A Community

For the final presentation in my Christian Education class this last semester, I lead the class in a session that looked at sacrament in our lives. One of the recommendations during the session was to take a look at the liturgy from either baptism or communion within your own tradition and look at what the words mean. I decided that I should probably do that, as I was leading the class. I decided to look at the baptismal covenant services in the Book of Worship. I use the communion liturgy at least on a monthly basis, but rarely have the opportunity to look at the words we speak around baptism. A few responses by the congregation caught my attention, and made me think. In one of the services, the congregation pledges to do the following:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness , that they may grow in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.

I wonder how often we sit back and actually reflect on the words we speak during a worship service, better yet on the promises we make. In a lifetime, how many times does one make the promise to “surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness”? For some, I’m sure the number is staggering. We make this promise to help guide people in Christ’s way, but more importantly to be a community that loves and forgives. I know that I have failed many times to be a contributing member of that type of community, and I’m sure many of church members have done the same over time.

If we make this promise early on in a person’s faith journey (either as an infant, or when baptized later in life) we are setting the bar very high, but not impossible. I think that the church should focus on love and forgiveness before all of the other things we talk about. If we can be a community that truly loves each and every member of the community, and forgives instead of resents, it truly can be an awesome experience to be a member of a church. Unfortunately it seems that our community is too much about power and prestige, about who deserves better, about personal ambitions, and not about love and forgiveness. Yes, we have to set ourselves aside a lot in order to fulfill this promise, but isn’t that what Christ is all about? Aren’t we called to set aside self in order to share Christ with the world? It’s not an easy task, but love and forgiveness can go a long way.

Next time you are involved in a service of baptism, confirmation, or communion, take a moment to think about the words and see if the community is meeting its promises and guidelines. If we are not, let’s work to change that, for the sake of being people who follow Christ fully and live up to what we promise.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Morning so far…

I’ve not done a whole lot with my day so far, but have had the chance to listen to some music and evaluate the rest of my week. I guess something got done then. I had my iTunes on shuffle, and as always something comes up and catches my attention. Usually this is from an artist or genre I rarely listen to, but still finds its way into my thoughts. Once again, Celia Whitler has got my mind going and has helped my heart a bit. The song is below. I had to type the lyrics myself, so it might be rough, but the message is the same. I hope the people who are close in my life know that these lyrics are true of how I feel towards them.

“When All Else Fails”
By Celia Whitler

I have seen the beauty rising on your life. Coloring you like a morning sun.
And in your eyes I only find the gray and white, and an absence of the brightness that once was. Things that you once counted on, are things you thought were strong.
The very things that now have gone.
As the clouds of silver linings, as the darkness as the dawn.
This too shall pass. So hold on.

When all else fails, I will be here for you.
I will be near to you, and in your darkest days I will be a light.
A voice that will comfort you, a love that will come to you always.
For I am with you, when all else fails.

All of us have moments when our spirits fly.
And other times we feel we’re sinking down.
Deep in our discouragement we wonder why, no solace or contentment can be found.
As we try to stand courageously, try to hide our frailties, we forget to raise our faces to the day.
To see the hope that is surrounding us.
Feel the love that sets us free.
Hear the words, “Be not afraid.”

When all else fails, I will be here for you.
I will be near to you, and in your darkest days I will be a light.
A voice that will comfort you, a love that will come to you always.
For I am with you, when all else fails.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Our Community…

After looking at my work load for school next week, I realized that I had less to do than I expected. So I decided to relax and enjoy the day today. I wish the weather was nicer, but being indoors is just fine at this point. I spent the morning watching and listening to old sermons and songs that I have kept for one reason or another. Many are from my experiences at General Conference in 2004 and 2008. I save these things as reminders of why I keep going and why I need to stay where I am to work on things.

There is a huge community to come together in God’s name, and it’s not easy or pleasant all the time. No matter how things get, we need community. We need each other. As I was watching a sermon for the 2008 conference, I kept watching the worship and a very simple song came up. In its simplicity it overpowered the service and the conference, driving home the message of the day, we all need to work together and be there for each other.

I need you
you need me
we’re all apart of God’s body
stand with me agree with me
we’re all apart of God’s body

It is God’s will that every need be supplied
You are important to me
I need you to survive

I’ll pray for you
You pray for me
I love you
I need you to survive
I won’t harm You
With words from my mouth
I love You
I need you to survive

I pray that each of you find that community to feel welcome and loved. Whatever troubles you this day, whatever is heavy on your heart, I hope that you find comfort in the prayers and love of others. I know I am thankful everyday for my community, and pray daily for them. We need each other to survive.

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

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