Tired and Weary, but Lord You Are There

Yesterday brought out many emotions from many people. We heard stories of the previous days Holy Conferencing, and the unfortunate side effects of a process that should be a comforting experience. Stories were shared of hurt and wounds by those who felt that being authentic was important. Delegates who identify as LGBTQ shared of feeling bullied, harrassed, and demeaned. It was a tense moment on the floor, lead by the very gracious Mark Miller. His courage to bring this to the General Conference’s attention was amazing. It only further showed the divisions we have, and the need for self-examination of who we are as God’s church.

In the midst of the tension, our evening worship began. The Holy Spirit was present in the convention center. Tears were shed and some anxiety lessened. However, the deep desire for change by so many in the church continues on, encouraged to press on as wounds and scars are shown. Bishop Hoshibata shared a message that even caught me off guard. He displayed a level of leadership that was desperately needed, and explicitly called on us to live out our faith by welcoming all people, and not caring who people love. Jesus calls us to be God’s healing oil to others. This night reminded me of why General Conference is the best and the worst of the church.

Grace and Peace,
Z

We need change…but what kind?

It’s short nights, and long days for awhile here in Tampa. This morning starts with work in legislative groups after a slow start to things. I’ll be observing the committee called, Local Church. Most of the items being considered have to do with pastor’s authority in receiving and denying membership, membership appeals process, and issues around the property trust clause. While they may seem mundane and simple, much is involved in each of these areas. I will discuss these more as the commitee works.

Last night brought reports about the big ticket item, the Call to Action proposals. Rev. Adam Hamilton brough the bulk of the report. I can appreaciate the intent behind the changes, and the attempt by the Council of Bishops to push change, but found the report to be a bit maddening at times. I’ll admit, anytime structural change is proposed with hopes and promises of fixing a non-structural issues, I am skeptical. I do not see how these changes promote the transformation of individuals that will grow the church. For example, this change will not automatically bring young people to the church.

As a member of the younger generation in the church, I find the biggest problem to authenticity in the church. Younger people are looking for a church that LIVES its beliefs, not just mentions them. A church that is fully welcoming of all people, and I mean ALL people, is a necessity if we hope to ever be relevant to the world around us. Recognizing the call of each person who feels called by God must be done in order for the church to be the true body of Christ. The Call to Action gets the conversation started, but I would hope that the delegates spend time working with it and perfecting it, in order that it reflect the collective wisdom of those gathered.

Justice and Peace for ALL, that is my prayer!

Grace and Peace,
Z

Rules, Rules, Rules

Survived the first day, or should I say hours, of General Conference. Last night was the first plenary session for delegates. Normally this is a pretty mundane and routine night of votes on rules and procedures for the conference. However, as most have predicted, this General Conference is anyting put routine. Many new rule changes were proposed to help foster communication and hopefully save some time in the deliberations. These changes were not welcomed with open arms as many hoped, and we have not passed the rules of order for the conference. They will pickup again this morning in order to convene the legislative committees later today. My guess is that the General Conference will be about a half day behind when this is all said and done. On the personal side, it is differnt observing General Conference from the “outside” as a volunteer. Adapting to all the changes of not being in all the meetings, and getting a vote on issues hit me yesterday during the rules votes. However, it’s also been nice to be able to observe the body as a whole and see how it works together. The schedule is nicer on this side, being able to take a quick break without fear of missing an important vote. Should be more to talk about as the days go on, as I’m sure we will get into some “deep conversations.” Grace and Peace, Z

I Don’t Like Valentine’s Day

So, let me just say first off, I don’t like Valentine’s Day, never have, probably never will. I don’t hate it, I just don’t like it. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t like most holidays, Christmas included. I know that may cause some issues with people, with me being a pastor and all, but let me explain myself before the angry messages start flowing.

I started off just being annoyed with Valentine’s Day, and then I realized the feeling wasn’t just isolated to this one random holiday in February. It was a continuous feeling around celebrations that deal with gifts and buying things to show how much we care. I would guess this would be part of my discomfort with birthdays as well.

I spent some time over my lunch hour trying to pinpoint my annoyance. Valentine’s Day was easy at first, I’m single, but it was more than that. I dislike the what holidays in the United States have become. The commercialization, consumption driven, spending frenzy that they are takes our energy and puts it in the wrong place. We spend days, weeks, months worrying about what to buy, who to buy for, and whether we will be fully appreciated by the efforts. What if that effort went elsewhere?

What if all the stress around Christmas shopping, Valentine’s shopping, birthday shopping, went into worry about the people in our lives, towards the things that really impact them. What if we took the hours we spend walking the aisles at stores or surfing the web for gifts, and spent that time with someone, giving them actual time instead of the flowers delivered by someone else? Imagine what the world would be like if that much time was spent learning the story of others.

