April 7, 2017
Kerry’s guest this week is Father Fred Ball of San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church. Father Fred Ball, started San Damiano in early 2006 with his wife (yes, his wife — that’s a big difference between Roman Catholicism and ecumenical Catholicism).
“This is where it gets crazy,” Ball said. “I grew up as a Southern Baptist here in Arkansas, and spent 20 years in Southern Baptist ministry, leading congregations.”
Though he was at ground zero of the Baptist faith every Sunday morning, Ball said he’d always felt an attraction to the ritual and teachings of the Catholic Church, which offered “power, drama and depth” to faith. After graduating from the Baptist seminary, he joined a Franciscan order. When he signed on to lead Baptist congregations, he constantly folded elements of Catholic worship into the Protestant mix.
After leaving the Baptist church in 1999, Ball spent six years as an Episcopalian, but something was missing. He was still drawn to Catholicism and the ministry, but knew that it didn’t jibe with the reality of his own beliefs or his situation, given that he was married. He heard about the possibility of being an ecumenical Catholic priest from a Franciscan brother, and decided to form a congregation as a small group in his home.
Since January 2007, San Damiano has held Mass every Saturday and Wednesday night at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at 12415 Cantrell Road.
The appeal of ecumenical Catholicism, Ball said, is different for everyone. There are some gays and lesbians in the church, Ball said. Others are former Roman Catholics who can’t reconcile their social beliefs with those of the Vatican. Some come from no faith background at all. The church is also very active in effecting hands-on change, including homeless outreach and environmental programs, which Ball said are an additional appeal.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:16.9] KM: I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up in your business. By that I mean to say share my business knowledge and wisdom with you, our listener. For the next hour, my guest, a fellow entrepreneur and a Catholic priest will be discussing how we maneuvered the path of faith and entrepreneurship in pursuit of our dreams.
Now, you may be asking yourself what qualifies this lady to do this, and the answer is easy, experience. I started my company, Arkansas Flag & Banner over 40 years ago. During the last four decades, Arkansas Flag & Banner has grown and morphed in door-to-door sales, to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales, and now relies heavily on the internet. Each change in sales strategy required a change in the company thinking and procedures.
My wisdom, confidence and my company grew. My initial $400 investment now produces nearly four million in annual sales. In this next hour you will hear a candid conversation about real world experiences and leaps of faith on topics I hope you’ll find interesting. Be prepared to hear our truth. It’s not always easy to hear. For example, in business, there are very few overnight successes. My truth is I worked part-time jobs for nine years before Arkansas Flag & Banner grew enough to support just me.
It’s now grown and expanded so much that to operate efficiently we require — Are you ready? A purchasing, manufacturing, graphic, shipping, technology, accounting, marketing, sales and customer service department, plus a retail store, 25 people make their living from working at Arkansas Flag & Banner. That didn’t happen overnight. Starting and owning a business takes persistence, perseverance and patience.
My guest today is Father Fred Ball from — Let me see if I can say it right, San Dami — Help me, Fred.
[0:02:07.0] FB: Yeah, Damiano.
[0:02:08.0] KM: San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church. Father Fred grew up as a Southern Baptist in Arkansas and spent 20 years in the Southern Baptist Ministry leading congregations. For time, after graduating from Baptist Seminary and still exploring his Christian faith, he joined a Franciscan Order. Later as a Baptist Preacher, he would fold some of his learned elements of Catholic worship, such as liturgical insights, calendar and worship pieces into his Protestant mix. Though he was practicing his Baptist faith every Sunday morning, he still felt an attraction to the ritual and teachings of the Catholic Church, which he felt offered for him power, drama and depth to his faith.
After leaving the Baptist church in 1999, Ball spent six years as an Episcopalian, but something was something. He was still drawn to Catholicism and the ministry, but knew that it didn’t jived with his reality of his own beliefs or his situation given that he was married. He heard about the possibility of being an Ecumenical Catholic priest from a Franciscan brother and decided to form a congregation in his home.
In 2006, with his wife, yes, his wife, he started —
[0:03:27.1] FB: San Damiano.
[0:03:27.3] KM: San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic church. Welcome to the table, Father Fred Ball. This is the beginning of Holy Week, a very busy time for priests. Thank you so much for making time to come and talk to us.
Before we dig into the meaning of Holy Week, can you tell us how you went from Baptist preacher, to a practicing with the Franciscans, to being an Episcopalian and, now, a Catholic priest.
[0:03:53.3] FB: Oh, that’s quite a question.
[0:03:55.1] KM: Yeah. That’s got to be a good story.
[0:03:57.0] FB: We only have an hour.
[0:03:58.5] KM: Where do you want to start?
[0:03:59.7] FB: The short version of that is I think that I’ve always been attracted to the liturgy. I was exposed to the Catholic mass when I was in high school because of my Spanish studies and met some friends from Central America who worked with Arkansas Electric Cooperative who are from Central America who’d invite me to their church activities and say, “We’re having a picnic Sunday afternoon. Why don’t you come to mass with us?” and would sit and just soak in that liturgy and the power of the symbols and the drama that is the mass, and that was quite attractive to me. At the same time I was worshiping, in my native faith if you will, in a context where the symbolism was minimized and there was an emphasis on the sacraments not being anything except what they called mirror symbols. Yet, they were so important that certain people could receive them and certain people couldn’t.
