House of Cards on Netflix

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I don’t watch that much television for many reasons.  For one, my evening schedule is a bit hectic and sporadic and even if I was around the house every evening, much of what is on is not really interesting.  If anything I like to watch reruns like Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond, and I also like watching baseball with the sound turned down as I read a book.  My family and I have a subscription to Netflix which if you don’t know has many movies, TV shows and documentaries.  For a monthly fee we have access to all of it and we can watch it on our computers and even on our cell phones!  The picture on my cell phone is actually better than on my computer, so now I have access to even more information just at my finger tips.  Great just what I needed.

Some of you may have heard about the Netflix original series called House of Cards.  It’s a political drama (with 13 episodes) based in Washington D.C. with well known actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and even though I know it’s not real, many real elements are found within the series.  House of Cards is about power, and about people who seek it at any cost.  Kevin Spacey’s character (named congressman Frank Underwood) thinks little about the consequences of his actions because he craves to hold onto and even increase his power. 

I must say I have really enjoyed watching House of Cards, although after watching some of the episodes, I felt I needed a little extra time of prayer.  There is some adult content, but that is not the reason, because the extra prayer time comes from feeling sad for people who focus all their lives on power and the things of the world with little thought to the people who surround them, and to the God who created and sustains them.

Not that I needed to watch House of Cards to figure this out, but I am thankful for my simple life, the work God has given me, the family I have, and the roof over my head.  I have enough, and if I receive more, it comes through the generosity of others, rather than me taking it from them through power, selfishness and greed, and this makes me feel good.  If you have Netflix I would recommend the series, but I warn you that you may get hooked.  Before you know it you can spend four hours watching five of the episodes.. and even worse, they are just starting to film season two!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Peace,

Bill

Lent, Focus and Repentance

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First, I really regret not posting anything to my blog for some time.  I am embarassed to have not updated my postings.  Time really goes by fast.  My last posting was Thanksgiving and in just a few weeks, we will be celebrating Easter.  Yikes.  I am going to attempt to post something to my blog once a month.  I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

This morning I led worship for our school’s chapel. I do this each Wednesday.  I shared with the kids that Lent is a time to focus in on our lives of faith and listen to God.  We should do this throughout the year, but we don’t for many reasons.  So Lent is the period to focus in on refocusing. 

We in the Church speak about repentance, but not to the fullest extent.  Repentance is more than confessing our individual sins.  It is turning our back to what pulls us away from God.  Notice I said “us” (plural) rather than “me” (singular).  I share this following thought from fellow pastor, Brian Stoffregen who shares the need for communal repentance by saying: "We might take the plural "you" as a corporate need to repent and bear fruit.  What sins have WE committed?  How do WE repent of such wrongs?  How do WE begin to bear the proper fruit?  WE may be our family, our congregation our city, state or government.  It seems that the crux of Jesus’ message (in the Gospel of Luke) is a call to repentance.  It is not primarily a call to worship or praise God.  Such actions without repentance are meaningless."

I appreciate Pastor Stoffregen’s reflection because it moves forgiveness and salvation beyond the individual and into the communal.  This world suffers in so many ways because of our actions and inactions.  We experience things beyond our control at times, but so much of what ails us happens through our own human hands.  I pray "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy" as a prayer of faith.  I also pray "Accept us God for who WE are and what WE have done, and accept OUR repentance.”

ThanksLiving

I looked at my calendar yesterday and was shocked to see that Thanksgiving is next Thursday.  I thought I had a one more full week before the week of Thanksgiving.  I don’t know where the time goes anymore.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for two simple reasons.  First, it has not been overwhelmed by our consumerist society, which means no presents are required to celebrate!  And second, the focus is thanksgiving, family, and food.  It is such a simple but meaningful holiday and I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving Day.

Fortunately, though, as a community of faith our thanksgiving is not limited to one day, but it is truly a way of living, and so hence I would like you to think of the other 364 days as days of ThanksLiving.  We are encouraged to be thankful for each day we have, and no matter what struggles we have, we can always find something for which we can offer thanks.  We do not relish in the suffering of others, but we count our blessings as we look around the world, and even our neighborhoods and see so many people who struggle in so many profound way.  I wonder to myself sometimes, “what am I grumbling about.”

As you sit around your Thanksgiving Day tables I encourage each of you to offer a few words of thanksgiving.  The words do not need to be profound but heartfelt, and God gratefully receives these offerings of faith.  Realizing each family may have their own tradition and even in light of the abundance of resources available on the internet, I am still offering a few prayers to be offered around your Thanksgiving Day tables. 

May God’s abundant blessings be upon you always.

Bill

We Give Thanks

Our Father in Heaven,
We give thanks for the pleasure
Of gathering together for this occasion.
We give thanks for this food
Prepared by loving hands.
We give thanks for life,
The freedom to enjoy it all
And all other blessings.
As we partake of this food,
We pray for health and strength
To carry on and try to live as You would have us.
This we ask in the name of Christ,
Our Heavenly Father.