The United Methodist Church has a mission statement, “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” If I think about how the original disciples were made, how they were called, how they learned, it was because of the time they were given by the teacher. I believe in all my heart the only way that the world will be transformed to a world of love and peace is through time and relationship. Let’s make that effort, together, and worry less about the “things.”

Grace and Peace,
Z

Christianity: Masculine is the way?

Recently a lot has been going around the Internet circles about comments from John Piper regarding God’s intention for Christianity to have a “masculine feel.” As is a new practice of mine, I took some time to think about my response before I put it together. I’ve learned this to a be a good way to completely engage my comments with the source of controversy, but more importantly that I don’t say something I’m going to really regret later. So, here is my attempt to address this topic.
In an article from www.christianpost.com, evangelist John Piper is quoted as saying,

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother,” Piper said at this year’s annual pastors conference hosted by the Desiring God ministry. “Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.”
He continued, “God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”

First, having read the article numerous times and seeing other responses from colleagues, my initial reaction stayed the same, sickness. I say this as a pastor, a theological school graduate, and a Christian. Piper does acknowledge the potential for controversy in his statements, but doesn’t find a way to explain how the controversy is misplaced. That leads me to believe that this is indeed a moment of learning for all of us on how words do hurt, and can cause damage. I see this as sexism institutionalized.
My journey in faith has been eclectic at best, and at worst it’s been a struggle to continue any relationship within the organized church. I’ve been in communities with all types of theologies and practices, and feel that I’ve landed where I am based on a calling from God and a willingness to accept uncertainty. However, none of this would have been possible without the guidance, support, and leadership of women. I’ve have served in churches under the direct supervision of three female clergy at this point in my life, so I think I’m able to look at the issue of church sexism pretty well. More importantly, more women than I can count have made me who I am today. So either, a statement about the masculine favor of God is off base, or the God that I’ve discovered is a heck of a lot different than the one in the church.
Piper frames his comments in this way,

“It’s the feel of a great, majestic God who is by His redeeming work in Christ inclining men to humble Christ-exalting initiatives and inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.”

The words “inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support…” hits me the hardest. In a world of spin, I’m sure one can try to convince us that this is a positive statement, but I see nothing positive about it. It clearly sets up a hierarchical relationship in which males are the leaders and the women assist them. This strikes me strange on a personal and professional level. Having been raised by a single mother, I realize the fallacy in stating that a man’s leadership is needed in a family for things to be “right.” I, and many others, can attest to the inaccuracy of that assumption. As I already stated, it has been the leadership of women that has lead me to understanding my calling within the church. Through that calling, I’m reminded of a Bible study I lead in my first year of ministry where I asked a simple question, “Why do we view God as male?” I expected a slow response from the group, but to my surprise one woman spoke up right away and said, “Because a bunch of men put the stories together.” In that moment, I realized it wasn’t the expensive seminary education that lead me to my views, but basic common sense about context of history. This woman realized the relationship between authors and editors to their context, and that women had not been treated the best throughout history.
Biblically, the story of the Syrophoenician woman speaks the loudest to the role of women in faith. It’s a great text of liberation from a classist and sexist system, one that I believe opened the eyes of Jesus to a broader context, a context that brought a ministry to more than the people of Israel. We should be thankful for that woman’s speaking of truth to power. Secondly, I think of the great Easter story and to whom the risen Christ was first revealed. In Luke 24, we read about the women being the first to know of the risen Jesus, able to be the first to realize the words had been fulfilled. Women had the inside track to defining moment of Christianity. If we believe Jesus to be equally divine and equally human, than I think God wasn’t so worried about the “masculinity” of Christianity, as much as God is worried about the love and grace we spread from Jesus.
I’m sure I rambled a lot in this blog entry, but this is my return to blogging. I felt this issue was what I needed to get back into it. In closing, as pastor, teacher, student, and follower of Jesus I want it to be known that I find these statements troubling and damaging. If it were not for the influence of women in leadership I would not be in the church today. To quote Ani DiFranco, “Why can’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists?”
Grace and Peace,
Z

Prayer at the Legislature

I promised some people I would post this, and finally have some free time to get around to it. This is the prayer I shared before the Nebraska Legislature on March 8, 2011.

Amazing Creator, 

We pause this day to give thanks. Thanks for the lives we’ve been given, thanks for the opportunities you’ve called us to. We pray your blessing among us gathered here, and those throughout the global village. We may seek you by different names, in different places, but we are all connected to one another.  

