Archive for reality

Why School Chaplaincy: Ideals Bow to Pragmatics

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2019 by timtrue

Soon two kids became three; then three became four. All daughters. Each roughly two years apart. Yep, when our oldest turned six, Baby Number Four was about to say hello to the world.

The dream of ordination was now clouded by the necessity to get food on the table and diapers on bottoms.

On a teacher’s salary.

That’ll put one’s faith in ideals to the test!

But we managed, somehow, by teaching piano, voice, and violin students out of our home. I also took on evening jobs, usually having to do with music in some stripe of church or other.

And that was life for a while.

Treadmill.

Plodding on.

The vocational dream was still there, but now more like a phantom, leaving me to wonder often if I was merely imagining the ghost or if it was actually something of substance.

So I poured myself into my work, trying to extract value from it and not just going through the motions. I filled holes when they came up, offering to do extra work, administrative work, development work, curriculum work, as long as a few more dollars fit into the scenario.

Which is how I ended up, among other things, learning and teaching Latin. Teacher shortages were real and I was willing and energetic.

Having joined a Presbyterian Church by now, the pastor learned of my latent sense of ordination vocation and encouraged me to apply to a sister church in Texas, a church looking for a full-time staff person to focus half-time on education and half-time on music.

A chance to get back into church ministry? Heck yes! I was interested.

The interview went very well. My wife liked the idea. I was offered the position. We packed up and moved 1500 miles east.

So certain were we of this turn of events, in fact, so certain were we in our faith, that we bought a house.

This was God’s will for us, surely.

Only it wasn’t.

Somewhere between California and Texas the church’s elders decided that the timing wasn’t right to build the education program: the budget couldn’t support me.

Only they didn’t say anything to me until after we’d closed on the house.

Well, we decided the house would root us; we’d take the adventure that awaited us. An adventure, I might add, that wasn’t to include the Presbyterian Church.

So it was there–after returning to the profession where I had found success–teaching–but otherwise feeling back at Square One–no friends, no family nearby, no professional network yet–that we decided to check out the Episcopal Church.

And–why had it taken us so long?–we were home!

Here was a church that didn’t cheapen grace by calling Christianity fun. Here was a church, too, that recognized the faith as not so simple, not so black-and-white as our evangelical roots kept trying to tell us. The Christian faith, in other words, was more like real life: genuine.

That was a breath of fresh air for us.

We also liked the beauty of the music and liturgy, and a theology that included kids in the Eucharist, etc., but that’s another topic for another day.

Fast forward a year or so. By now my wife and I had been confirmed and received into the church. Then, suddenly and rashly it seemed to me, not long after the 2006 General Convention, the rector stood at the pulpit on a Sunday and announced,

“Well, the vestry and I have been having some serious discussions. We’ve come to an agreement that next Sunday will be our last. We’ll march out of here together to another building we’ve rented two blocks away. We’re leaving the Episcopal Church!”

My wife and I were floored! We’d just found our spiritual home–at long last!

So I called the bishop directly to express my concern and mentioned, “I wish I were ordained so that I could jump in here and help out.”

Truth is stranger than fiction, they say.

My words struck a chord with the bishop. In a short time I found myself entering a formal discernment process. Adult-lifelong dream, always met with obstacles; until now, when it was happening almost without any initiative or effort on my part!

By spring of 2008 the bishop asked if I was interested in relocating to attend a residential seminary.

Gulp!

By now we were expecting Baby Number 5, so I said something like, “Sounds great! But I can’t see how we could afford it–five kids in the house!”

We agreed to take a year to process, pray, daydream, and otherwise consider this new/revisited idea. Would seminary 2010 actually come to be?

During that year of daydreaming etc. it dawned on me that there is a very strong network of Episcopal schools all over the country, most of which employ a full-time chaplain, an ordained priest.

So, what if I could combine my ideal vocation with my realized one–priest with educator?

“Bishop,” I asked one day in the middle, maybe during winter, “what if I were to become a school chaplain after ordination?”

“Tim,” he said, with a look on his face that was somewhere between dejection and disapproval, “I don’t send people to seminary to become chaplains. I send them to be parochial priests.”

“Okay,” I replied, quickly realizing that pragmatism would have to trump my idealism in the moment–like it had in so many other moments over the last fifteen years–“of course! Yes. I want to be a parochial priest.”

The bishop and I never brought up the subject again.

But the idea remained lodged firmly in my psyche.

Belonging to the Truth

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2015 by timtrue

FatherTim

John 18:33-37

What is truth?

Is truth relative?  Or is it absolute?

If it’s relative, then what’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.

Now, there’s wisdom in this sort of thinking—that truth is relative.  It doesn’t take us long to see.  Right now, for instance, on the world stage there are people who believe that western thinking is wrong, and that all westerners deserve to die.