It made me want to explore this whole sacramental, liturgical drama aspect. It caught me in some deep place in my soul. I begin to explore that, so even in a Southern Baptist Seminary context, I ended up doing my doctrinal dissertation on the Eucharist, the primary sacrament of renewal and nourishment in the Catholic traditions.
[0:05:21.7] KM: How old were you when you started going to those picnics with your friend?
[0:05:24.8] FB: Oh, gosh! 17 years old probably.
[0:05:27.0] KM: A very formative age.
[0:05:28.1] FB: Mm-hmm.
[0:05:28.8] KM: Did y’all speak a lot of Spanish?
[0:05:29.5] FB: We did.
[0:05:30.2] KM: And you liked that?
[0:05:30.8] FB: I did.
[0:05:32.1] KM: What does Ecumenical mean?
[0:05:34.1] FB: Ecumenical comes from the Greek word — The root is the word oikos, which means house or household, and so it’s the root for Ecumenical. It’s a root for economy.
[0:05:47.0] KM: When you say an Ecumenical Church, it means something different.
[0:05:49.8] FB: It means including the whole household. For us, the emphasis is on having relationships with all Christians and not just Catholics. This goes back to our roots with the old Catholic tradition, the old Catholics of Utrecht in the Netherlands who in the early 1700s when they began to cut off from the Roman Church, immediately looked around and said, “But we’re Catholic and we have to be in relationship with other people.” They turned to the Anglicans, they turned to the Orthodox and began developing those relationships and having conversations about they could be church together in some way.
[0:06:25.3] KM: That’s when Ecumenical Catholicism was born?
[0:06:28.7] FB: Essentially.
[0:06:29.9] KM: Are there very many in the State of Arkansas?
[0:06:32.1] FB: We’re the only Ecumenical Catholic Church in the State of Arkansas. Yes.
[0:06:38.7] KM: And so that’s in your name and the other part that it’s your name is San Damiano. It’s the San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church. Explain the name San Damiano and how you came up with that name too.
[0:06:51.4] FB: Sure. My wife and I are Franciscans, part of a Franciscan order and San Damiano is the name of a little chapel outside of Assisi in Italy where St. Francis was born and spent his life. It was one of those places that for instance we’d go and pray and it was part of his conversion experience was his experience there at San Damiano. It’s a little dilapidated chapel that had long been abandoned.
Francis went there regularly to spend time in prayer and meditation and a famous crucifix was hanging there. It’s about a six-foot tall crucifix, and one day in his prayer he heard the voice of Christ say, “Francis, go repair my house, which is you can see his falling into ruins.” Francis looked around and said, “Yeah, it really is.” He took it very literally, very concrete thinker, and began collecting stones and rebuilding the chapel. He later began to understand that the call was much larger than to repair God’s house was not just to repair this little chapel, but it was to repair essentially the world.
As you probably know, Francis is a patron saint of creation of ecology. Well-known for peace and justice efforts and those are the kinds of things that as Franciscans we’d put our focus on is repairing the households of God which we believe is all of creation.
[0:08:09.4] KM: Did you have a dream that made you decide on that name, or how did you get the calling to call it that?
[0:08:15.4] FB: My wife actually chose that name. We want to have something that would be recognizably Catholic, so saint something, right? For most Catholic churches. San Damiano is such a central piece of the Franciscan story. That was just an important image for us, and we never dreamed at the moment that we chose it that it would be as difficult for people to pronounce as it is.
[0:08:36.8] KM: The Franciscans, were they monks that you stayed with? Were they Franciscans monks?
[0:08:41.5] FB: Franciscans identify themselves as friars rather than monks.
[0:08:45.0] KM: Friars.
[0:08:45.8] FB: Yes. Friar, which is just a word that means brother, brothers and sisters. Monk comes from the Greek word monos, which means one and it refers to the idea of the religious — The monks staying in cells in a monastery and being isolated and tied into the monastery.
Franciscans don’t stay in monastery. They stay in a friary or a convent. Convent just means coming together. Franciscans are known for going from gospel to life and life to gospel. That is we gather — We spend time together. We encourage one another, and then we go back out into the world. This whole idea of being set forth into the world on mission and coming back to re-gather and recharge.
[0:09:28.8] KM: That’s their philosophy.
[0:09:29.9] FB: Mm-hmm.
[0:09:30.9] KM: What country were you in when you studied with the Franciscans.
[0:09:34.2] FB: Oh! In the U.S. It began with an order called the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, which is not tied to any particular denomination. It has folks from every major Christian group that you can think of and some very obscure ones as well. Then later, a few years ago, six years or so ago, we asked the order to release us so that we could form a new Franciscan group within the Ecumenical Catholic community, and because we had something to offer our church that would help that grow and strengthen since it’s a relatively new community.
[0:10:06.1] KM: You have a Franciscan order in your current church?