—Harry Jewell

As we bow our heads to pray, we give thanks to you God, for this Thanksgiving Day.

We thank you Father, for our families, friends, and for all the blessings, both big and small, that you pour out on us each day.

We give thanks to you for this food and for the hands that have prepared it. We ask your blessings upon this meal: that it will nourish our bodies and refresh our souls.

We give thanks to you for this wonderful time together, and for each one present here today.

We ask you, dear Lord, let each one of us feel your love, comfort, and presence in our lives today and every day.

Let us not forget those who can’t be here with us today. We give thanks to you for them, too. We miss our loved ones, Lord, but we are thankful for all the good times that we had with them.

We know, Lord, that this life is not all there is; that the best is yet to come if we live for you. So, help us each day to live our lives in ways that honor and please you. And we’ll not forget to give you all the praise and glory.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

—Ethel Faye Grzanich

Wisdom in the Age of Smart People

There is a difference between being intelligent and being wise.  A true blessing would be if a person is both.  Often, we encounter people who are really smart, and we call that “book smart”, but sometimes that person lacks the ability to make good decisions.  Being smart is about someone’s proficiency in a certain area of life.  There are some people who may be very intelligent in the areas of mathematics and science, or maybe in political history or philosophy, and while this intelligence is a gift from God, it is not enough, because to navigate through this world we need more expansive ways at looking at things, which for me, is rooted in wisdom. 

So as we search to plow our way through the overwhelming information which comes to us on a daily basis, we look to find wise people who can provide insight into a certain situation.  But what makes a person wise?  Maybe you have noticed that wise people are often quiet and introspective.  They don’t seek the limelight, nor do they think they are always right.  They exude humility, and have a way of placing situations in a much bigger context.  They are often those people we would normally walk right by because nothing visible makes them stand out.  They are able to take the long view of things, and don’t overreact.  Sometimes they don’t try to fix anything, or provide a solution, as they merely listen and provide a shoulder to cry on.  But most of all, they are people who have a deep reverence for God and find wisdom through their encounter with God within the community of faith, the Holy Scriptures and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. 

In the Bible the Book of Proverbs is placed within the category of Wisdom Literature.  The Hebrew word for proverb means literally “a comparison” and is related to another Hebrew word which means “to rule and master”.  As one reads the Book of Proverbs you discover that it has been written “to rule and master” the chaos and confusion of daily life.  It is a book that doesn’t merely try to address specific situations, but attempts to strive for harmony and coherence at the macro-level, i.e. looking at a specific situation within the big picture of life.  This is why the Book of Proverbs still speaks to us today.  An example of this comes from Proverbs 17:27 which says: “One who spares words is knowledgeable; one who is cool in spirit has understanding.” Or how about Proverbs 14:21 which says: "Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor."  And finally from Proverbs 19:4 which says: "Wealth brings many friends, but the poor are left friendless."

I encourage each of you to discover once again the rich gift that God has given us through the Scriptures, and to seek out the path of wisdom.  It is a blessing to have a much deeper perspective within the chaos of life by knowing that God speaks to us to give us order and peace. 

Be wise and at peace,

Bill 

Take Some Time To Rest

Summer is just about here.  Graduations are popping up all over the place.  Trips are being planned.  Picnics and baseball games and festivals, and all good things which happen in Erie in the summertime are just getting started.  Summer is a time to do the things we can’t do during the winter because we can be outside.  Maybe for some summer is the time to get away because kids are off from school.  But summer is not just a time for more and more activities, it is also a time for rest. 

I can’t remember how long ago (or who even said it to me) when someone gave me the permission to find time during the day or the year to just rest and relax.  I am not the best with doing nothing because I feel “lazy” if I sit too long, but when that person gave me the permission to take some time to get away, it told me to not feel bad about taking a vacation, or if nothing else, just sitting on the porch with a good book listening to a baseball game on the radio and watching the grass grow.  To be human means to rest as well.  So if I may be so bold, I give you permission to have some restful time, and in that quiet and peace, be be more aware of your many blessings. 

I offer you two ending thoughts before you turn off the computer and take a nap.  The first one comes from the great philosopher Kermit the Frog who once said “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!”.  Meditate on that one for a bit.  And second, I found a really interesting NPR audio file (which you can listen to when you click on the below link) which affirms the importance of rest.  Happy listening.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111887591

Have a restful summer, but don’t sleep in on Sunday mornings!  I will see you here, and then you can go home and rest… or just nap during the sermon.

Peace to you,

Bill 

On the Sixth Sunday of Easter we hear from John’s Gospel the following: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”  I am particularly drawn to Jesus calling us his friends.  We may think of ourselves as saints and sinners, sheep and followers, but certainly not friends, but that is what we are. 

