My Holy Weekend

Note: I must warn anyone who is preparing to read this. I will most likely ramble and go on tangents during this blog. These are my raw feelings following a great weekend of worship. I hope you find something of worth in these writings and that your Easter was as equally meaningful.

The churches in which I am honored to be called the Pastor had some amazing worship experiences this weekend. I am moved and humbled by God’s spirit that was present during these times of community. It was a great thing, both personally and professionally to be a part of these 4 worship services (Good Friday and 3 Easter).

Good Friday was a tenebrae service where we reflected through readings and song. It was something new for both me and the church to experience. This was also the first holiday season worship that I was given complete control over as a pastor. The former associate had always taken care of Good Friday, so we didn’t change that, but I did include the senior pastor in the service this year. As dark and sad as this service can become, it really opened me up spiritually as a person and leader to prepare for the Easter celebration. I was moved by the response of those in worship, as they felt somber following the service. This night reminded of why I responded to my calling, and why I continue with all the stress that is involved at this point.

Easter Sunday was amazing. I must admit, I wasn’t too crazy about the 7:00am service, but felt renewed once it was over. The choir (which we only have twice a year) sang wonderfully, with new voices joining them this Easter. A choir can always get you in the Easter spirit. It seemed like everyone who came to worship today was prepared to be joyous, and it helped me lead worship. I lead everything but the children’s sermon and the sermon. I was blessed with being able to preside over Holy Communion on this Sunday. I used the liturgy for the most part, but from memory, and gave the story of how that night came to be when Jesus shared with the twelve. I hate to say this, but my best sermon may have not been a sermon at all. I hadn’t pre-planned very much of what I was going to say, but truly felt moved this morning to the point where I knew everything would be just fine and people would experience God’s grace through the Bread and the Cup. Being able to serve the congregation in this way is one of the most meaninful things that I experience. Using the rememberance of Christ in this way to welcome all to commune together is the theological high that cannot end for me. Easter was real for me this year, very real. I don’t know that I’ve experienced such a thing before, but hope to experience it much more.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Love Will Find A Way…

This morning I was struggling to get into a reflective mood. I stayed up late doing homework, got up early to do more homework and just wasn’t feeling it at all. So, when I feel that way I go straight to the iTunes for some inspiration. Like always, something came up on my shuffle that centered me and calmed me some.

Here are some of the lyrics:

“Love Will Find A Way” by Celia Whitler

Searching, longing for someone to know.
Listening, waiting on your own.
Deep inside you know life is a winding road.
Faith will lead when you’re alone.

Love will find you, when you think you’ve lost your way.
Love will speak to you, when there are no words to say.
Love will reach your heart when you’re lost in this world of doubt.
Love will find you somehow.

Looking back it’s clear to see the path you’ve chosen doesn’t always lead you to your goal.
Someway, someone will show you love.

I’m still in my dreaming for the church mode, and this spoke to me after reflecting on my pastoral care reading for the week. People are lost, heck, I’m lost most of the time. Faith is the part of us that guides us and brings us somewhere we can be accepted and love. I hope that my ministry can create a place for that to happen. That as people feel lost on the road of life, there is always a welcoming place, free from judgment and ridicule. A place that is comforting and not hurting, that can show people the unending love of God. That’s my hope anyway.

My Hopes and Dreams…

Today, as I focused my personal reflection time, I thought about why I’ve come to where I am and what I can do from here on out. I thought about my hopes and my dreams for myself and the church. Trying to remember those things where I felt most hopeful and connected to God in the church. One of the most recent moments was at General Conference in April/May of 2008. Yes, in the midst of the most political activity known to the United Methodist Church, I found God more clearly than ever. A moment I was a part of during that conference will always stay with me.

During one of the morning worship services, a young adult choir was brought together under the direction of Mark Miller. The song we sang was, “Draw the Circle Wide.” It was later in the conference and many of use had grown very weary with the state of the church and whether it would become fully inclusive of all people. Everyone I knew personally in that choir were there to push the church we love to fully embrace each and every person, no matter what! We were told before the performance that since we were part of the conference worship, we would have to remove our rainbow stoles for the morning. At first this troubled me, as it was a sign of our commitment to working for a cause, but after the song was finished I knew that our message was clear without the visual addition.

I felt part of a great witness that day. Calling for each and everyone of us to draw the circle wider and expand the reach of the church in love to ALL. This is more than a mission or idea, but a way of life. This is how we should operate. This is my hope and dream, that one day this will be but a stone on the path to great change. It will take a lot of work, and growth personally, but I am committed to a fully inclusive United Methodist Church and will do all that I can to see that happen.