[0:10:08.4] FB: Yes.
[0:10:09.4] KM: We’re going to have to talk about that more. Here’s something that I read while getting ready for this show that really, really got me thinking. I’m paraphrasing from the book Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox. It says, “No matter how you feel about religion of any kind, it is easy to say Jesus Christ may be the most important figure that has ever appeared in our written history of mankind. Think of Washington, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Charlemagne. It makes no difference how you may regard Jesus whether a man, a prophet, a fanatic, or a God. You have to concede the fact that through his life, death and teachings he has influenced the course of human history more than any other man that lived.”
That is something to think about. Let’s take a break. When we come back we’re going to dig into the spiritual meaning or Holy Week. What it means to be gay and faithful and how Father Fred Ball’s spiritual journey led him in 2006 to open and pastor the Ecumenical Catholic Church San Damiano.
This is Holy Week, and its precursor is Lent, which is 40 days and 40 nights and it starts on Ash Wednesday, which is the day after Mardi Gras, which everybody knows Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras and most people don’t even know why they’re celebrating Mardi Gras. Let’s tell them what Lent is and why there’s 40 days.
[0:11:42.4] FB: Sure. Throughout the history of the church the length of Lent has varied throughout the years. Sometimes it’s been longer. Sometimes it’s been shorter. Historically, Lent was a time for the church to prepare candidates for baptism at Easter. Easter, sort of the classic time, the primetime if you will to baptize new Christians, and so Lent became a period for teaching the faith to the new converts, and for Christians who had already been baptized to prepare to renew their baptismal commitment at Easter. Somehow we settled on 40 days.
[0:12:19.3] KM: I thought it was because he was in the desert 40 days. I thought because Jesus in in the 40 days.
[0:12:22.3] FB: I was going to say, that’s part of it too, is we’ve got the 40 days of Jesus’ Temptation of the Wilderness. We have the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites. 40 is one of those important numbers symbolically in the scriptures. I think that’s why they finally settled on that.
[0:12:39.6] KM: There are several numbers that are symbolic in scripture, like 12.
[0:12:43.0] FB: Mm-hmm.
[0:12:43.7] KM: Three.
[0:12:44.6] FB: Mm-hmm.
[0:12:45.3] KM: Do you have anything to say about either one of those?
[0:12:47.2] FB: 12 for the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles. Three, of course, obviously for the Trinity. People multiple and add and subtract and do all kinds of things to those numbers so that you have the 144,000 who referred to in the Book of Revelation, 144 is 12 squared. Times a thousand just for a good measure.
[0:13:08.6] KM: What do you give up for Lent?
[0:13:10.3] FB: What I’m giving up for Lent? I’m not sure I gave up for Lent as much as —
[0:13:14.2] KM: What?
[0:13:14.2] FB: As trying to take on.
[0:13:16.8] KM: Oh! There you go.
[0:13:17.3] FB: Lenten disciplines for me are not necessarily about depriving yourself, but they’re about realigning yourself. The word conversion is an important word in Franciscan talk. Convert meant to turn with and realigning yourself, turning yourself, getting in line with God in a fresh way is what’s important.
Lent in discipline might be to take on a more regular priority or scripture study or service to the poor or something like that. It might also mean getting something out of your life that is hindering your relationship with God.
[0:13:56.9] KM: A lot of people are going to this Lenten season with day off on Sunday so you have a re-pass on Sunday.
[0:14:06.0] FB: Yeah.
[0:14:07.4] KM: You heard about that?
[0:14:07.9] FB: No, I haven’t. Give up church for Lent.
[0:14:09.8] KM: We know. Not give up church, but you get to give up whatever you gave up for Lent.
[0:14:13.0] FB: Oh, yes.
[0:14:13.1] KM: So on. If you gave up ice cream, like I did. On Sunday you get to have ice cream.
[0:14:17.3] FB: The idea behind that is that Sunday can never be a fasting day, because there’s always a celebration of the resurrection, even during Lent. If you count from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, it’s more than 40 days, because the Sundays don’t count, and that’s where that notion comes and people can step away from their Lenten discipline on Sunday.
[0:14:38.3] KM: I did not realize that. I have never counted that up. Palm Sunday is the Sunday preceding Easter, and it’s when Jesus comes in to Jerusalem riding on a donkey and people are fanning him with palms. What does that all mean? Anything in particular?
[0:14:54.5] FB: There are some interesting things going on with Lent there. One is, of course, people are welcoming Jesus, waving their palms, proclaiming that he is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna the highest. That same crowd, by Good Friday, is going to be shouting, “Crucify him!” It’s a reminder of the frailty, I think, of humanity and how easy it is to just turn with the crowd in one direction or another.
A little Lenten tidbit that folks should know is that on Ash Wednesday, we get those ashes by burning the palms from the previous years’ Palm Sunday. A reminder that those green palms that we waived so happily and cheering Jesus on have become dry and brittle as their faith sometimes does after a long time. We take those palms and burn them and they create the ash by which we mark our repentance and our readiness to turn again and sign up one more time to say we’re followers of Jesus.
