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Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Luke 21: 25 - 28, 34 - 36

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.11.29 (Sunday)

The End of Days?

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

  ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’ (NJB)

The Trouble with Prophecy

The authors of Luke report that these are the words of Jesus. In so doing they place lies in the mouth of their friend and their teacher.

Jesus never spoke about the end of the world, because Jesus spoke the truth, and he did not seek to motivate with fear, but with love.

When the sun spends the last of its nuclear fuel; that will be a sign of the end of the world (billions of years from now).

If the moon were to slip in its orbit, that would be a sign of the end of the end of the world (the world as we know it).

The stars are in fact so distant from us, that what happens with them can have little to do with what happens here, but before our sun burns itself out, our galaxy will collide with another, and that will radically change life on this planet (billions of years from now).

God, the creator of the universe, made us, our world, and our universe free. God does not interfere, or intervene in our lives and our choices. Because that is true, the only futures we can predict are those that flow naturally from their antecedents that are present in reality, right now.

We can predict global warming; because it is happening, and the antecedents for it were laid down decades ago.

Just as we can predict the continuation of wars, terrorism, and economic injustice, they are present realities, and matters of statistical certitude.

We can predict these things, not because God has decreed that these things will come to pass, but because we have.

The only liberation we will have from the vicissitudes of this life, will come at the end of. God will not stretch out God’s hand to save you from any danger.

Pay no attention to those who use fear to shape your faith.

They are liars.

God wills that you live a life without fear, and the things that flow from fear; hate, anger, greed, and violence.

To the extent that any of us are drunk, or debauched, it is certain that we will pay for it in your own ways; through the loss of monies, the loss of opportunities, the loss of friendship, the loss of dignity. 
These habits, (the nature of sin itself), is not that they are traps that will prevent you from reaching your ultimate destiny. They may frustrate you in this life (to one degree or another), but they will not separate you from God. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.   

The first Sunday of Advent

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Campesinas De Oaxaca

Forty Days of Haiku, Day 35, Reflections – Part IX

Bill Phelps, Photograph by Shelly Mossman

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving, according to the Via Negativa

Today is Thanksgiving, a secular holiday to be sure, but a sacred one for Americans.

Many of us are writing about the things that we are thankful for, and that is nice.

The expression of gratitude is always welcome, even gratitude expressed in general for the many things we receive from those we love, by whom we are loved, that make our lives more comfortable, more challenging, more meaningful.

To express gratitude in this way is to, is to make one’s self humble, to acknowledge our reliance on others for making us who we are.

In theology there is something known as the apophatic tradition. In this tradition it is understood that God, the creator of all that is, that God dwells in a place beyond all human understanding, shrouded in mystery, in the great cloud of un-knowing.

According to the apophatic tradition, no one can speak affirmatively as to what or who God is, because God, the infinite will not be circumscribed by language. There are no positive assertions about the nature of the Divine, there is only the via negativa; the way of saying what God is not.

This year I will forgo the giving of thanks, even though I am truly grateful for everyone in our lives. I will be selfish and tell you all what I am not thankful for.

I am not thankful that there is no peace in the world,
In Syria, from where millions of people are fleeing their homes
In Palestine, where there is apartheid
In America, where we are divided by class, culture, color

I am not thankful for white supremacy, and domestic terrorism

I am not thankful for terrorism anywhere
I am not thankful for the religious fundamentalism that drives it
            I am thankful neither for the fear that spawns it, nor for the fear it creates

I am not thankful that there is hunger in our bountiful world
            I am not thankful for the greed, for the sloth, and for the bad public policy that foster it

I am not thankful for willful ignorance, for anti-rational, anti-intellectual, demagoguery
            I am not thankful for the cultural relativism that has promoted it, for anti-objectivism
                        I am not thankful for liars

I am not thankful for Donald Trump, for Ted Cruz, for Ben Carson

I am not thankful for Fox News

Forty Days of Haiku, Day 33, Reflections – Part VII

Photograph by Bill Phelps

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of John 18: 33 - 37

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.11.22 (Sunday)

Christ the King?

‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ (NJB)

The Trouble with Analogies

It is an unfortunate moment in the development of our faith; that the gospel writers felt compelled to use the narrative, of Jesus’ arrest, to give Jesus any claim to kingship at all.

