A Journey of All Sorts and Conditions

When my Grandfather, Kenneth Richardson, passed away in 2002 he had left a request that I sing a song at the funeral. I had sung at funerals for my late Brother and my late Grandmother. I had sung at my sister’s wedding. So, this was not a surprise. Grandpa had an odd sense of humor though. And so his request was at once both moving and also, for folks who know me, humorous as all get out. For he asked me to sing a song by Miss Patsy Cline.
(Honestly, I prefer this one by Johnny Cash.. so…)
The song was Life’s Railway to Heaven.
Life is like a mountain railway
With an engineer that’s brave
You must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.
Blessed Savior
Thou wilt guide us
Til we reach that blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In God’s praise for ever more.
The song goes on (for several other verses) to talk about troubles with tracks and storms and hairpin turns. In the end there’s a trestle across the River Jordan and the Union Depot in heaven where the Conductor, God the Father and Jesus say, weary pilgrim welcome home. And I kinda choked up there at the funeral and all Grandpa’s Baptist friends said, “Amen” and the song ended.  
The problem is the song is too linear. Grandpa was rootless: born in Manitoba, moved to Michigan, lived in San Francisco, served in Panama, and was a hobo riding the rails during the Great Depression. He never really stayed in any one place very long. He didn’t even start going to church until after my Grandmother died in 1984. Knowing that, and knowing that I’m Grandpa’s spiritual son as well as blood relative. My presentation is called
Life’s Tilt-a-whirl to heaven
I was born on 29 August 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. My name at birth was William Earl Bailey. That is, Bill Bailey. I had 35 years of people singing to me (including Patsy Cline) before I ditched the moniker in 2000. Grandpa approved of my choice saying, “He got tired of people singing tt him!” I had been named for my father, whom I never knew (he left when I was 1), and my mother’s Grandfather, who – being dead – I also never knew. Grandpa Richardson was really my father is as many ways as I can think of until my Mom married my stepfather in 1974.
If you’ll picture the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida there are there 10 different street addresses I had before 5th grade. In my entire life there have been 48 different street addresses. I’m 53, so… the level of change is pretty consistent.

Generic Protestant (1964 – 1978) 
My spiritual journey was just as crazy. When we were growing up Mom always took us to the closest (protestant) Church.  My first religious memory is singing “Jesus loves me” in the Presbyterian Church in Fort Gaines, GA. This would be about 1967 or so. My second one is in Warner Robbins, GA, listening to a TV preacher on Saturday Morning in that devotional moment that used to come on the air right after the national anthem. And he was telling me (age 6) I’d go to hell if I didn’t pray this prayer… so… I did. I remember that deeply and profoundly, asking Jesus into my life, more out of fear than anything else, but still, sincerely doing so. My third religious memory is a Sunday school class where we were building a model of Solomon’s Temple out of sugar cubes and royal icing. I wanted to eat the thing when we were done. We did everything from Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of God, to Free Will Baptist, non-Denominational, etc
After I stopped needing Mom to drive me to sunday school, my religious life became a little bit more predictable, but only just.

Methodist (1978 – 1981)
I was baptized in the Methodist Church in 1978 by Pastor Jim Lowery. My stepfather was my Godfather. (He and Mom have been married nearly 45 years now…) Pastor Jim and I began to explore ideas of ministry and, like a lot of pastors dealing with a young man in that projected line of work” the question was “do you want to work with the youth group/”
Episcopalian (1981 – 2002)
I discovered the Episcopal Church in High School, 1981. It was pretty. And it was glorious. I discovered monasteries, Mass, Mary and all the things that High Church Anglicans have that Catholics (at that point) seemed to be giving up. 
My first year in College I went to a non-denominational Christian college. Here my increasingly Catholic-minded faith was often attacked. Day One involved the RA asking why I had a crucifix over the door… the result of this attack was that I become rather far more “high church” that I might otherwise have become. This was furthered by the local Episcopal priest giving me a key to the church to come in and hang out any time with my friends: I did study halls, and that turned into Bible Classes, and hymn sings… it was an odd Freshman year.
There was some discussion of ministry here, and I ended up working with the Youth Group again, in the parish and on the diocesan level, finally on the provincial and even national level. I did diocesan Summer camp every year for nearly 10 years: two weeks out of every summer working with kids caught between childhood and a faith crisis. There were romances and educational moments, death, illnesses, and all the drama you can imagine. It was also wonderful to run down the hill every morning and ring the Angelus to call folks to Morning Prayer. I spent most of those years as default sacristan and church geek as well.
I had a falling out with the Episcopal Church in College so I ran away. I did so over sex and “not really believing any of this”. And I became a Newagey Pagan. When I came back to church about 10 years later, I was rather shocked to find out no one else believed any of this either and we are all just Newagey Pagans together, albeit more liturgical and we did talk about Jesus more than your average pagans. This was hard on me, coming back to Faith as an adult, to find out I was the odd guy for actually believing things like Resurrection and Incarnation.