I mentioned conversion being an important Franciscan word, because we talk about in the Franciscan tradition, we talk about daily conversion. Recognizing that our relationship with God is not once and you’re done forever kind of thing. I could send a contract for fire insurance, keep you out of hell, but rather that every day I have to make the decision that I’m going to be in some way a follower of Jesus or not.
[0:16:17.6] KM: That is very well said. I never really knew — My preacher I hope is not listening. I never really knew why — I knew where those ashes were from the year before, from burning the palms from the year before, but I never really thought about it in that context to just how brittle and quickly we can turn and then it’s time to be reminded to stay the course. That was really well said.
I’ve recently watched a documentary about the last days of Christ and they’ve got a theory on there that it was really six months and not six days. Have you seen it?
[0:16:51.2] FB: No.
[0:16:52.5] KM: It’s interesting.
[0:16:52.8] FB: Interesting.
[0:16:53.4] KM: It is. It’s interesting. That’s Palm Sunday, and then we get Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and we jump to Maundy Thursday, feet washing.
[0:17:03.1] FB: Sure.
[0:17:03.5] KM: Can you tell the story of the feet washing?
[0:17:05.3] FB: Sure. Yeah, two important things happening there on Thursday. Holy Thursday is the time when we have Jesus giving what he called the New Commandment, “To love one another,” he said, “as I have loved you.” He demonstrated his love and his educate of servitude about washing his disciples’ feet. In the scriptures that we read that they protested saying that, “Why are you washing our feet when we should be washing yours?”
The kind of leadership and service that Jesus demonstrates is not one that’s hierarchical, but it’s an invitation to us to serve one another rather than to be served. That’s how he described himself. In Mark’s Gospel, he says, “The Son of Man,” referring to himself, “came not to be served, but to serve and to give himself for many.” He washes the disciples’ feet at supper, which is the role of the lowest servant, really, in the household would be wash the guest’s feet.
Then the other thing that’s happening on Holy Thursday is the institution, we believe the Lord’s Supper or the mass, and when Jesus blesses and breaks bread and gives it to them and says, “Take thee, this is my body.” Blesses the wine, gives it to them, says, “Drink you all of this. This is my blood of the new covenant.” That all was instituted on that Thursday, the last week of his life.
[0:18:24.6] KM: It seems like we always talk about feet washing, but we really should be talking about the Last Supper on Thursday then.
[0:18:31.4] FB: Both of them, I think, because they go hand in hand, because —
[0:18:34.3] KM: What does the word Maundy mean?
[0:18:35.5] FB: Maundy comes from the Latin word for commandment, because he said on the new commandment I give you, that you love one another. That’s when we refer to it as Maundy Thursday. It’s the Thursday in which we got that new commandment from Jesus.
[0:18:51.2] KM: You have to be really smart to be a preacher. You have to be an academic. That’s deep. Then, of course, there’s Good Friday, which I don’t know why it’s called Good Friday. It should be called Black Friday. It’s the crucifixion.
[0:19:03.0] FB: Right.
[0:19:03.9] KM: I think it’s interesting that the word has been chosen Good Friday instead of Black Friday.
[0:19:11.6] FB: Only I suppose because of the benefits that come from Good Friday, that because of Jesus willingness to follow in obedience and demonstrate God’s love even to the point of death on the cross, and then God saying yes to that by the resurrection. Friday becomes good, not because the event was good, but because the result was good.
[0:19:31.9] KM: Wow! Who is there at the crucifixion?
[0:19:36.3] FB: Yeah. You asked that question because you know the answer. Who was there? It was the women who were left, the Maries who stayed with him to the end when all of his other disciples, when the med had fled.
[0:19:49.2] KM: That’s not why I asked the question. Some people say he was alone. Some people say the Maries were there. Of course, I want to believe the Maries were there. I think some people say he was alone, but I can’t imagine that.
[0:20:01.1] FB: We have Apostle John there, at least for some time, because the great story when Jesus looks to his mother an says, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “behold your mother.” He essentially entrusts them to each other to be family together after his death.
[0:20:16.0] KM: Then we have the next day, which is Saturday, and that’s the Easter Vigil, and it starts at dark and it’s really just waiting for the resurrection.
[0:20:25.7] FB: The Easter Vigil is the most dramatic liturgy that we have in the Catholic tradition. It is the mass from which all other masses flow. Really, historically, as the liturgical year developed, Easter was the first and most important. We didn’t get around to establishing Christmas for some time, and even then had a couple of different days for Christmas before we settled on it in the Western Church.
The Easter Vigil is a dramatic storytelling of the history of God’s love for humanity from the beginning. During the vigil portion of the service, we read a series of scriptures from the Hebrew scriptures first and then eventually moving to the regular mass for the New Testament readings, cover the story of God sending the profits of God. Telling of his rescue of Noah through the flood, that wonderful story from Ezekiel about the Valley of Dry Bones, which is called Back to Life. It’s a story of salvation and resurrection in so many images, and it is quite frankly my favorite liturgy of the year.
[0:21:33.1] KM: Does the Protestant Church recognize that too and make a big deal out of it? Is that one of the things you missed?
