Saturday, August 27, 2011

What I did for my summer vacation

Summer is almost over and while other seminarians spent it inside fulfilling their CPE requirements I was vacationing in Los Angeles.

Well, it wasn't all vacationing, I am from the Diocese of Los Angeles so I visited with some people from my commission on ministry, and I stopped by the Cathedral Center to chat with Randy Kimmler, the Diocesan Missioner for Vocations. I also preached at Saint Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.

I went to see the taping of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. This was an interesting experience. I love Craig Ferguson, there is something so honest about him. other talk show hosts seem so patronizing, so boring. Anyway, it was worth seeing it live if only for the experience of it, but it is better to watch the show at home. He plays to the camera, as he should, which means the studio audience is kinda left out. It is interesting to get a behind the scenes look at it all though.

I stayed in Culver City, drove a brand new Prius, walked around in 70 degree weather while the rest of the country sweltered in the heat. It was great. I saw my friends and I remembered how great they are. People always give Los Angeles a bad rap, but I have met some pretty amazing people there. Sure, there is a vapid and superficial element, but once you figure out what that looks like it's easy to avoid. And what you discover is that there are some really smashing people out there.

Anyway,I stayed with some of those awesome people I was talking about. We went to the Santa Monica pier, we ate chocolate and went to parks. It was all very nice.

I also went to The Iliad, my favorite used bookstore. I love used bookstores, especially big sprawling ones. You can just feel the history of all those used books, it's palpable really...
I also ate Mexican food, it was fantastic.

One of the things that I never got to do when I was living in Los Angeles was go to the Griffith Observatory. I always wanted to go, I just never got around to it. I got there this time. It was interesting, I bought a compass. I love compasses. Not the kind used to draw circles but the kind that detects the earth's magnetic field and tells us which way is up. They're neat.
I also looked through a telescope at the moon. I would like to go again sometime and see some space movies.

I also went to DISNEYLAND! It was so much fun. We also went to California Adventure and that was fun too. I made a peculiar little video about our trip. It doesn't have everything we did because I think my friends were getting a little annoyed at all of my filming. So I didn't get footage of our awesome time in Tron land in which there was a big techno dance floor and an arcade filled with games from the 1980s.

One of the last things I did was visit a friend in Marina Del Rey where he lives on his boat. The marina was beautiful and so were the people. Did I mention how cool I think my friends are?

Right, so here are some odds and ends photos from my trip.

And then there's the Disneyland video, of course. Both of them are accompanied by some awesome royalty free music.

Enjoy, you lovely people you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

This train of thought is goin' nowhere

As I was standing in line at the grocery store I noticed an interaction going on between the cashier and the two women standing in front of her. The cashier had given the woman $10.43 in change for a twenty when the woman had actually paid with a fifty dollar bill. The cashier immediately opened her cash drawer and saw that she had indeed put a fifty in with the twenties. So she puts the fifty where it belonged and then looked at the receipt and the $10.43 in a distressed way and said 'this is too complicated to figure out' and then calls the manager. The women were very nice and talked jokingly with the cashier as they all waited for the manager to show up.

Not one of the three women seemed to have the slightest clue how to go about getting the correct change. The manager came up and said exactly what you would think she would say "she gets $40.43 back."

Now I could tell that the cashier was over stressed, but you can't get more basic then adding 30 to 10.43. At this point the normal thing to do would be to bemoan the public education system or something equally as banal, but I am not going to because I don't that is the issue. It wasn't that none of these women could do simple arithmatic, it was that none of them had the confidence to even try. We live in a society where the prospect of failure is so frightening that so many people are afraid to risk it even in the small things. (If you are wondering why I didn't say anything, I was close enough to hear what was going on, but far enough back that I would have had to shout over three people to be heard, that would have been awkward)

It is strange how this lack of confidence manifests itself. Not only do we shy away from trying things because we are afraid we will fail but we cover that fear by being uncharitable in regards to the things we do know. One example is how anyone who mixes up there, their and they're is branded a moron, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I know that everyone has their pet peeves and preferences, I have many of them. For instance, I think it is rediculous how people like to call every small quirk they have OCD. You don't have OCD, you're just human. But we get to obsessed with it, too mean-spirited. The idea that we need to look down our noses at each other for being a vegetarian/meat-eater or being an atheist/theist or preferring Glee/Community only shows how insecure we are about our own positions.

The other side of this coin is taking it too personally when someone else doesn't share your position.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be passionate about things, we definitely should. And we can dislike things too and be passionate about that, but does it always have to be about our own egos? The problem is I really think, more often than not, it is.

Humanity sure is plagued by insecurities. It's all pride, of course. It is just so hard to let go of.

I don't know. It's a fine line between dignity and pride. It is probably also a fine line between humility and apathy...

I'm a little scared to post this because I just know you all are going to judge me.

(see what I did there?)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Sermon

This is the sermon I gave today at Saint Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood
Readings: Genesis 29:15-28, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight oh God our strength and our redeemer.