He did not seek kingship, kingdoms are human constructions. It is not a different type of kingdom that Jesus wanted to inaugurate, but a world without kings.

The analogy we ought to look for, in order to understand the Way, has nothing to do with royalty and power, with thrones and dominion, but with life; growing things, caring for things, loving things. The Way of Jesus is like living in a garden.

That language of God as king, has dogged us down through the centuries, and it thwarted the mission of Jesus just as soon as it was first put into use. It gave rise to empires, to principalities, and to the quasi caliphates that even today use the sacred traditions to prop up their greed, their vanity, and their callous disregard for humanity.

All Christians bear some responsibility for this. God, the creator of the universe is not a king, Jesus is not a price. They are gardeners.

The 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The feast of Saint Cecilia, Mother of Music

Forty Days of Haiku, Day 29, Reflections – Part Three

Photograph by Bill Phelps

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Blue plane, the unplanted field
Broken by my pen

Smoke curls off tongue
The horizon, cool blue line
Mourning trumpet blows 

Thin slip of vision
Naked as a cloudless sky
Covered now with script

Forty Days of Haiku, Day 28, Reflections – Part Two

Bill Phelps with Child
Photograph by Bill Phelps

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Mark 13:24-32

Mark 13:24-32 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.11.15 (Sunday)

Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.

  ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

  ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’ (NJB)

On the Limits of Human Understanding

Pay attention to the Gospel, and be mindful of the limits that human agency possesses.

It is instructive.

The authors of this Gospel came to the end of their ability to narrate the life and mission of Jesus.

They allowed their own imagination, their own fears, their misguided notions of what the mission of Jesus was, to come in and take the place of wisdom.

Jesus is transformed from the humble teacher and preacher that he was in life, into a figure descending from heaven in power and glory. Jesus would have been the first to tell them that power and glory are no substitute peace and love, for justice and mercy.

The same thing is true for individuals, for nations, and for societies, there are times of conflict and there are times of peace, there are times of despair and there are times of hope, there are times of confusion and there are times of understanding. When we are farthest away from the light, we are able to see it in greater focus as the point that draws us. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the light.

Jesus did not come back in the lifetime of the Gospel writers. It is unfortunate but they allowed the co-mingling of their fears and their hopes to write a series of lies into the narrative of Jesus’ life.

The church has been stuck trying to interpret these lies ever since.

Heaven and earth are here, they are going nowhere. There is no end time for God’s creation, but there is an end for us.

When our end comes, what will we say of our lives; that we lived in fear of the coming of the end, or that we lived them in hope, with trust, in the service of justice and love?

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Attached to a Phone Cord

It was an image out of time
A man walking with telephone in hand
The long handset at his right ear
The bulky base hanging from his fingers
At his waist, the curling cord
Like a bandolier across his chest
A long cable trailing along the floor
A slender, flat worm, fixed to the wall
Shifting as he paced around the room
Watch, as from time to time he switches
The parts of the phone form hand to hand
Pausing for a moment to cradle the handset
Between his shoulder and his ear
The phone base swings from left to right
The handset mid-sentence, from right to left
An archaic dance, a vision from childhood
When we were tethered by the cable
To the phone, by the cord
Within which electrons flowed
As now they pass right through us
Ten thousand conversations at a time
Binary signals in the ether, invisible fingers
Drawing pictures, touching nerves

Inside of us  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran’s Day

Today is Veteran’s Day. I am a veteran; and so is my father.

I served in the Navy; as a Hospital Corpsman. My enlistment was for four years, from 1990 – 1994; a standard contract that I entered into so that I could earn some money for college. I had few other options; coming from a poor family, and being a high school dropout. Our nation went to war only once during that time; the first Gulf War began four months into my term of service.

I did not go into that theater where we killed 300,000 Iraqis, in the space of a few months.

My father served for twenty-two years; the first four as a Marine, and then eighteen more in the Air Force. He was an air traffic controller. Our nation went to war only once during that time, in Vietnam (though there were other smaller conflicts throughout the world, the Cold War, The Bay of Pigs…). We killed 3,000,000 Vietnamese.
My father served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam.

Our nation has recently been to war in Iraq a second time, a study published in the Lancet: The British Journal of Medicine, estimated that we killed upwards of a million more Iraqis.[1] One and a half million people killed by us in the space of thirteen years; between 1991 and 2004, with many more since then. Our government denied this number; saying that they did not keep accurate records of casualties.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…Aries, Nemesis, Strife.

