Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Resilient Path

The Resilient Path

In my veins runs an unholy communion, the rapist and raped.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

My disfigured torso bruised by animal skins weeping with fluids of freedom.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

An alien on a distant shore filled with isolationalist rulers enjoying the fruits of my labor.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

A passenger on metal carriages to a land filled with crumbling bricks.
Yet I still Survive. Elegua Aché

Poked by sharp containers filled with the hot dark juice of false hope.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

Forced to sit in white halls filled with lock-boxes of knowledge.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

Required to sit on wooden planks washed with red lies.
Yet, I still Survive. Elegua Aché

I was born from the oppressor and the oppressed.
Created to thrive. Elegua Aché

In the Afro Caribbean spiritual tradition of Santeria, Elegua is the opener of a path.  If you listen closely to Afro Caribbean music, Elegua it is often used before the a singer begins to sing. This is similar to Desi Arnaz using the deity Babalú before singing.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Regaining Relevancy

I know that I have been lax in writing.  But this morning I shared a musing that came about during a interdenominational clergy meeting in Detroit.  Here is what I wrote on my face book page:

During a meeting this morning with Pastors from different denominations we explored the idea of Church regaining relevancy. Church is not just about creating members to sit in the pews but about creating disciples regardless of where they seek to worship. This conversation speaks of the work that I have engaged in SW Detroit. My engagement of God's ministry has been meeting people at the crossroads (literally). Offering to pray with a stranger on the sidewalk, offering opportunities for confession at a street bench, and blessing the life of a stranger (a child of God) who seeks a closer relationship with the Creator. But there is another piece to relevancy. The community of SW Detroit is for the most part a Latino-Centric community. So as Santa Teresa y San Juan Detroit moves toward building a worship community, there needs to be an emphasis on creating a relevant worship space, and this is not about providing Spanish language services. I strongly believe that Sta. Teresa y San Juan Detroit needs to invite the creation of a Latino-Centric Anglican identity in SW Detroit.

I strongly believe that many church leaders (including myself) have been overwhelmed by human physical needs and that we have lost focus of Jesus' ministry.  We all know about the feeding stories found in in the Gospels but we forget that the feeding stories also took place while Jesus was teaching.  It is this aspect that many of us leaders often fail to engage in ministry.  I believe that feeding and clothing those in need is a great thing but when we solely focus on providing in-kind services we develop dependency rather than empowerment.  In essence the "church" is not creating a space where a relationship with God can be nourished and sustained.  So we should not be surprised that many see the "church" as no longer relevant. 

What would happen if we invited those we clothed and fed to seek a relationship with God? What would happen if we engaged the person who was handed a bag of food in conversation?  In other words, what if we took the time to build a relationship with God's children?  The possibilities are great.  And we know this because much of Jesus' ministry was about relationships.

So what can church leaders do to encourage the relevancy of the church?  A starting point is to ask and challenge those sitting in the pews to help the "church" regain relevancy.  To ask the hard questions about what does it mean to create disciples?  To push those sitting in the pews to move from being pew focused to being community focused.  To ask if we where to close tomorrow, who would miss us?

My challenge to my readers is this:
Are you willing to encourage a ministry of teaching that will nourish and empower a closer relationship with God and God's creation?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Just A Poor Boy From The South Bronx

I thought I should share a recent reflection.

Growing up in the poorest section of The South Bronx, instilled in me a realization that dark clouds are always in the horizon.  I saw countless individuals, families, and friends seeking to make "good" choices in the midst of a insular community filled with very few beacons of hope.  Yet the decision to survive under the dark clouds derailed many "good" choices.  The pervasiveness of death, the death of ideas and of "good" choices, seemed to become the norm.  So when I first heard the call to ordained ministry, I could not see how God could use me as a beacon of hope.  So I ran and ran and ran away from saying yes.  I was focused of survival.  All the decisions I made were about survival.  Some would say that I should be proud about the fact that I have beat the odds dealt to a poor Spic from the South Bronx.  My response would be, I am just good at surviving and I am not at all different from the others in The South Bronx.

Yet there comes a time when living a life just focused on survival becomes death.  Such a life does not allow one to enjoy the beauty of creation.  My choice to sit in the fire escape attached to my parents apartment was not about enjoying beauty but about survival.  It was a high enough place to be outside and not succumb to the violence of the world below.  

There comes a time when one just becomes tired of running.  Especially since it does not offer rest or joy.  When I became weary of running and trying to live of life of survival, I realized that God was still calling.  God was waiting patiently for this moment in time.  

So my challenge to the readers of this blog entry is:
  • When you chose to stop running, how will you respond to God?  
  • If you have stopped running, how have you responded to God?

Paz y Bendiciones,
Padre Juanito

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Mask of Achievement

I have to be honest, for the past couple of weeks I have been cranky.  Overall, I think that my crankiness is a response to being in a liminal space.  I am also sure that my crankiness is also enhanced because the adjustment to the time change has been difficult.  Okay enough with this digression.

In a recent conversation with my spiritual director, I was challenged to continue to discern God's love for me.  This time I was encouraged to reflect and imagine myself in the "Parable of the Prodigal Son." My spiritual director  suggested the following tool to help me engage in this Ejercicio espiritual (spiritual exercise), Henri Nouwen's "The Return of the Prodigal Son."  So to some extent this blog post is a conversation between Dios, my spiritual director and Henri Nouwen. My hope is that you will also engage in this conversation. 