[0:21:38.9] FB: Probably so. I’m seeing more and more Protestants going back and picking up some of these pieces from the tradition that we used to not see very often. For instance, we talk about Ash Wednesday. I don’t remember 30 years ago many Protestants doing anything with Ash Wednesday. All of a sudden it’s become a lot more popular. I think that because there’s a longing in the human spirit and just our nature for ritual, for tradition, for the symbolic things which speak to us in ways that we can’t give words to, and so we have to act them out.
[0:22:11.1] KM: Yeah. That’s almost an argument sometimes against religion, is there’s so much ritual. Sometimes people are like — Well, there’s so much pomp and circumstance that it’s silly and other people are like, “There’s so much pomp and circumstance that it feels good to my soul.” It’s different ways for different people.
Then, of course, Easter. We know what that is. He has Risen
[0:22:32.9] FB: For us, the Easter Vigil is the first service of Easter. It’s sort of that threshold, that liminal moment that hinge that swings between Lent and the darkness and bringing the light in, because part of what do at the vigil is we light the new fire and from that light the Easter candle and then in our particular setting, in our joint worships that we share with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the lights come on and the bells ring and even invited people to smuggle in their Easter treats into the service and keep those at their seats, and then at the offertory, which is right in the middle of the mass, we bring all those goodies and people will bring prime rib and Diet Coke and chocolate and Scotch and whatever they’ve given up for Lent and pile it on the table in front of the altar, and then those things are incensed and blessed along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist. Then after the mass we have a big, what I call a ring in the resurrection party.
[0:23:29.0] KM: I love that. That’s a great thing to do. Bring up everything you’ve given up; cigars, scotch.
[0:23:35.0] FB: Yeah. It’s a time to celebrate.
[0:23:37.3] KM: I couldn’t bring ice cream and milk.
[0:23:39.9] FB: Yeah, that would be probable.
[0:23:41.6] KM: That’s a wonderful thing. I love the ringing of the bells and he has risen. A lot of people wonder how Easter gets calculated every year, so I had to look it up. I’ll look it up every year. I can never remember it.
[0:23:51.0] FB: Oh, it’s very easy.
[0:23:52.0] KM: Okay. Tell.
[0:23:53.2] FB: It’s the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
[0:23:57.5] KM: Exactly. There’s two equinox a year, and I think it’s called the spring equinox.
[0:24:03.9] FB: Mm-hmm.
[0:24:04.7] KM: Yeah. Every year I have to look that up. I can never remember it. I think this is a great time to take a break. We’ve ended on Holy Week, and when we come back we’re going to talk about what it means to be gay and faithful. That’s a great subject.
I read an article about you in the Arkansas Times Magazine and I’m paraphrasing again, “If you’re one of those people of faith who believes in reproductive rights, contraception, gay and lesbian rights, and more, it can sometimes be a little hard to square all that with a traditional Roman Catholicism.”
For those who want the ritual liturgy and community of Catholicism without the baggage, there is an alternative, and that is your church father, San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church. Started in 2006 by you and your wife around the idea of offering Catholic communion and mass to all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or marital status. I like the way the Arkansas Times called these bedroom issues and that you have offered an alternative place to worship for the more progressive Catholic that doesn’t want their church in their bedroom. Tell us how you have aligned all these modern ideas with the bible.
[0:25:26.7] FB: One of the things that I’ve kind of appreciated with the old Catholic tradition from which we come is that they steadfastly refuse to take position simply because they’re part of the zeitgeist, part of the spirit of the times. The old Catholic position of women in ministry for example was not something that they rushed to because the rest of the world is saying that women should be equal partners with men in all things, but they said, “How do we square this with the Christian tradition, the scripture, the history of the church?”
The Dutch church spent years looking at this to make sure that they did made their choice not because it was popular, but because it was true. The same thing has been true with their position on human sexuality to say that the full inclusion of all people is essential to the nature of what we understand to be God’s loving grace.
Any of those issues we could look at and spend another hour or so with to talk about full inclusion of women, full inclusion of LBGTQ folks, but I guess my short answer is that we have looked at this long and carefully to say that all of us reflect the image of God. Created in God’s image, we share in God’s nature. By God’s grace, we are divine expressions of God’s love an no one should be kept from the table, from the church, from the community of God.
[0:27:00.1] KM: That’s pretty much Jesus’ teachings.
[0:27:02.5] FB: Yeah.
[0:27:03.1] KM: I’m having dinner with a friend the other night and he and I are talking about this, and he’s a Baptist and he said, “I don’t understand how it can happen.” I said, because I’m Episcopalian, and I said, “This is how I’ve aligned it and that my peers and I have aligned it,” and I can see if you can agree with me on this. In the bible it says intercourse between a man and a woman is fine, but intercourse that is rape is not. If intercourse is about love, it’s fine.
You can think of it as the same way with a different kind of love, sex between two people that love each other, whether it’s a man and a woman is still love, but rape and sodomy of a young boy which I believe is what they’re talking about in Romans is not the same as a loving relationship between two men or two women. If you take just intercourse and say, “Intercourse is bad.” No! Rape is bad. Lovemaking is fine.