For me, anyone who possesses a personal truth, a doctrine, that prejudges another person or group of people because of race, color, creed, or ideology—well, that’s no “truth” for me.

So, what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.

But we can go too far with this kind of thinking.

Like that time in college when a friend of mine declared, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth!”

And I said, “Are you absolutely sure?”

Absolute truth is a concern of all the great religions of the world.  Is there any sort of truth—or, if you like, are there some ideologies or doctrines—applicable to all humanity?  Is there some kind of moral code by which all people, regardless of era, civilization, or culture, ought to live?

The Golden Rule, maybe?  Or love?

If so—if there is such a thing as absolute truth, something applicable to all humanity regardless of time and place—then we’ve found a key to one of life’s great mysteries, a principle by which all people should live.

Nevertheless, whatever the case, persons, people, and whole nations can’t agree.  And the debate continues.

Is truth absolute, or is it relative?

But what if we’re asking the wrong question?

Today’s Gospel teaches us a lot about truth.

Near the end of the passage, Pilate asks Jesus a leading question about his identity: “So you are a king?”

Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

If Jesus is a king at all—and we all know he is—then his is a kingdom of truth.  To testify to the truth is why Jesus was born; it’s why he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  Everyone who listens to his voice belongs to his kingdom.  Everyone who listens to his voice belongs to the truth.  Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth.

But Pilate doesn’t get it.

For what does the very next verse say?

We ended with verse 37.  We ended with Jesus declaring, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Then—verse 38 says—“Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’”

What is truth?

Well, Pilate, you think that Jesus and his kingdom are no threat to you.

You, Pilate, think that you’re the most powerful, in-control person in all of Jerusalem.  After all, the truth is, you are the local representative of Rome, of Caesar himself.  No human being is more politically powerful than you.

And you think, Pilate, that an ideological kingdom, a kingdom of truth, a kingdom not of this world, is no threat at all to you or Caesar.

And so you ask, “What is truth?” and you go out to Jesus’ opponents and tell them, “I find no case against him.”

BUT, Pilate, reality—in other words, the truth—is not what you think.

Despite that you think yourself so powerful, Pilate, you are obviously trapped in fear.  That’s the reality here.  Jesus’ opponents, the “underground” leaders of the community, want him crucified.  If you don’t give them what they want, who knows what kind of uprising will follow?  And then, what will Rome think of you?  You fear the answers to these questions, Pilate, don’t you?

Despite that his is an ideological kingdom, Pilate, this kingdom of truth is in fact a very real threat to you, your power, and the political kingdom of Rome.  For, despite what you think, Jesus’ teachings are very subversive when it comes to allegiance.  For Jesus’ followers, when it comes to either the kingdom of Rome or the kingdom of God, Rome takes second place every time.

So, you, Pilate, are in denial.

Maybe the question we should ask, then, is not whether truth is relative or absolute. Maybe it’s more about reality.  What is the reality into which Jesus calls us to live?  What is the truth that is Christ’s kingdom?  And what traps us in fear of living into that truth?

Journalist Jonathan Darman tells the story of a U. S. senator who wanted to make a public statement, after the fact, that he had acted against his better judgment when he voted to authorize the war in Iraq.  This senator wanted to declare that he’d made a mistake and offer a public apology.  So he wrote three drafts of an op-ed article.  But in every draft, his aides either deleted his confession altogether or tempered it to say, “I was misled.”

For this senator’s aides, maintaining power was more important than being honest.  And thus the senator was trapped.

Is that what our fears are about?  Maintaining position?  Do we fear what we would lose by being honest, authentic, real?

I wonder how many of us live in this fear.  Many of us enjoy our creature comforts.  Many of us have nice homes and comfortable cars; and we take expensive vacations.  Fine and well.

But to what extent do we go in order to enjoy these things?  Are we real with respect to our public personas?  Do our colleagues at work really know us—what we think, what we believe in, what makes us tick?  Or do we put up a front, out of fear of losing our jobs?

We’ve got to pay the mortgage, after all.  And the car payment.  And the credit card debt.

These things can trap us into denying reality—or avoiding it, or fearing it.

And what about the Church?

This question has been on my mind and heart a lot lately, especially after the recent pastoral letter from Bishop Mathes.

Today is known as Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year; next week Advent begins, the Christian New Year.  So, is Christ our King?  Do we in fact give all allegiance to Jesus Christ, trusting completely in his divine sovereignty, as we declare on this day?

The Church has grown accustomed to certain creature comforts.

But studies have demonstrated that the mainline Christian churches, including the Episcopal Church, have experienced steady decline in membership over the last four decades.  America is becoming increasingly post-Christian.  St. Paul’s is losing its place of influence in and around Yuma.

So, I’ve got to ask, are we trapped in fear of this reality?