Below, I have included a recorded performance of the song by a group recently. It is the same version and with the same director. I am working on getting the video from General Conference in a format I can share, but this is just as moving to see. I hope that you can watch and listen and think about how you already “draw the circle wide” and how you can “draw it wider still.”

Grace and Peace,
Z

Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday

Mark 9:2-9 (The Message)

2-4Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

5-6Peter interrupted, “Rabbi, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials— one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking, stunned as they all were by what they were seeing.

7Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.”

8The next minute the disciples were looking around, rubbing their eyes, seeing nothing but Jesus, only Jesus.

9-10Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t tell a soul what you saw. After the Son of Man rises from the dead, you’re free to talk.” They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant.

After last Sunday’s worship services that I preached at, and then chapel at Saint Paul in Kansas City this week, I’ve been thinking about transfiguration in both the scripture and how it appears to us today. I’ve been thinking about changes in my life and ministry, and how I can look for my “mountain top experience” that will give me some guidance. I’m working to understand how to recognize transfiguration around me.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the sermon in chapel by Dr. Susan Smith this week really brought to the forefront of my thoughts many ideas and questions. I realized the importance of this moment in scripture in relation to the greater narrative of Jesus. I recognized the importance of the guidance and words of those who came before us, and how faith can help wrestle through so many ambiguous situations.

When talking about the ministry of Jesus to this point, Dr. Smith pointed out the human nature of Jesus that we can all easily relate with. I am paraphrasing since I was trying to take notes and listen, but the main point will be the same. She said, “He was familiar with his surroundings. He thought that this ministry would be how it was going to be, but the nudge came along and forced him to look the other way.” I am perplexed by this idea of Jesus being content where he was, and feeling like this was okay to stay put. However, he knew what was right when he was called and continued on to his eventual death and resurrection. As I’ve blogged about recently, I’m struggling with defining and seeking out my ministry calling. This idea that when the nudge forces you to look another direction, you should recognize where it’s leading you and go both excites and frightens me. The thought of sacrificing everything because you were guided to it, is an awe inspiring thought. Jesus did this, and forever changed humanity.

I’m sure the human side of Jesus had his doubts. In fact, that was the point in the sermon that made it very real. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain top shows this guidance for Jesus. They were guiding Jesus to Jerusalem and his death. Dr. Smith related it to them saying, “It will be okay, Jesus. Go to Jerusalem.” I guess I’m looking for my Moses and Elijah right now. I’m searching for those people in my life whose opinions I value the most, to just tell me that “It will be okay, maybe not easy, but okay. God is calling you in this direction.” There is so much uncertainty in ministry, especially when you feel called to areas that are less than traditional settings. I am starting to feel like I might have found a good direction, but just don’t know what it’s like to “know.”

I know I’m called to be a pastor in some form. I want the church to reach out to people, make them feel loved and accepted, and be intentional in working to limit the hurt the church does in society. I want there to be a day where more people are comfortable around a pastor and church than there are people who are uncomfortable. I want to meet people were they are, because that is were God already is. I don’t believe in a philosophical God who looks over us, I believe in an active, working God amongst the people. God will always be shown to us no matter how uncomfortable we may be with the situation or people, God is Love and Love is for ALL!

I hope and pray for each of you to find your mountain top experience. As we begin this time of Lent, we remember Jesus’ journey, ministry, and faith. In Dr. Smith’s words, “God’s intention for us is beyond mortality.” We are love, called, and guided into action by God. This work goes well past our physical lives, but it needs to be done for those who follow. Maybe one day one of us will the Moses or Elijah to someone.

Keep searching for the mountain top experience, because that will enable you to go back in the valley and serve!

Grace and Peace,
Z

What will it be? Where will it be? My purpose in life is a mystery.

Yesterday at chapel I had the distinct pleasure to her the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery preach. Some would say it was a lecture, but there was no doubt in my mind that worship and a sermon took place during that time together. I cannot fully give justice to the event in my words, but I do know that I was greatly changed by being able to experience it. Very few people know this, but since I was in elementary school I have extensively read and studied the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. So, to be able to see, listen to, and shake hands with a giant of the movement was extremely meaningful to me.

There were many quotable moments throughout the morning, many of which I am unable to recall completely, but I do remember this one being especially moving.

Integration is not the movement of all things black to all things white; it is the movement of all things wrong to all things right.