Today’s Gospel consists of several parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. The crowd Jesus was talking to would have been no stranger to Kingdom of Heaven stories. It was associated with visions of power and holiness. God’s chosen people triumphing over their oppressors. It is a Kingdom somewhere in the future that would usher in a glorious new age of peace and prosperity.
One parable often associated with this kingdom can be found in Ezekiel chapter 17 verses 22 and 23 “Thus saith the Lord God:…On the high mountains of Israel will I plant it, and it shall shoot forth into branches and shall bear fruit, and it shall become a great cedar:
and all birds shall dwell under it,
and every fowl shall make its nest under the shadow of the branches thereof.”
But the parables we heard today give us a very different picture of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom that Jesus talks about is hidden and it is not concerned with outward signs of beauty and holiness. If you have ever seen a mustard plant you would know that it is no Cedar of Lebanon. It is a minor herb, unimpressive, and can be invasive to the point of acting like a weed.
I can only imagine how disappointed the crowd must have been to hear the Kingdom of Heaven compared to a mustard plant. But the parable of the leaven would have been downright shocking to them. You see in ancient times leaven was made by leaving a small piece of bread in a dark damp place to rot. It was then added to the bread to make it rise. Leavened bread was considered unclean and in this parable the woman adds it to three measures of flour –that is enough to feed 50 people at least. What could Jesus possibly mean by comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a corrupted batch of bread?
To our modern ears these parables simply show us examples of something small growing into something large. But Jesus was saying something more than that. He used these parables to question the hearer’s assumptions and preconceptions about where goodness can be found. God is present in the darkness, in the corrupt and unclean places. God may be hidden, but God is there. And being hidden does not mean passive. Unlike the parable in Ezekiel these parables of Jesus do not have God acting alone. The man plants the seed in the field, the woman hides the leaven in the bread: The littlest actions on the part of ordinary people bring about the Kingdom of Heaven in everyday life. Very often the mighty works of God’s Kingdom happen deep inside ourselves, in changed perceptions and attitudes. They happen when we choose compassion and forgiveness over ruthlessness and pride. And often they go unnoticed, even scorned by the world, which only makes discovering God’s Kingdom more difficult.
Because let’s be honest, forgiveness is hard, true understanding and compassion are hard. It means making oneself vulnerable by giving up the pride that we hold onto to keep ourselves from getting hurt. We live in a culture where both admitting mistakes and truly forgiving the mistakes of someone else equals weakness. But it is not weakness at all, it is humility.
Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist Monk and mystic, tells us that “humility is the surest sign of strength” he goes on to say “A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.
For a humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything, not even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle.”
Two of the parables we heard today show us two men pursuing the Kingdom of Heaven, giving up everything in order to possess it. One man finds a treasure in a field and he sells all he has in order to possess that treasure. Another man, a wealthy merchant, sells all that he has in order to possess a single pearl. He does not buy this pearl so that he can then make a profit by selling it again later. He makes himself destitute because he saw something of true value. It is absurd if you think about it, he gives up all of his wealth - essentially putting himself out of business - for a one pearl. To thoroughly humble oneself in this way seems to be a truly foolish thing to do.
And yet, Who does this remind you of?
Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He did this because God sees that pearl of great price in each and every one of us. He sacrificed everything so that we too could have eyes to see, and ears to hear the Kingdom of Heaven within ourselves, and within each other.
We need only pay with our pride.
It is not easy, not for me anyhow. I struggle everyday to see God’s Kingdom in the world around me, in the people I encounter and most especially in myself. Still, I have to trust that it is there, as it is in each of us, growing every day as we struggle to follow in Christ’s footsteps. And I too, like Paul am persuaded, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Take Me Along

So I'm back in L.A. now. It feels pretty much the same as it used to. I don't know what I expected to be different, me perhaps. Getting here was pretty fun; when I got to the airport I realized that I had a first class ticket. A family friend used his airline miles to get the ticket, but I had no idea he was treating me to first class. I've never flown first class before. It was strange, I used to always look at the first class passengers as I boarded a plane and try to guess what they did for a living or what circumstances arose to allow them to afford a first class ticket. Now I was sitting in first class and I could see the same question on the faces of those who passed by me into steerage. It was a strange experience overall. I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry flies first class and Elaine has to fly coach because, as Jerry explains, she wouldn't know what she'd be missing. "Our goal should be a society without classes!"

I ordered a drink. Not because I particularly wanted one, but because I was sure that even though I was sitting in first class they would charge me. They didn't. I also ate a full hot meal which is amazing because I detest airplane food. I haven't eaten airplane food since I was 9 years old.

I find airplane travel fascinating; a whole bunch of people travelling to the same location. I never wonder about people as much as I do when I am on a plane. I wonder what is taking them to the same city as me at the same time as me. Are they actors or writers? Tourists, maybe? Seminarians, perhaps?

Okay, here is a video to celebrate the beauties of air travel.