In light of being a friend of Jesus, I am also thinking about all of my friends, people that I grew up with, people I have worked with, my friends that I no longer see in person, and the friends in my family.  I think about how my friends influence and change my life.  One good friend of mine is Monsignor Bill Biebel from St. Peter Cathedral Church.  He is my church neighbor right across the street who has welcomed me into the faith community of Erie in so many ways.  We have travelled together on retreat, talked about life and faith, and prayed and shared meals with one another.  Monsignor Biebel will be celebrating fifty years of his ordination into the priesthood at the end of May.  I pray for him as my friend, and I ask that you pray for him as well. We give thanks to God through our prayers that he has been such a faithful witness to the Gospel by allowing others to know that they are the friends of Jesus.

Witnessing Giving

We are witnesses to the resurrection.  Although we did not see the empty tomb, touch the wounds of the resurrected Jesus, or eat fish with him, we are still witnesses.  When we gather on Sunday, we are witnesses.  When we make an offering, we are witnesses.  When we gather for a fellowship event, we are witnesses.  When we help and give to others, we are witnesses. 

I continue to be amazed at your giving and generosity in sending our kids to New Orleans this summer. You continue to give and give, and while I know it makes us feel good to do this, our giving is also a way of witnessing to the resurrection.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to hold onto your money and buy yourself something nice, or save up for some trip?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to stash your money away for some future emergency?  Sure it would make sense, but because of the resurrection we are able to think and live much differently.  Each time you give you are making a difference in someone’s life.  You may not see it immediately (or ever) but you are making a difference.

I just wanted to say thank you for the ways you are witnessing to the resurrection.  I offer this below story to provide some additional insight about the power of giving.

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

"I’ve been thinking," he said, "I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone." 

"The Wise Woman’s Stone"

 Author Unknown

If you are like me it is not easy to commit to daily prayer.  Many distractions come at me.  I sometimes forget.  I don’t always know what to pray.  It is good to know that although I may forget to pray on a particular day, others do not.  Many faith communities throughout the world “pray without ceasing” through many different means and one such way is by praying the Divine Office. 
I am sure most of you have watched a movie about monks in a monastery who pray at all hours of the day.  They are praying set psalms and readings, and in so doing become a part of a much bigger prayer community.  Praying in such a way commits oneself on a daily basis whether you feel like it or not, and provides words to pray if one cannot find the words.  I now pray the Divine Office through my book of Christian Prayer and also the Divine Office website.  I was really amazed at this website.  I encourage you to check it out so you may deepen your life of prayer by joining saints of all times and places.
Here is the website: www.divineoffice.org

If you are like me it is not easy to commit to daily prayer.  Many distractions come at me.  I sometimes forget.  I don’t always know what to pray.  It is good to know that although I may forget to pray on a particular day, others do not.  Many faith communities throughout the world “pray without ceasing” through many different means and one such way is by praying the Divine Office. 

I am sure most of you have watched a movie about monks in a monastery who pray at all hours of the day.  They are praying set psalms and readings, and in so doing become a part of a much bigger prayer community.  Praying in such a way commits oneself on a daily basis whether you feel like it or not, and provides words to pray if one cannot find the words.  I now pray the Divine Office through my book of Christian Prayer and also the Divine Office website.  I was really amazed at this website.  I encourage you to check it out so you may deepen your life of prayer by joining saints of all times and places.

Here is the website: www.divineoffice.org

Spring Cleaning

I have had a pretty good Lent.  I did a little more reading than I usually do.  I was better at praying each morning.  I have enjoyed the Wednesday afternoon and evening Lenten offerings.  The weather has been great and it feels and smells like Easter is just around the corner. 

At home, we have been doing some early Spring cleaning which includes painting.  The basement will be a big project on the horizon.  Many of you may know that before moving to Erie my family and I moved every two to three years so we had little time to accumulate things, but now we have been in the house for five years so the basement is getting a bit messy.

Our lives are hectic and we have so many options, so we need time to refocus and do some Spring cleaning.  One part of my life I am trying to refocus on is knowing how and where to spend my time, and where and how much to give to organizations or people in need.  You may have the same struggles as well… because there is only so much of YOU to go around! So what I am hoping to do in the short term is find one or two local focuses and one or two global focuses for my giving.  I am going to continue to read my devotional book every morning before I turn on my computer or answer phone messages.  Worship each Sunday (well of course that’s my job!). And finally to trust that I can never do enough, but believe that my small faithful and imperfect actions are pleasing to God. 

I leave you the below link to access a prayer that has been very important to me, and I hope to you as well.  The prayer is called The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr.  It is a great prayer for the spring cleaning of the soul.

http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/special/serenity.html

Another interesting and thought provoking episode from Lutheran Satire.  This episode addresses how to transform and not to transform a congregation.

Peace to you,

Bill