why, just read the Yelp reviews. You need a new pair of shoes? They’re just a few clicks away. You can’t remember the names of the ships that went with Columbus to discover the New World? Just Google it.

But, if you’re like me, at times you might find the i. s. to be overwhelming, even paralyzing. There’s just too much information out there!

One search leads to another, which leads to another, and before I know it I’ve blown through two hours of my Saturday morning and three cups of coffee and I still don’t know the answer to what I set out looking for—or, worse, I’ve forgotten why I got on the i. s. in the first place.

Has that ever happened to you?

Now, as a church, left with the task of advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us, it goes something like this. We want to do some outreach. So how do we approach it?

Well, we grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and blow through a couple hours on the i. s.; where we find blog posts, web sites, book deals—all offering narratives of how some person or vestry or church succeeded and we can succeed too. But at the end of our drive we find ourselves still at a loss about where even to begin.

We end up, from my experience anyway, a lot like Philip in today’s Gospel.

Instead of beginning a new program of outreach, which is what we set out to do in the first place, we say things like, “Lord, how in the world are we going to do that? We’re in a lot of debt; yet six months of our operating budget wouldn’t even be enough for what we’d like to do!”

And instead of empowering us, today’s i. s. has overwhelmed us. Our outreach vision is paralyzed.

2.

But here’s the thing about the i. s.: it’s a highway of human knowledge; and human knowledge is not the same thing as love’s knowledge.

Human knowledge, however super it is, is nonetheless finite; but love’s knowledge is infinite. The i. s. comes to an end; but the highway of love’s knowledge has only just begun.

Don’t we see this in today’s Gospel?

Some five thousand people have gathered around Jesus; and they are hungry.

Jesus formulates a vision to feed them.

So Philip and Andrew, and we presume others around Jesus, gather information; but they come up short.

“This is a lot of people, Jesus,” they say. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. And we’ve looked around; but all we’ve come up with is this boy who has five barley biscuits and couple of sardines. What good will that do?”

It’s an overwhelming, paralyzing problem. It would take a miracle!

In other words, they tried but failed.

Maybe it’s time to take another tack.

Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to let the idea die and move on.

But where their finite highway of information comes to an end, Jesus’ infinite highway of love has only just begun.

And somehow—I don’t claim to know, for love’s information is beyond human information—that miracle does take place. Somehow the 5,000 end up fed and satisfied, with leftovers!

3.

So, now I want to turn a corner and offer a “for instance” exercise.

For instance: What would it take to begin an outreach program for foster youth in our own backyard; in, say, Riverside County?

Most of you know I’ve done some work with Vida Joven, an orphanage in Tijuana. Well, we call it an orphanage; but it’s really a home for abandoned kids, wards of the state. It’s really the same thing, more or less, as what we in the states call a group home for foster children.

This got me thinking about foster children in our own backyard. Surely Mexico’s foster system is nowhere nearly as developed as ours, I thought; the need has got to be greater there, right?

So I sat down with a cup of coffee and took a drive on the i. s.

And I learned some facts:

  • There are about 4,000 children in the foster system (ages 0-18) in Riverside County.
  • If a child is not adopted by the time he or she reaches Middle School, chances of being adopted at all drop to near 0%.
  • Children are almost always booted out of group homes on their 18th birthday—whether they’ve completed high school or not. Happy birthday, right?
  • Nationwide, 83% of foster kids are held back by the third grade; about half graduate high school; <3% go on to earn a college degree; and 66% will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving foster care (posted June, 2012).[I]

The needs of “orphans” in Mexico are profound; and we should not slacken our efforts with organizations like Vida Joven. However, I was surprised to learn, in the U. S. we have “orphans” too; whose needs run just as deep.

About 4,000 foster children live right in our backyard, in need of food, clothing, shelter, and, maybe even more importantly, stability and education. These statistics show: we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that our present foster system is adequate.

On another drive along the i. s., I learned about something good that is happening in San Diego County, called San Pasqual Academy.

This public charter school was the brainchild of two county supervisors who in the late 1990s decided it was time to do something about the plight of adolescent foster kids in S. D. County. The vision was to establish a residential home-and-school for foster high school students. And I’m happy to say that in 2001 SPA opened its doors, successfully defying the statistics I shared a moment ago ever since.[ii]

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take this idea a step further?

Episcopal Schools have a longstanding relationship with the Christian liberal arts tradition. This approach to education is designed to teach the whole person. It includes a spiritual element that public schools cannot. Its purpose is to develop leaders for tomorrow’s generation.

What if we brought this kind of education to foster youth in Riverside County?

Yet another drive on the i. s. took me to Imago Dei School, an Episcopal Middle School in Tucson that educates, specifically, at-risk students with the goal of making them high-school ready. It has proven to be a tremendously successful program; one that, despite being 100% private, has always been tuition-free!

Seemingly impossible funds—“six months’ wages”—can be raised! Modern-day miracles do happen. An Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County, overwhelming as it feels, is possible.

4.

Jesus once had a vision to feed 5,000 people. So he asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”

It was an overwhelming vision. So, “I don’t know,” Philip replied, paralyzed; “six months’ wages wouldn’t even be enough to pay for all the food we need.”

It would take a miracle!

Philip found himself at the end of his human knowledge—at the end of his information highway.

But there, at only just the beginning of love’s knowledge, he watched as Andrew approached Jesus with a boy who was willing to offer something: five loaves and two small fish.

And Andrew said, “It’s not enough food for five thousand people, Jesus; probably not even enough for five.”

But it was a start.

And Jesus knew it!

And I like to think the boy knew it too. Even if no one else believed in Jesus’ vision for outreach—neither Philip nor Andrew was there yet—even if it was just Jesus and a boy, it was a start.

And, as far as Jesus cared, that was enough. “Make the people sit down,” he said.

And we know what happened next. Love’s knowledge produced so much that the 5,000 were fed and satisfied; and twelve basketfuls of leftovers were gathered up.

Twelve basketfuls! Seemingly impossible funds! A miracle!

 

Does a vision for an Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County feel overwhelming, maybe even paralyzing? Is your response to this vision, “It would take a miracle!”?

Yet already we have seen much more than five barley loaves and two fish in front of us—Vida Joven, San Pasqual Academy, NAES, Imago Dei School.

I pray that Jesus will take these and multiply them; and that we will see a modern-day miracle in our midst.

 

[i] Cf. https://vittana.org/43-gut-wrenching-foster-care-statistics ; https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/ ; http://www.amarillo.com/article/20120624/NEWS/306249799

[ii] See www.sanpasqualacademy.org/background.htm