Orthodox (2002 – 2016)
A lot of more-conservative Episcopalians, deciding we needed to go be really Christian somewhere, left and became Orthodox. A lot of folks were doing so: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, etc. When I left the Episcopal Parish on Potrero Hill in 2002 and went to the Orthodox Parish on Russian Hill, I honestly didn’t look at the Catholic Church. I would have seen that many of the things that “Catholics seemed to be giving up” after Vatican 2 were actually very present. I missed that cue, though, and became Orthodox.
(I also ran away from the Orthodox Church a little while over sex. And then came back. Because “you have the words of life… where else can I go?”)
Two things happened to me in Orthodoxy. I began to take my faith very seriously: discovering that this guy, Jesus, wants the whole shebang. He doesn’t want a pious hellion who can go to church, teach bible, and then go home. He wants everything: my politics, my sex life, my diet, my prayer life, my work life, my social life, my social media (this became a thing by this point). Somehow, in all of that take-over, I ended up serving on the Parish Council and then being President of the Parish… an honor I was in nowise worthy of. And discovering that I could pray by singing (in the choir) and that I was ok as a layman.
The second thing that happened was I went to a monastery. In January of 2016, after 6 years at a job I was laid off and, discovering that I was debt free and had no obligations (other than my cat), I went to an Orthodox, Benedictine monastery in Colorado.
That didn’t last, and, although I like to say I “discerned out” the real issue was I needed to be serving people and hiding in a monastery praying the office, as wonderful as it was, was not the answer. I mayhap have been able to deal with the internecine incivilities of monastery life if I had been also serving folks, but we were brutally, starkly alone, at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. And cold.  So I came back into the world.
Catholic (2016)
One of the novices last year (Br John) commented on the Benedictine Vow of Stability, which I would have had to take: a Benedictine Monk is expected to die in the monastery where he takes his vows. Dominicans, to the contrary, are rooted in the brotherhood and very mobile. Although it was a good-natured jab from a Dominican Novice to a former Benedictine Novice, I nearly started to cry remembering the terror that made me feel in Colorado.

When I left the Monastery in August 2016, I knew where I had to go. And I was in a Catholic Parish (in Columbus, GA, near my Parents) before the month was out. The sermon that Sunday was about praying a daily rosary and going to daily mass.
According to the Catholic Church, the Orthodox are a strange species of Catholic, just not in communion with the Pope. So I could have taken communion quietly and gone to confession as needed, and never had an issue. But I needed a commitment to a community so, after I found a job (back here, thank God), I was standing at St Dominic’s within 24 hours of getting off the airplane. Tim says, that three days later I had moved in.
The tilt-a-whirl finally stopped, I pray. And I got off. My confessor knows I’m prone to a mental spin every now and again, but all in all, though stuff spins from time to time, the cross stands still and, by God’s Grace, I always reach out and hold on.
And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.

My Own Private Lazarus

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

St David of Wales

Homo quidam erat dives…
There was a certain rich man…

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco. 
The problem is we have a huge, wealthy population that’s scared of homeless people.
They are scared that property values might fall.
They are scared that job candidates might get turned off.
They are scared that poor people might cause crimes.
They are scared that someone might say something uncomfortable-making to them on the street.
They are scared that some people smell.
They are scared that some people are not on meds.
They are scared that living in tents make us look bad as a city.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we don’t remember them.
We don’t remember that the second set of shoes we have belongs to the poor – not to the consignment store.
We don’t remember that the extra clothes we have belong to the naked – not to Goodwill.
We don’t remember that the extra food in our fridge belongs to the hungry – not to the dog or compost.
We don’t remember that the extra anything we have belongs to the poor – or else we are stealing it.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we tend to trust gov’t blindly without calling it to account for failure.
If we manage to elect persons of all colors, genders, and sexual orientations we feel good about ourselves – even though they are as unjust to the poor as anyone else. 
If we manage to elect only one party (we really only have one party in SF) we feel good about ourselves – even if they are just as beholden to big corporations, property developers, and the wealthy as the party we don’t have. 
If we manage to elect people who actually try to do something we pass ballot measures that undo their good works.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is we ask too many questions.
How did he get that way?
Did he do drugs?
Is she abusing the system?
If I give her money will she just buy drugs?
Is that even any of my business?

If I give money to that organization how much of it goes for wages?
Won’t the gov’t support them so  that if I give them money, it’s  just double.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we nullify any moral teaching that might make us feel obligated.
We are obligated to charity in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hindusm, and several others. We prefer instead an odd combo of Prosperity Gospel and Newage, Neognostic Victim Blaming that allows us to imagine no deity will hold us responsible as long as we feel good about things.
This coupled with an entitled NIMBYism means that no one is obligated to care if they don’t feel like it and those that do care can be called to the carpet for making the rest of us feel guilty.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
It has nothing to do with homeless folks.
It has nothing to do with the govt.
It has everything to do with the rest of us.

And in the end, we will find ourselves beyond Abraham’s bosom on the wrong side of the great abyss. The Fathers are not kind here:


AMBROSE; From this we learn then, that we are not ourselves the masters, but rather the stewards of the property of others.
THEOPHYLACT. Next, that when we exercise not the management of our wealth according to our Lord’s pleasure, but abuse our trust to our own pleasures, we are guilty stewards. 
CYRIL. This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation.
AMBROSE. But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity. 
AUGUSTINE. For the covetousness of the rich is insatiable, it neither fears God nor regards man, spares not a father, keeps not its fealty to a friend, oppresses the widow, attacks the property of a ward.
Pope GREGORY. Moreover the poor man saw the rich as he went forth surrounded by flatterers, while he himself lay in sickness and want, visited by no one. For that no one came to visit him, the dogs witness, who fearlessly licked his sores, for it follows, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. By one thing Almighty God displayed two judgments. He permitted Lazarus to lie before the rich man’s gate, both that the wicked rich man might increase the vengeance of his condemnation, and the poor man by his trials enhance his reward; the one saw daily him on whom he should show mercy, the other that for which he might be approved.
 CHRYSOSTOM. He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before. For he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body. But not because he was rich was he tormented, but because he was not merciful.
Pope GREGORY. We may gather from this, with what torments he will be punished who robs another, if he is smitten with the condemnation to hell, who does not distribute what is his own. 

In San Francisco, each one of us has the nearly unique opportunity to be Dives to our own private Lazarus. I think, though, most of us would rather banquet in linen and purple robes. We’re doomed.