Gracious God, we ask that you strengthen those who have been called to serve in this room. Guide them in their deliberations as they seek to find solutions to the issues in our society. Be with them as they make decisions, so that they may see your vision for love, mercy, and justice. Let them know that though the rewards may be unseen, the work today is important for the future. 

In an ever increasingly divided society, we seek to become more inclusive in our practices; seeking civility and peace. May your blessings fall upon this place, causing us to recognize the lives affected by the work done here. Humble us in our callings as leaders, community, members, and people in a greater humanity. 

We pray these things in your name. Amen.

Letter to Congregations on the Death of Osama bin Laden

The events of the last week have weighed heavy on my heart. Last Sunday night as I was watching the announcement by President Obama that Osama bin Laden, leader of a terrorist organization, had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. In the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the responses of individuals came rushing into the world. The responses were varied, some well thought out, some very visceral. One thing was clear, a chapter in our history had just been closed.

In reviewing responses of people on Facebook and Twitter, and seeing images on the different news stations, the overriding response was joy, celebration, and pride. As I sat there something didn’t sit easy with me, I honestly felt sick and had to sit in silence for a few moments. There seemed to be something wrong with this type of response from the masses. I was most troubled by those who would claim a blessing from God upon our nation by providing the death of this man. The thought that God has played a part in any of this was not isolated to a few zealous Christian fundamentalist, but people I know very well who many would classify as very devote Christians who follow Christ closely. (Some would even be called left-wing crazies!)

I do not want it to be thought that I look past the teachings or actions of Osama bin Laden throughout his life, nor do I think that it is realistic that he would ever be brought to a courtroom alive, it is the response of so many people that has lain heavy on my heart. Is celebration of any death a Christian virtue? There is nothing in any of my study, prayer, or faith experience that can comprehend that celebration of any killing is a faithful way to serve our God. Some claim the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of God’s judgment and wrath as precedent for this type of celebration, but I must say this is a strong misreading and interpretation of God and Jewish practice.

I share with you the practice of the Seder Meal during Passover. During the meal the Ten Plagues on Egypt are recounted that lead to the freedom of the Jewish people. With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup and places it on the tablecloth. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God’s creatures had to suffer. So even though the deaths were needed for the freedom of Israel from slavery, mourning is still the proper response to those deaths. We can mourn for the systems in the world that create violent behavior and thought, that create people like bin Laden, but celebrating the death only continues the cycle. Celebrating this death with such joy only perpetuates the things we find so disturbing about terrorist like bin Laden.

I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his writing Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?(1967):

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes… Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

In Prayer,

A New Day

It has been way too long since I’ve done anything with this blog. I’ve had lots to say, but life was just moving so fast I didn’t see a good time to pause and write. However, I think this is about to change. I am sitting in the airport in Washington, D.C. right now, returning home from Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2011. It was a great event that really changed my motivation for ministry, but energized me to move forward.

The conference was opened and closed by amazing plenary sessions. I’ll go into more detail about each of them in later posts, but this quote was shared during the first session. It is from Sally McFague’s book, A New Climate Theology. In it, McFague says:

“If God is always incarnate– if God is always in us and we are in God– then Christians should attend to the model of the word as God’s body. The model of the world as God’s body helps us understand the doctrine of creation is not about God’s power, but about God’s love.”

A new understanding of creation leads us to a new understanding of our life and our purpose within creation. Everything around us is part of God’s body, created by God’s love. It was from this perspective I began my time at Ecumenical Advocacy Days. We were there to seek peace and justice through God’s love, for God’s creation.

In the closing session, Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministries shared great insight into why we do the work of justice and peace. Jezreel left little room for us to stay silent in our collective witness for God. His goal for the night was to make us uncomfortable with our current place in our mission. He was very successful, but it made me uncomfortable in a way to motivates. I feel bad that I’ve been complacent in what I’ve done and haven’t done. Jezreel shared this insight with us later in the evening:

“Churches are not losing members because they are wrong…it’s because they aren’t courageous.”

We in the church like to blame each other for the failings of the church. In the United Methodist Church, in which I serve, it usually comes down to a conservative/liberal type argument. After thinking about it, both sides are correct. We are all to blame. I don’t think we do enough when it comes to justice. We don’t work for the rights of each and every person in the global community. This causes people to avoid the church, to find alternative ways of expressing their spirituality, and to work for justice wherever the opportunity arrises. It’s time for the church to be courageous, to take major risks, to be heroic in the struggle for God’s love to be realized by all.

I’ll share more in the coming days, as well as some pictures. I just wanted to get the first post up so that I started the process again. Who knows, if my plane gets delayed any more, maybe the next post will come sooner than I think!

