Holy Asides
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July 13, 2016, 10:06 PM

Reflections on the Mission to El Salvador

Between the sermon on July 3rd and the Coffee Hour presentation on the 10th, much has been reflected upon and spoken about by the Mission team to El Salvador. From the engagement with the people of El Sitio and learning about the Massacre in Copapayo to working at the Centro Arte para la Paz and interacting with the community on the plaza of Suchitoto, I think that it was a positive and enlightening experience for all who were present. I echo the main points of all who have spoken, but I want to add a few minor and/or personal reflections.

The protection and blessing of God, and the power of the prayers of the people of St. Joseph’s are very real. There were 18 of us that went on this trip. There were no forgotten passports, lost luggage, delays, missed flights, or problems with immigration or customs. The bus to take us to Suchitoto was there upon our arrival. Sister Peggy was incredulous that we were on time, because that never happens… especially with a group of our size. Any way we traveled, van, bus, truck, or boat, there was enough room for everyone and everywhere we traveled we stayed together without misplacing anyone. This was pretty amazing. And the presence of God was certainly surrounding us.

Speaking of experiencing God’s presence, one of my personal joys was in the time that we spent in worship and prayer at the beginning and close of each day. Several different people led in singing, devotions, and prayer during the week. It was an anchor to reconnect with one another, share our experiences, and give praise to God. 

At the end of the first worship/devotional time, I gave an extra medallion to each person. I asked that they pray about who they might give it to as they encountered people throughout the week. At the time, I had hoped that everyone would have the courage and the willingness to do just that, especially those in their teens and twenties. In hindsight, it is very funny, because giving those medallions away was one of the highlights of their trip. Each day, I was asked if I had any extra to give away. Some even gave their own personal medallions away as well. Their enthusiasm and joy was such a blessing and encouragement to me.

Sister Peggy O’Neill is the aunt of Rob O’Neill. This relationship was one of the primary reasons that we made El Salvador our mission trip destination. Sister Peggy has been in this community for thirty years. She was there in the midst of the Civil War that took place from 1980-1992. She was there for the rebuilding and restoration. In 2005, Sister Peggy was able to found the Centro Arte para la Paz (the Center for Art and Peace), which is on the grounds of Santa Imelda School and Convent, which operated from 1917 until the Sisters of the Annunciation were forced to flee in 1980. It lay abandoned for 25 years, until this community project began. I could comment on a plethora of things Sister Peggy has done for the communities in and around Suchitoto, but there is too much to put in this space. Indeed, when someone did attempt sharing, she waved for him to stop. But, hidden beneath her accomplishments there is a greater principle at work. She has been there for thirty years. Thirty years solidifies trust. Thirty years provides a different level of respect. Thirty years signifies commitment. It is impossible to overvalue the significance of this type of relationship, and the effect that it has in and through the community is impossible to deny. This type of longevity in service is rare in our transient, upward mobile society and is often times seen as a negative, especially within the church world, where long tenures are frowned upon. However, in the case of Sister Peggy, she gains more and more influence for the center and the communities because of the length of her service.

Finally, on a very personal note, I loved the fact that I was able to share this mission trip experience with my two daughters. Mary Brigid has been wanting to go on a mission trip for years, at least since CC went on hers to Northern Ireland. It was a delight to experience their joy, their wonder, and their excitement, as well as share with them my own. It was one of those events that forged bonds with one another, and I am grateful for the opportunity to grow nearer to Christ and them through this mission trip to Suchitoto, El Salvador.

June 13, 2016, 12:00 AM

The Return to Kansas

To read Fr. Scott's experience at the 2015 Dirty Kanza 200, click here and here.

The theme of this year’s Dirty Kanza 200 event was “Test Your Limits.” I guess this also applied to the race organizers, because the course measured 205.5 miles; as if 200 miles were not enough, we got a few bonus miles. A Friday morning test ride of about 25 miles revealed that the conditions were pretty good. The section of mud that we had to walk 3 miles through last year was completely dry. This, combined with the training I had been doing with my teammates throughout the winter and spring, gave me hope that I could “Race the Sun” this year, and emerge victorious. Last year, I finished the race in just over 18 hrs. In order to beat the sunset, I would have to complete the race about three and a quarter hours faster. This would be the “testing of my limits.” And this year there was no mud.

Well, until an isolated thunderstorm came through at about 3 AM, pouring rain on the first few miles of the race. At the very first turn, less than 2 miles into the race, there was a backlog as we had to pedal through foot deep puddles and mud. Thankfully, I had recently purchased a smaller crankset, which enabled me to pedal easier and stay upright and moving (albeit slowly). Going smoothly and steadily was key for the next six miles. When I had a chance, I stopped and shot water from my water bottle into the derailleur to clean out the mud and debris. Some were not so lucky, as there was carnage alongside the road. Broken chains and derailleurs forced many to withdraw after riding less than six miles of the nearly 206 mile race. Fortunately, by about the eighth mile or so, we made a turn and the mud and water were gone… the race was on. We had gotten off to a slow start, but I was certain that I could make up the time needed to beat the sun. And I did; by the time I rolled into the first checkpoint, about a quarter of the way into the race, I was ahead of schedule by five minutes. After a quick chain cleaning, and downing a peanut butter sandwich and some disgusting drink that was supposed to keep my salt levels in check, I was on my way. 

