Fall Reflections

I seem to always forget how great the fall season is. It fades from my memory once the cold of winter sets in, and then it’s waiting for summer to take a vacation or two. When it’s here, I just want it to last twice as long as it does. I find fall to be a great time to reflect, observe, and doing a little relaxing outdoors with a cozy fire and fleece jacket.

I haven’t blogged since I was in Tampa for General Conference. I don’t have much to talk about that experience this many months later. It was challenging, emotional, life taking, and down right awful. Other times it was uplifting, inspiring, life giving, and beautiful. Since then I seem to have been on a more reflective journey than even before in my life.

This fall marks the time when I complete my paperwork requirements and prepare for January’s ordination interviews. I’m excited, nervous, and down right terrified at times. I’ve long struggled with the best place to serve in ministry, and at times wasn’t sure the local church was that place. I’m happy to say at this time as I prepare for ordination I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Working with people on a personal basis, being allowed into their lives, allows for amazing experiences with them and God.

Big changes are happen in my life. Some I will share here today, others as time goes on. First is a bit of shock that it has been so successful. At the end of August I decided it was time to change the way I lived my life. My health has always been on the edge, I was tired a lot, and could see the path I was going down. This may be a surprise to some of you, but the life of a pastor is no the least stressful job in the world. As I look at 40+ years until retirement, I knew this wasn’t sustainable and would likely fall to burnout rather quickly. Doing something tomorrow finally became today. The first week of September I began a weight loss management program through a local hospital and haven’t looked back. It has been more than just weight loss, though that is a ton of it, I have got my diabetes in check and no longer take medication and feel like a healthier program. The first phase is a 13 week program, and I’m about halfway through it. As of today I’m just shy of 40 pounds lost and feel like a new person. I sleep well, have energy, enjoy eating healthy food, and have a much more positive look on life.

I am grateful the church has been supportive in this process since it does take some time and flexibility in my schedule. As I sit by the fire typing this, I feel like this progress has been good for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. A burden has been slowly leaving me as I improve the physical, and it has allowed me to focus on other things. I think that this change has been calling me for some time and I wasn’t listening and was just unwilling. Over the next year, I hope the “hear” more of what is calling me and worry less about where I’m being “called.”

I’ve taken a lot of stabs at blogging regularly, but really want to get back in the habit as I have found it to be a great outlet for my mind. It will inevitably vary from the serious to the ridiculous and everything in between. I have a list of churchy topics in my office I want to write about and will keep adding to it. Until then, Go with God!

Grace and Peace,
Z

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.