Sodomy is bad, but love making is fine, and that there are two different ways to think intercourse and sodomy. What do you think?
[0:28:13.8] FB: Yeah. It is unfortunate. I have a book on my shelf at home called The Invention of Sodomy, which is interesting. It’s unfortunate that we’ve even come to equate sodomy with a certain type of sexual act, because if you read the scriptures themselves, when they talk about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s not so much about sex. It’s about the sin of inhospitality and the way they treated the strangers who came to them.
If you go back and read the Sodom story, it’s fascinating that the folks come wanting to rape the men and Lot instead offers them women. How is that okay?
[0:28:56.7] KM: Yeah. Rape is rape.
[0:28:58.9] FB: Yeah. It’s still a bizarre story of mistreatment of a distortion of relationship between people. One of the ways that I like to talk about sin, not that I like to talk about sin, but what I mean is to define sin not as a particular act, a list of dos and don’ts. I think it’s one of the problems we have in American Christianity, is we’ve got this list of dos and don’ts and think as long as you don’t drink, dance, smoke, or chew and don’t go out with the girls that do, you’re okay.
Sin I would rather think about as anything which distorts or destroys my relationship with God, myself, another person, or creation. What is this decision, this action, this attitude doing to our relationship? That is where sin comes in is when relationships are distorted and things get out of whack.
[0:29:53.7] KM: Jesus says the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven is through love, and so who is to define what love is? As long as you’re doing everything from the place of your heart, it should be fine. I don’t understand when I’ve heard people say there’s no better place for a bigot to hide than behind God, because sometimes you’re using God for your — Instead of using him for love, you’re using him to support maybe, to me, unholy thoughts.
Your congregations is very diverse, and the bible is hard to understand, much less interpret which you and I have just been trying to do. Have you heard of the term of buffet Christians?
[0:30:39.4] FB: Oh. Yes. You pick and choose what you want off the buffet.
[0:30:42.9] KM: Yes. I read a book called The Year of Living Biblically, and I read this years ago. It was one man’s humble quest to follow the bible as literally as possible. Have you heard about that book?
[0:30:53.8] FB: No. I haven’t.
[0:30:54.8] KM: He tried to do exactly everything that the bible says to do, only we don’t sit where a woman has sat who’s menstruating, don’t touch the hands of a woman who’s — They’re just outrageous. They’re so many outrageous things in the bible. I don’t know how anybody can ever decide what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do other than maybe buy what you just said about if it doesn’t — What did you say exactly? Say it one more time.
[0:31:24.9] FB: Oh, I was talking about sin as that which destroys or distorts our relationships with God, ourselves, one another and creation.
[0:31:33.4] KM: I think that is a beautiful way to put it, because you can’t really understand everything in the bible. At least I can’t.
[0:31:40.1] FB: I think from a Christian perspective too, one of the things that we’ve said is Jesus simplified all these for us by giving us the two commandments; love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.
[0:31:54.1] KM: I don’t think we’re loving our neighbors as our self these days.
[0:31:57.4] FB: Maybe we haven’t learned to really love ourselves.
[0:32:01.2] KM: Maybe we haven’t. What do you think the biggest message you think the bible is trying to say?
[0:32:06.0] FB: I have to turn to one of my favorite Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure, who talked about the fountain fullness of God’s love, which is just overflowing, love can’t help itself. If it’s truly love, it overflows and it gives itself away and that’s why we have Jesus. That’s why we have creation. In fact, Bonaventure says, because he believes that everything that exist is a word of God and an expression of God’s love.
[0:32:32.4] KM: If someone asks you today, said they want to change their life for the good, what would be the one thing you tell that person to start doing?
[0:32:38.7] FB: Build relationships.
[0:32:41.0] KM: With who?
[0:32:43.1] FB: Look around you. Who do you see? Build relationships with your neighbor, your family. Build loving and healthy relationships that support one another or mutually life giving.
We just had lunch on the way over here, stopped by Food Truck and then took our lunch over to Bernie’s Gardens. There are six or eight folks sitting out there that looks like they’re probably homeless. Those would be good folks to begin and build relationships with. They were welcoming, greeted us as we came in. They had their dogs with them. They had a little sense of community. There’s probably more healthy relationship going on there with homeless folks in Bernie’s Garden than there are in some of the office buildings downtown right now. Just being welcoming and recognizing, acknowledging one another as chosen with God is a place to start.
[0:33:32.2] KM: That brings me to my next thing that you say is that your church has an emphasis on care for creation, care for the poor and peace and justice issues, that you have an Arkansas Homeless Coalition and that your new favorite thing is you started the Franciscan Earthcore. What is that?
[0:33:47.1] FB: Yes. Franciscan Earthcore, which unfortunately is not very active right now, but was a couple of years ago an emphasis on working with young adults, roughly 18 to 25 was the target group, to gather them around issues of ecological justice issues, community and spirituality.