As I heard Rev. Lowery speak, I was constantly moved, many times to tears, about all that he and others had done to bring about change to our country and how they have never stopped working for the greater good. He has been committed to his convictions for his entire life, which has spanned an amazing 87 years so far. His stories always had a point whether they seemed to at first or not, and hit home something powerful about humanity and its need to love one another. After the time in chapel I was both comforted and extremely uncomfortable. My discomfort is grounded in the struggle of my purpose and calling in life. Hearing the call for each of us to be “chaplains of the common good” really struck home with me. Rev. Lowery spoke of his recent work in uniting advocacy groups, and how he felt there were some things above the hierarchy of the church. His use of humor in that situation did not stop me from thinking that our institution gets in the way of ministry many times.

I struggle with my own calling each and everyday. I question whether I am called to the direction I’m headed, or to something different. I wonder if I am compromising my calling for the sure deal of itinerant preaching and guaranteed appointments. Am I called to this? Each day I think I may be less and less. First and foremost I want to be a servant leader. Yes, those two terms can go together whether my recent pastoral care book would agree or not. Leading by example, and less by meetings and visioning plans is where I want to be. I want to serve the needs of people and spend less time maintaining and protecting an institution. There is so much need for work in social justice and mercy ministries, that I would hope the church would be open to a calling based entirely on those factors.

Here’s the catch, how do I go about this? How do I determine if this is possible? How do I make sure that I am able to serve in a way that is authentic to my calling, and still be able to make a living to survive? These are all things on my mind right now. I never imagined being almost half done with my MDiv and be thinking that maybe there’s a different path for me when it’s all done. It scares me, causes me discomfort, but also gives me some peace that I know God is still calling me through the doubt and confusion. God’s calling is bigger than a process and bigger than me. Hopefully some answers will come my way soon, and Rev. Lowery was probably a messenger on the path to figuring it all out.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…

The title of this post comes from a Thomas Jefferson quote. Jefferson’s full quote is,

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice and the treatment of the minority in our society. This has long been a focus of my life, but recently I made the plunge and became a “card carrying member” of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). I was encouraged to this idea in October. I was asked to attend a political dinner to offer the invocation, being a clergy person in the area and a known member of that party, I said yes. At this event was a retired Presbyterian pastor from my hometown, whose wife was my kindergarten teacher. Before the event started, he took me aside to tell me something. At first I was concerned it would be some warning about being a pastor and too politically involved, but what he said was really encouraging. He said, “Glad to see you here, and wanted to tell you that I’ve been a member of the ACLU for longer than you’ve been alive. There are some of us (liberals) around here as pastors.”

Now this post won’t be entirely about the ACLU, but merely and illustration of my point. On their website, they describe their work as:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation’s guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

This, to me, is very important. ALL people need have the same rights and chances as another. This is especially important to watch within a system that could oppress and limit people with laws everyday.

As my ACLU membership card came in the mail a couple days ago, I began to think about how this relates to my understanding of God and ministry. I find the two very equally connected, the political protection of rights and the openness of the church to ALL people. How do we make a welcoming, hopeful place in our world? I, more than ever, really relate to John Wesley’s idea of the “world is my parish.” I am slowly realizing that so much of what is done in our local contexts is maintaining the institution and its tradition. I think I always knew this to an extent, but it seems like a cycle that doesn’t stop. My heart always lead me to believe that changing one person can start some sort of reaction that would fundamentally alter the way we do things. Unfortunately, my involvement thus far in the church process has made me realize the need for change is on a much larger scale than a few “traditional churches.” Now, I realize that some of this is cynicism, but there is always a bit of reality in cynicism.

I’m in my ‘big picture’ phase right now, but how do we make the world happier for people? How can the church work to ensure that people aren’t left feeling alone and abandoned in life? What ministries can we use to help with this, and what types of new ministries do we need to create?

Personally, these thoughts have made me reflect on my call. I know ministry and being a pastor is the right thing for me, but in what ways? For too long in my life have I accepted the way things are, and decided that I can live in the system and wait for something to be better. What if that catalyst for the change was suppose to be me and I wait for someone else? I’m also concerned that maintaining the institutional side of things takes up too much of our lives as clergy. If we have to spend so much time in administration of system that isn’t working, how do we have time to think and plan the future?

I dream of a church where people never feel left out, are embraced by the people there, and come away with the feeling of being loved unconditionally. This shouldn’t be as hard of a goal to accomplish as it is, but it seems to be the most difficult task any church leader can think about. There are enough things in our society that separate people and make them feel isolated, the church needs to not be another. The feeling of being left out and unwelcome can cause much damage to a person physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to always consider how the church’s actions can negatively effect even one person when we make a decision or institute a practice. We can’t prevent every instance of people getting hurt by the church, but if we show our intention to prevent it, that will go a long way.

Let’s hope and pray for a church that focuses on our call to love, and less about the preservation of ourselves.

Grace and Peace,
Z