In my previous blog post, I disclosed that I am an extreme perfectionist.  Given this fact, I have started to explore how this aspect has and continues to influence my relationship with Dios.  So where does the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" fit in this discussion.  Well, I invite you to journey with me and expect more questions than answers.

I would love to focus on each of the characters involved in the parable, and as a perfectionist that would usually be my modis operandi.  I also realize that this would them become more of an academic paper than a blog post.  So for the purpose of this blog post, I will focus on the young son.

When I prayerfully engaged in exploring the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" there was a resonance with the  young son, who chooses to leave for distant places.  I can easily engage in imagining myself as the young son.  The young son reminds me of my relationship with Dios.

I grew up in the South Bronx and was raised in a traditional Puerto Rican family.  All of us in the family had an assigned role with the purpose of fulfilling an integrated image of the family.  Although conceptually I was an individual, the family structure did not encourage any individuality.  In other words, my identity was that of the Perez-Correa family and there was no space for an individual identity of Juan, hijo de Dios.  This push for a nonexistent individuality was also supported by the expression of the Roman Catholic faith that I was exposed to as a child and a teenager.   Now you add a strong ethos for creating a perfect relationship with Dios, and you create a space for distance rather than intimacy.

One of the struggles I have had to face in my life long pilgrimage has been a movement away from seeing a relationship with Dios as something that is achieved.  I think it is a struggle that all of us have had to face in our lives.  The struggle is one in which the loud voices (often from the secular world) overwhelm the soft gentle voice of Dios.  Achievement lures us to distance ourselves from Dios.  I find that the secular world encourages a belief that the attainment of wealth and notoriety will bring about happiness.  However, this as a movement away from the realization that we are the beloved.  A relationship with Dios, Grace, is a freely given invitation.  It is not about worthiness or something that can be possessed. 

I understand why the young son wanted to leave his family.  The lure of the world can be hard to fight.  The son asking for his inheritance was in essence seeking the death of a relationship with his family.   Could the lure of the distant world also be an attempt to identify his identity.  How many of us have engaged is such an endeavor?

The parable reminds us that the father openly invites the son back home.  I am amazed by the father's action.  The son's request and decision to leave is a hurtful act.  Yet the father welcomes the son with open arms.  Could this parable be a reminder that Dios will always welcome a relationship with us regardless of the obstacles we create?  Therefore, could the challenge for us be a willingness to accept that we are the beloved?

Sometimes sitting on the fire escape provides a space to examine our relationship with Dios and the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Am I Enough!

I am currently engaged in weekly spiritual direction.  The recent conversations with my spiritual director have been about "Does God Love Me?"  You would think that being a priest, the response would be a resounding YES.  But the reality is that such a response is rather superficial.  I am not saying that God does not love me, but my relationship with God has been a tumultuous one.

Okay, It seems that I am getting ahead of myself.  

I have expressed to my spiritual director that I was struggling with worthiness.  In other words, am I worthy of God's love?  As the conversations have progressed, my spiritual director asked the question "what is your image of God?"  I have to say that I was stumped by the question.  I was wondering what does this have to do with worthiness and my relationship with God?  

As is turns out it has a lot to do with how I engage in a relationship with God.

Some of my friends are aware that I tend to be somewhat of a perfectionist.  Well maybe using the word somewhat is making light of my tendency.  Okay, I admit it, I AM AN EXTREME PERFECTIONIST!  But what does this have to do with my relationship with God?

My experience of God as a child was formed under the guidance of a group of Dominican Sisters.  Aside from encouraging prayer, they emphasized the need to be the best in order to be a "True" follower of Christ.  Perfection was seen as the utmost expression of a follower of The Way.  In school this was expressed in living an orderly regimented life.  The use of erasers and whiteout was frowned upon by the Dominican sisters.  In essence, there was no room for error or excuses.  This way of life was not only expressed at school but also at home. If I got an A, my mom asked why did you not get an A+?  It was this emphasis on perfection that would color my relationship with God.

So where does worthiness come into the picture?

My spiritual director expressed that my image of God is "Perfeccionista."  It was this image that was blocking an intimate relationship with God.  In essence, I am so focused on things going wrong that I have not allowed room for God's mercy.  So maybe a better question is "Am I enough?"

So now I have decided to engage in finding ways to make room for God's mercy.  I think that this will require a transformative view of my image of God.  A movement away from the "Perfeccionista" and finding how to utilize doubt as a means to create a space for God.  Could the answer be allowing vulnerability to enter into my relationship with God?

When you sit on the fire escape, there comes a time to decide when to move from viewing to engaging.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The View

       The reason why I have engaged in creating this blog was to use it as a means to express random views and experiences that have greatly affected and continue to affect my spiritual journey.   My early experience of the world was influenced by spending time sitting on the fire escape attached to my parents bedroom in the South Bronx.  This was not only an experience of viewing the world from the 3rd floor of an apartment building, but was also a safe space to hope for a better future.

      Through the bars of the fire escape I was able to view the large buildings that riddle the Manhattan skyline.  For me this view served as an image of a world which I was not a part of but was hoping to engage in the future.  The fire escape served as the only means to look over the large masses of abandoned and crumbling edifices.  From the street level there was no opportunity to be hopeful.  All that one could see were that rats and drug addicts among the rubble of concrete.  From the street there was just a view of a crumbling world that could never be overcome, it was a view that did not inspire hope.  This is the world that I would call hell.  Although the fire escape helped to inspire, its metal bars always served as a reminder that the hope of a better world was not one that was easily accessible.  These bars in the future would be replaced with what I would call borders.

So I welcome you to be part of my journey of discovery.