Some of the Episcopal Church’s parishes are living in denial, following models of congregational development that once seemed effective but no longer address the realities of today’s world.  Leaders of such parishes say things like, “We’re just trying to be faithful to what Jesus calls us to do.”

Other parishes acknowledge the reality; but they try to avoid it.  They are trapped by fear of the unknown, or they suffer from that age-old disease called analysis-paralysis.

Still others temper their message and mission, like that senator’s aides, in a desperate effort to maintain position.

But the Church professes Christ as King.  Shouldn’t the Church live out its profession?

After Pilate asks Jesus the first time, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus turns the tables and asks him a very revealing question:

“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Jesus asks Pilate this revealing question and thus invites him to be honest, to be real, to be authentic.  It’s as if Jesus says, “Listen to me, Pilate.  Be true.  Be real.”  “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Do you see?  Even to Pilate, Jesus offers to be the good shepherd; Jesus offers Pilate the opportunity to belong to the truth.

But Pilate refuses.  Pilate dismisses Jesus’ offer, asking with disdain, “What is truth?”

It’s the same with us.  Jesus invites us to be authentic.  Jesus is offering to us—as individuals and as the Church—to be our good shepherd, the opportunity to belong to the truth.

So now it’s our turn.

Will we be like Pilate, refusing the truth, dismissing Jesus’ offer?

Or are we ready to receive it?

Longing for Reality

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , on October 22, 2014 by timtrue

What is reality?

Have you ever had a dream that seems so real that when you wake up you find yourself disappointed?  The reality of waking life seems less real, in a way, than the dream just felt.  You try to go back to sleep, if only for a moment, to return to that fake reality of the dream.

But it can work the other way too, yeah?  You may have a nightmare so terrifying that, once you wake from it—covered in a cold sweat and trembling—you regret that you couldn’t rouse yourself to reality sooner.  If only I could have woken up, you think; but thank heavens I’m awake now, that this world is in fact reality and not that other world of my dreams.

Noted Christian author C. S. Lewis plays with this idea quite effectively in the fifth book of his beloved Narnia series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  With the exception of the very beginning and end, the story takes place entirely in a made up world.  It is a time of peace in the land of Narnia, so the king, Caspian, collects a crew and casts off on a voyage of exploration.  The ship is named “Dawn Treader”; and the purpose of the voyage is twofold: to sail eastward, beyond all previous explorations; and to locate seven king’s men who vanished several years before during a similar exploratory voyage.

Several chapters later the Dawn Treader’s crew finds a missing king’s man at a mysterious island where all a person’s dreams come true.  The missing man is hauled aboard the Dawn Treader in almost utter darkness—the crew found him by his screams—and he cannot believe it.  He keeps pinching himself, expecting at any moment that his rescuers will vanish before his eyes into oblivion.  That’s when he tells the others what this island is all about, that it is a place where all one’s dreams come true.

Well, you can imagine the initial hoots and hollers of delight from the crew.  For upon first hearing this they recall all the best dreams they’ve ever experienced, like those ones I mentioned above that you don’t want to wake from.  But after a word of caution from the frightened man (“Oh, no!  You don’t understand.  I said all your dreams come true!”), and a collective moment of silence while everyone processes what the man has just said, all manner of pandemonium breaks out as the crew desperately tries to turn the ship around and get out of Dodge.

It won’t spoil the story too much to say the crew made it out (I highly recommend the whole series!), but only after succumbing substantially to the spell-like stupor of the place—only after reaching a point themselves of losing all distinction between hallucinations and reality.

Along these lines (of reality blurred), we could take a step further back and look not just at C. S. Lewis but at the entire world of fiction.  Fiction, by its very definition, is not reality.  But more often than not it tells a story more realistically—it captures the realities of humanity, of good, of evil, of life in all its complexities better—than non-fiction, or what we call reality by definition.

Now then, on to All Saints’ Day.

One of our lectionary’s readings for this feast is Revelation 7:9-17.  Here John relates a vision—a dream, or even a hallucination.  But the reality of it is much more truly real even than what we experience in our day-to-day lives in this material world of ours.

What John sees in his vision is a huge gathering of people, a number beyond what anyone can count; people of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language of the world.  They’re dressed in white and waving palm branches.  And they’re standing before a throne upon which sits a lamb.  Other creatures are present too—animals of some sort and angels.  But the great multitude that John sees is clearly and distinctly people.

John then turns to his guide and asks, “Who are these people?”

And he is told, “They are the ones who have come out of great suffering.  They will never be hungry again, or thirsty again.  The sun will never scorch them again.  And that lamb you see there, he will lead them to springs of cool, living water.”

This vision that John has is of all the saints, the feast we celebrate on All Saints’ Day.

We see now only in part.

Don’t you long for true reality?