Franciscans began with action, and so we invited several college students to join us. We had for some strange reason, mostly kids from Conway came down to get engaged in some hands-on activities. We did some nature walks out at Pinnacle Mountain Park. We helped get a garden started, community garden started at Jericho Way Day Resource Center out on Springer Street. Gathered them around those actions, because young people are all about green, they’re all about helping folks.
Then later I said, “Okay. Come on over to the house. We’ll feed you a meal.” They’re all about being fed too, and then I had a conversation about what we’re doing and why. What it is that drives us to start a garden at the Homeless Day Resource Center? What is it about nature that engages the human spirit so much?
Sort of way to try to attract and have conversation with young adults who might not respond to an invitation to come to mass on Sunday, but they’d be all about getting involved in a hands-on project to help someone else.
[0:35:08.7] KM: That’s a great story. This is our last break. When we come back we’re going to hear how Father Fred Ball’s spiritual journey led him in 2006 to open and pastor the Ecumenical Catholic Church San Damiano and how it differed from running a regular business such as mine.
Father Fred I quoted you as saying, “There have been times when we’ve had more people on a Saturday morning doing homeless outreach events than we’ve had at mass on Saturday night.” You said, “That’s fine with me. It’s where the action is. That’s making a real connection between spirituality and community engagement.” That’s really nice.
You started your church in your home, this is January of 2007. It has been held mass every Saturday. Was there one thing that became a turning point in your life when you knew I need to take this leap of faith and open a church? Was there was one thing that just said this is it?
[0:36:15.0] FB: It was a face-to-face encounter with the Ecumenical Catholic communion in 2005 that made that happen for me. As I’ve said, I’ve been part of a Franciscan order since 1990 and the Franciscan charism and spirituality had very much shaped me and that was while I was still at Southern Baptist. As you mentioned, I spent some time with the Episcopal church, but in 2005 I was putting context with the presiding bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion and he invited me out to Los Cruces, New Mexico where they were having their I guess its biannual sennate, which is the gathering for business of the communion. It was an interesting experience, because first of all when I was still at Southern Baptist, when I would show up somewhere in my Franciscan habit, people look at me like I was from Mars or something.
[0:37:04.8] KM: Is it a big, long, brown —
[0:37:06.5] FB: It was dark gray. Yeah, it’s the friar tuck out —
[0:37:09.9] KM: The friar tuck out with it.
[0:37:10.6] FB: With [inaudible 0:37:10.9] belt.
[0:37:12.3] KM: Yes.
[0:37:12.4] FB: Yeah. When I was in the Episcopal church, people would walk up and at least say, “Oh, I didn’t know we had Episcopal Franciscans.” I said, “There is an Episcopal Franciscan Order, the third of the Society of St. Francis.”
When I showed up at Los Cruces for the Ecumenical Catholic Communion I had people running up to me saying, “We heard a Franciscan was going to be here.” They handed me my folder with all the conference materials in it and it had the San Damiano cross on the front of it, which today we’re using because it was assembled for that particular [inaudible 0:37:47.0] as its logo, if you will. The whole weekend had a very Franciscan feel to me. It felt as if I were home spiritually.
I love the fact that it’s relatively new communion. Some were some issues that were already settled. The ECC is not having conversations about human sexuality. We’re done. We started off with the full inclusion with every person, the richness of the Catholic tradition.
I love the Episcopal Church, they’re wonderful people. St. Michael’s in particular, are wonderful partners in ministry with us. In fact when they invited us to share this space with them, their pastor said, “I don’t want for you to be a tent here. I want to share ministry,” and we’ve done that.
At the same time the Episcopal Church says a broad spirituality that tried to include both the Catholic tradition and the protestant tradition in I’m going to say a wonderful Elizabethan Settlement that Queen Elizabeth worked out. It’s a beautiful thing, but our folks are Catholic leaning people. We regularly have folks that say, “Why don’t y’all just become Episcopalians?” Our folks would say, “Well, because we’re Catholic. We just can’t quit.”
[0:38:55.5] KM: Yeah. Right.
[0:38:57.2] FB: We have more of an emphasis, of course, on the saints and Mary than you would have in the typical Episcopal church, for example.
[0:39:03.0] KM: That’s right. I don’t think the Episcopalians talk much about Mary.
[0:39:06.7] FB: But they’ve let us install our Statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the chapel out there.
[0:39:11.6] KM: Oh! Did you borrow money to start your church?
[0:39:14.5] FB: No.
[0:39:15.0] KM: That’s different from my regular business. How did your congregation find out about you? Do you advertise?
[0:39:20.5] FB: We’ve done some advertising. We have run a weekly ad in the Arkansas Times since we started meeting publicly at St. Michael’s in 2007. Still running one every week. We have lots of folks who have come because of that ad, or we have people who know people saw that ad. I regularly run into people and say, “Oh, I love to watch for your ad every week and see what’s the tagline is this week.” Because they’re aware of us, they refer the people to us.
[0:39:47.9] KM: Mm-hmm. Does God talk to you? Does he do it through dreams?
[0:39:51.7] FB: I have some interesting dreams sometimes. I’m not sure that I want to blame them on God.