The next 50 miles were pretty uneventful, save for a minor crash when I could not clear a giant diagonal gap in the road, and a bottom bracket that began clacking, so that the next 150 miles it sounded like I had put baseball cards in my spokes. (Believe me when I say, I heard that sound in my sleep that night.) I rolled into the second checkpoint, which marked almost the halfway point, 20 minutes ahead of schedule—so I was gaining time. I left with an extra water bottle, because I was feeling the heat that was starting to make its presence known. Also, I knew the next checkpoint would not be for another 60 miles. I was glad for this decision. Even with the brief rest stop and recharge at the last checkpoint, I was still about 20-30 minutes ahead of pace for beating the sun at mile 121.8, sixty percent of the way there. Then, in a matter of seconds, I knew it would not happen.

Just east of Eureka, I made a left turn heading north onto DD Road, smack into a headwind that would fluctuate between 17-25 mph throughout the rest of the day. In a year when the course was designed in a north to south figure 8, to counteract the brutal winds that often come from the west, that day saw the wind come from the north. I had to ride the next forty miles, battling that vicious headwind, to get to the next checkpoint. Tough does not describe it. The heat combined with the wind was sapping my energy. I was beginning to dehydrate. Thankfully, there was a farmer by the river handing out bottles of water to us. Another ten miles up the road, Dirty Kanza volunteers were handing out more ice cold water. Perhaps ten miles after that, I received a hand-up of Red Bull from one of the sponsors of the race. As I pulled into the checkpoint, I was well behind beating the sun. I had gone from 20 minutes ahead, to 50 minutes behind, in only forty miles. I took my time at the last checkpoint, ate what little I could, and tried to rehydrate as best as I could. By the time I pulled out, I was probably an hour and ten minutes behind. My focus became simply to finish, preferably before midnight, so I could experience the block party in Emporia. (I missed out on that last year, by three minutes.)

As the sun was setting, the wind eased a bit. The riding became easier again, although my heart rate was maxed out at about 70% of my normal maximum. It then became a matter of mental fortitude, as I watched the GPS count down the turns and the mileage. One difference from last year was there were often times when I could not see anyone in front of me. As faster riders increased their gaps, and other riders withdrew from the race, I really had to depend on the GPS unit guiding me, rather than the other riders in front of me. I was still probably 25 miles from the finish when the sun did set, and I finished only an hour and twenty minutes behind the sun. That means, in those last 45 miles, I pretty much kept pace with beating the sun… but that headwind had killed me. At the finish line I heard the locals say again and again, "When was the last time we had a wind from the north in June?" Great. A rarity just for us.

During those last 25 miles, I reflected on the joys of this race: I had no flat tires or other major mechanical issues (save for that incessant clacking); I had a great support team every time I pulled into a checkpoint; I was blessed again with the community coming out to cheer, give water, and high fives. Moreover, I received encouragement and texts from many at St. Joseph's who tracked my progress throughout the day. As I rolled into the finish, almost two hours earlier than last year, I was greeted with cheering and shouting, and my name being announced over the PA system (the video clip can be found here). It was an amazing feeling. I rode through those last hundred feet of pavement giving high fives to everyone I could reach. I had not beaten the sun, but I definitely “tested my limits,” and battled heat and wind to finish. Best of all, the beer garden was still open.

May 26, 2016, 3:51 PM

Increasing Persistence and Decreasing Resistance in Prayer

As we concluded our second Healing Prayer Class, I noticed a trend that has been taking place over the past year at St. Joseph’s. There has been an increase in the persistence of prayer and a decrease in the resistance to it. This is incredibly positive and points to the growing knowledge and understanding of who we are in God’s kingdom.

We are children of God. God longs to hear and respond to our prayers. God desires to answer, to heal and to bless. Jesus asked his disciples, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13) As children of God, the Father wants to bless us with good gifts, in the same way that we want to bless our children—yet even more so. 

We are not only children of God, who receive the grace, love and blessings of God, but we are the priesthood of believers. We are living stones of the Church. We are vessels of God’s healing love. This means that in God’s kingdom—God works in us and through us.  Understanding each of these realities has contributed to us being less resistant to asking for and receiving prayer, as well as becoming more persistent in praying for one another.

In the past week I found myself on both ends of this equation. God was leading me to pray for someone. While I certainly wasn’t rejected, there was a certain amount of ambivalence that initially took place. This is not unusual. I believe that many people feel that they do not want to bother me, or that their problems are trivial and minor. I was more persistent than normal, likely because of God’s leading, and the person being prayed for was healed. The flip side is when I was approached by someone who felt led to pray for me—I downplayed my need for prayer. Thankfully, they too were persistent and God blessed me mightily through their prayers. Both of these events were quite a reinforcement that God does want us to be dependent upon him—both in praying for one another and in receiving prayer.