We are waging war around the world still; in Iraq, in Afghanistan. No reliable information has been gathered about how many Afghans have been killed, since it began in 2001. Some commentators, most in fact; call it America’s longest war, though in truth we should all know it was not longer than our engagement in Vietnam, where my father’s generation fought and killed and died.

Today is November 11th. We used to celebrate this day as Armistice Day, to remember the end of World War I; when the fighting stopped along the lines, stopped suddenly, all at once at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month; as if the director of the war yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, the pawns in their trenches, the people lying in their graves got up from what they were doing and went home. But that is not what happened. Sixteen million people were killed in that war, and it was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it was sure to be the war to end all wars, but that would not be the case.

Today is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. He is the patron saint of soldiers; St. Martin of the Sword, the first Christian Soldier.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who gave us our calendar (among other things), penned his hagiography, though it is not likely that Martin ever even lived, making the story of his life just a lie. In writing his story Pope Gregory gave permission to Christians to takes up arms; giving Christian soldiers leave to march off to war.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…sometimes their will is our own.

Forty Days of Haiku, Day 18, Veteran’s Day


A November mist
Cool light, marries sky to earth
Red, the fallen leaf

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Mark 12: 38 - 44

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

  He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’ (NJB)

I read a headline today, the Good Pope Francis is saddened by the number of priests, and prelates who use their office to enrich themselves; loving money, seemingly more than they love the people who they have been appointed to serve.

I think of the priesthood today, the priests strolling around in their long dresses. Doing today exactly what Mark complained about, in regards to the scribes.

Today’s priests are yesterday’s scribes.

I think of the monies that all churches spend on their liturgies, their choirs, their incense, their candles; ostensibly to honor the creator, but really I think it is vanity, and they seek only to honor themselves, to take pride in their pageantry, and pat themselves on the back.

The liturgies themselves do little to honor God, or creation, with the creeds and the common prayers serving more to divide one group from another than to bring them together. In my church, the Catholic church, even the eucharist (imagined as God’s own self) is used as a bludgeon, to beat back the people if they are not toeing the line. Those traditions dishonor the gospel, by seeking to keep God confined.

The real presence of God is already alive in all people. The church, if it is to be relevant to more than a few, needs to empty itself, empty its treasury, and meet God where God is living in the hearts of God’s ministers, in the hearts of their neighbors, in the poor, and the sick, in the criminal as well as the “good” citizen.

The church must emulate the widow in this Gospel, and give all it has.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cat - A Haiku Triptych

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Homily, The Gospel of Matthew 5:1-12 ©

Matthew 5:1-12 ©

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
  theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
  they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
  they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
  they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
  they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
  they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
  they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
  theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’ (NJB)

The Homily

Much has been written about the sermon on the mount. It is hard for me to believe that I would have anything new to add to that discussion, but adding something new is not as important as sharing the story itself, how it shapes my perspective on the Gospel, and to share that perspective; to keep the conversation moving.

In this teaching Jesus shares a way of seeing the world, of living in society, of understanding our relationship to the creator; one that reverses the expectation that were prevalent in his time.

He might have said; the providence of heaven belongs to all people, regardless of who they are or where they came or how far they think they are from the love of the creator, no matter creed they profess, or what traditions bind them, no matter how little they may think about God.

The gentle seek no possessions, they have nothing to guard, are themselves unguarded and free. By freeing themselves from their desires they have gained everything.

Have hope, all sadness and all mourning come to an end.

Strive for what is right and just, for what is universal, for touches all people, give up your concerns for yourself and your tribe. The narrow path leads to misery, as the broad road leads to joy.

Mercy follows upon mercy, as the sun follows the rain.

All people will come to the vision of God; as certain as they will come to know their true selves. The fullness of God is at the center of all people. That connects us; one to the other.

Accept the parentage of the divine. Take up the task God has set before us. Love justice. Be merciful. Make peace.

The providence of heaven belongs to all people, the possession of it only comes in the sharing.

If you are abused and persecuted for the sake of peace and mercy. Have no fear, the powers of sin and evil, and the pain they bring, the reality of sickness and death; they are temporary, and will come to an end.