[0:39:56.3] KM: Do you believe in dreams?
[0:39:57.9] FB: Yes.
[0:39:58.6] KM: Do you believe that that sometimes how your soul talks to you?
[0:40:01.2] FB: I think so. I think that —
[0:40:03.1] KM: Dreams are early part of Christianity that it’s kind of been lost.
[0:40:06.3] FB: Yeah. There are stories throughout the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures in which people become aware of something significant through dreams. Like Jacob, Jacob at his later. I think of Joseph, hearing about the dreams that his wife was going to conceive a child.
[0:40:23.8] KM: What is your daily spiritual practice?
[0:40:26.2] FB: Daily prayer.
[0:40:28.0] KM: First thing in the morning.
[0:40:28.4] FB: Using the liturgy of the hours, which is the formal prayer of the church. The church has two forms of public liturgy. One is the liturgy of the hours, morning prayer, evening prayer. It is Episcopalian, I’m sure you do the same thing, because that’s in your book [inaudible 0:40:42.0].
[0:40:42.5] KM: Oh, yeah. Right. That’s what I do.
[0:40:47.0] FB: We have wonderful resources for that now. There’s an app for that.
[0:40:51.0] KM: There’s a lot of apps for that.
[0:40:52.4] FB: Yeah.
[0:40:53.8] KM: If you want to get religious you can get a lot of daily prayers sent to you. Do you have a prayer that you love, your favorite one that’s short?
[0:41:00.9] FB: Yes. Since we’re on the air, I probably won’t remember it, but it’s —
[0:41:04.9] KM: Oh, yeah. We’re fixing to get a prayer. People, listen up. You’re getting your prayer for the day.
[0:41:08.3] FB: Lord, give light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, true hope and perfect charity. Inside a knowledge that I might always do your holy and true will.
[0:41:22.1] KM: In Jesus’ name.
[0:41:23.9] FB: That’s the prayer that St. Francis prayed before the crucifix regularly.
[0:41:28.0] KM: I love it. Amen. How many parishioners do you have?
[0:41:33.6] FB: This is probably a different between your business and mine too, is that I’m not much on record keeping. It’s not because I don’t think important. I just don’t do it well by nature.
[0:41:45.2] KM: You don’t know?
[0:41:46.7] FB: We’re a small congregation. If there are 25 or 30 at mass on Saturday evening, we’re having a good night. As far as total number of parishioners, how many are on the books, it depends on which books.
[0:42:00.7] KM: If someone wants to come to your church, Saturday nights, 5:00, St. Michael’s on Cantrell Road in Little Rock, Arkansas. Just 5:00, straight up. Last one hour. Do you have a website within the other services or opportunities they can go to or a Facebook page? Don’t you have a Facebook page?
[0:42:18.0] FB: We have a Facebook page. Our website is lrcatholic.org. Unfortunately, it was hacked and so now it’s just a bare simple page. There’s basic information there. I’m hoping to get that rebuild soon. Folks are welcome just to show up. We’re very informal. It’s definitely come as you are.
[0:42:37.3] KM: Father, thank you for that prayer. That was really lovely.
[0:42:40.2] TB: I noticed when I was helping Kerry research you, we found your Facebook page and something that I just loved was all of the reviews of your church, the San Damiano were five stars, except one that you left for four stars.
[0:42:57.5] FB: Oh, really? I left a review? I didn’t even know I reviewed it.
[0:42:59.5] KM: Oh, he’s so humble.
[0:43:02.3] TB: You couldn’t even give your own service a five star rating. I thought that was great.
[0:43:06.4] KM: That is a good priest, isn’t it?
[0:43:07.6] FB: That is funny.
[0:43:08.0] KM: Who’s my guest next week?
[0:43:09.9] TB: Wade Rathke, the founder of this radio station and ACORN.
[0:43:12.6] KM: I don’t think people realize that the A in ACORN stands for Arkansas.
[0:43:16.1] TB: It originally did.
[0:43:17.2] KM: Originally started in Arkansas.
[0:43:18.5] TB: It originally started in Arkansas. It was the Arkansas Community Organizers for Reform Now and then it became the American Community Advisers for Reform Now and it became a national organization.
[0:43:28.6] FB: I had no idea.
[0:43:29.4] KM: People in Arkansas do not realize that ACORN was started right here by the man that’s going to be here next Friday. He ought to be —
[0:43:35.2] TB: He started this station.
[0:43:36.4] KM: He started this station in the 1960s. It ought to be really good. Father, you’ve got to come back and we’ll talk about how science and religion can live side by side.
[0:43:43.6] FB: Absolutely.
[0:43:44.5] KM: Yeah. That will be a great topic too. Father, look, you asked me about this cigar. It’s for you for birthing a church. It’s your firstborn.
Father Fred saw that cigar, he was eyeing it. He was like, “What’s that cigar?” I was like, “I’ll tell you about that later.” Can preachers smoke cigars and drink scotch? I think they can. I think Catholic priests can.
If you have a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be in touch.
Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also about me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next Friday at 2:00 on the radio. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:44:39.7] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Next week a podcast will be available flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.