I believe the biggest obstacles that we have to overcome stem from our own pride. We sometimes believe our problems are too small or our ailments are not serious enough. Rather than get prayer for a nagging cough, we wait until we have stage-4 lung cancer. Likewise, offering to pray can lead to rejection or embarrassment. However, we must be confident in who God has called us to be: Vessels of Grace and Children of God. We are simultaneously the vehicles by which the healing love of God is transferred to another and the recipients of the power and joy of a God who longs to fill us with heavenly blessings. May we continue to allow our resistance to fade away, to be open to whatever God has for us to receive, and to be persistent in praying for one another, boldly knowing the glory of Christ’s love for us.

April 27, 2016, 8:30 PM

Expectation and Hope

Most people understand hope as wishful thinking, as in "I hope something will happen." This is not what the Bible means by hope. The biblical definition of hope is "confident expectation." Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is an important distinction to make when we speak of the “hope of Christ”, the “hope of life eternal”, or “faith, hope, and love will never cease.” However, there is something to be gained by embracing the “wishful thinking” type of hope, especially as it contrasts with worldly expectation.

Let’s create a scenario of receiving the new iPhone for your birthday. (Or whatever it is that you would rather have.) If you expect to receive the iPhone, you will be highly disappointed with any other gift that you receive. However, if you hope to receive an iPhone, there may still be some disappointment, but it will not affect you as strongly. You will probably be able to appreciate whatever gift you did receive, and maybe even see that someone went to the trouble of finding a gift that was a little more personal. I have come to see the difference between expectation and hope to be a spiritual discipline in my life, and the lives of many others. If you expect my sermon to last less than 15 minutes, you are going to get highly agitated when it hits the 18-minute mark. 

This difference between hope and expectation creates conflict and tension in relationships, families, churches, schools, governments, and probably everything else that we encounter. I know that when I most often experience anger, hurt and frustration, it is because I have projected my expectations on people, situations or institutions. I have long since expected my cheeseburger to be delivered to me the way I ordered it at the Drive-thru window. I hope it is, I check it to make sure that it is, and I send it back if it is wrong. But I no longer get agitated or upset. It does not affect me in a negative spiritual way. 

And I think that is what “wishful thinking” hope helps create. It provides the avenue to experience the peace of Christ. We do not have to overcome the barriers of ego, anger, and unrealized expectations. Moreover, it reminds us that there is only one thing that we be in confident expectation of—the grace, love and glory of Christ. Jesus admonished Martha when she was complaining about her sister, Mary, acting like a disciple (something traditionally reserved for men). “Martha, Martha you are troubled about many things. Only one thing is needed. And Mary has chosen it.” The same is true for us. There is much to hope for, but apart from the love of Christ, our expectations should be limited to the life promised to us in Jesus.

April 6, 2016, 12:00 AM

A Rest Stop for the World

One of the most interesting aspects of becoming Easter people, those who experience the new reality of freedom in Christ, is the ways in which we are able to express God’s grace and love to the world. Just as there is no exact way to worship or pray, there is no specific way that we are called to serve. We can bring food, provide transportation, and offer encouragement to those in need. We can visit the sick and homebound. We can write letters, send emails, and make phone calls. In all of these instances there is a constant: we are present. Our willingness to be present in the lives of people is perhaps the greatest reflection of Christ’s love living within us. 

I believe that one of the most suitable metaphors and examples can be found in social races, rides, and runs. Anyone who has participated in a 5K knows what it is like to experience a team of volunteers and spectators cheering them on, providing directions for the course, and handing them water when they are in need. On the Century rides (100 miles) that I often go on, there are several rest stops along the way, with groups of people providing encouragement, food and drink, and some minor repair services. I think that being a living “rest stop” is an apt description of who we are called to be to the world around us, serving those who run and race through life. Their energies are depleted from being overworked in their jobs, overcommitted in their responsibilities, financial pressures, relationship struggles, and all of the other trappings of 21st-century living. How can we come alongside them offering rest, refreshment, encouragement and care? How can we sacrifice our own wants and desires to be present in the lives of those in need? How do we proclaim the love and grace of God to those who are nearing the point of spiritual and emotional exhaustion?

Several weeks ago I participated in a 300K brevet in Athens. Brevets are unsupported rides that must be accomplished within a given time limit. There are several checkpoints that one must pass through to prove that they completed the course. I was in a group with four other riders when the driver of a pickup truck pulled alongside of us and said there would be a rest stop in three miles. Three miles down the road, at the end of the driveway to his farm, true to his word, there was his truck filled with water, granola bars, cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches. Apparently he was familiar with the ride and route (one of the other riders knew him), and he had been driving up and down the road for the past hour seeking out cyclists in need of rest and refreshment. This was at mile 133. We had 60 more miles to ride, and I cannot begin to express how thankful I was for that peanut butter sandwich, water, and brief respite. I had already been thinking about our call to be “living rest stops” before this, but this action just reinforced the belief that this is exactly how we are to live in our world. How much more dramatically would the perception of the Church and Christians be if this were how we lived our lives...metaphorically or literally driving up and down the road seeking out those in need of rest, energy, encouragement, and most especially, the love, grace and healing of Jesus Christ?

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