Grace and Peace,

Something to Ponder…

Below is my pondering article for this weeks bulletin. The senior pastor and I (and sometimes others in the church) take turns writing a weekly reflection for the bulletin. Sometimes they are serious, sometimes a good chuckle, but they are supposed to be an honest reflection from the author. It is a chance to communicate directly to the people who read, and sometimes a conversation begins from it. Well, anyway, here is mine this week.

Something to Ponder…

As of late I’ve found many stories covered by news services to be troubling, but one in particular has caused much thought and concern. The recent reports of suicides by young people have weighed heavy on my heart. In our times, these reports should not happen, and especially for these reasons. Bullying is problem in our society, whether we want to admit it or not. These young people were bullied because of their sexual orientation, but bullying is not only on this issue. I believe that each of us has the duty to make our communities, and society as a whole, a safe place for people to live and be without fear as they go about their days.

The stories of young people dealing with their sexual orientation and feeling so alienated by those around them causes me deep sadness. As I read and watched stories over the last couple weeks, it brought tears to my eyes. I am not using the image of tears as a metaphor or some kind of vivid illustration, but I literary cried tears of pain to see this going on around us. There is no worse feeling than knowing that those who are your peers are ridiculing you, talking behind your back, and going out of their way to cause you discomfort and pain. Even when it is not directly to someone’s face, they are aware of what is being said and done around them. It does not matter what your positions are around LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) issues, bullying is not something we should tolerate as Christians. As someone who endured times of bullying and being the focus of pranks and jokes at times in my youth, I know the feeling of wondering if not being around tomorrow would be an easier way. However, it is important to know that there are people who are out there that care. The church and its people should be a place where anyone can turn. It should be a sanctuary of love and support for those who seek it. Are we that place?

The question is, what can we do? First and foremost, apathy and complacency are the roots of this problem. If we sit around and notice this going on around and say nothing, we are a part of the problem. We must confront this when we see it, either directly or by reporting it to officials who can deal with it. Secondly, if we feel comfortable, let it be known publicly that we are against these types of actions and are a resource for people in trouble. And finally, let us pray for an end to abusive and violent actions in our society.

If you or someone you know is dealing with these issues, know that I am someone who cares greatly. I don’t want to hear of any more deaths because of bullying. My door is always open, call or e-mail me and I will listen. There is no reason for this to continue.

Grace and Peace,

Here We Go Again…

Well, this is going to be what seems like my 100th attempt at blogging regularly. I always get going well in the beginning, and then let it slip away. I figured it was time to get going moving on it again. So many things have changed over the last year that I’m not going to even attempt to catch up on everything on this blog. I’ll highlight a few things, and set the tone for future blogs.

I am in the third month of my third year as a pastor. I began my third year in the Conestoga Parish on July 1, 2010. It’s both exciting and scary knowing that I’ve been in the same place for that long. Most of my employment up to this point has been seasonal or temporary at best. The other thing about starting my third year is that I know it will be my last with these three churches. Starting July 1, 2011, I will be a full time pastor and will move to a new church, and most likely a new town. I’ll share more about that in the future, because I don’t know anything about that yet and won’t until I get the phone call next spring.

Along with starting my final year at the churches, I begin my final year of seminary. I won’t mince words here, I’m extremely excited to be finishing up school. I started school at 5 1/2 years old, and now I’m 25 1/2 years old. That’s been a lot of time in school thus far in my life, and I’m ready for a break. People tell me that I’ll miss it, but I just want the opportunity to miss it. Right now I miss being home for more than 3 days a week. I miss being able to spend time with my family and friends on a regular basis. Many of my friends are getting married, having kids, and I want to be more free to experience those things with them. I fell rushed all the time, like I can’t give my all to any thing, only part of me to a million different things. Anyway, I’m ready for May to come around and to have completed my Master’s degree. It’s been a long few years here, and I’ll be glad to have that degree in my hand.

This last summer I had some exciting times. At Annual Conference (if you don’t know what that is, think of it as a large corporate meeting with all of its stockholders) I was commissioned as a Provisional Elder in the Nebraska Conference of the United Methodist Church. Now, what does that mean? Well, in short, I’m a step away from full ordination. The Board of Ordained Ministry felt that I was prepared enough to take on the work of an Elder, with some accountability and supervision, and after a couple years, I will be eligible for ordination. If all goes well, I’m looking at summer of 2013 for ordination. Here’s a picture from that event.

Well, I think I’ve spent enough time tonight tinkering with the design and layout of the blog and writing this post, I better get back to the homework. I’ve already started the list of things to blog about, so look forward to more posts coming soon. It feels good to be back.

Grace and Peace,