What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Over the last two weeks I have had more than adequate time to think about life, ministry, and the world. I also had the opportunity to worship as a member of a congregation for the last two Sundays. This was probably the good thing that came out of my recent health problems (which are still ongoing at this point), as I was able to sit and just relax to experience worship. This last semester was one of great challenge and reflection, and is still continuing at this point. I’ve been evaluating my place in the church, my role as a pastor, and how I can use my gifts to improve the people and churches I work with. This has been a process that has left me tired and weary on many days.

This last Sunday I heard a very thought provoking sermon, well at least for me, on Love. I always enjoy David’s sermons, but this one really spoke to me at this point in time. His title was “Love Builds Up.” Immediately I began to think about my life and how I operate, but I also thought about ministry and my direction in it. Love is so much a part of my personal theology, in fact, in may THE essential part of it. I believe in love, and hope for love, and want to spread love to others. While I believe all this, I often wonder how I do this or if I really do?

Love guides me to social justice, to being inclusive, and to being in ministry. Hope for each and every person feeling loved is what drives me to continue on in my career path. The most powerful part of the sermon that caught me was the thought that Love crosses boundaries. The Love of God, as experienced through Jesus, crosses the boundaries we put up as humans. Love should always be our focus, our goal, and our guiding principle. Likewise, Love needs to be MY focus, MY goal, and My guiding principle. I think that it may not be the case most of the time. I regret that I too often just function and maintain the status quo, and that I don’t push the idea of opening ourselves up to Love each and every person we interact with.

I did not realize the power of Love until much later in my life. In fact, probably did not totally until very recently. Unconditional Love is a concept that is difficult to comprehend and accept. Thankfully I have people in my life to remind me of this fact, and love me unconditionally. I owe these people more for my recent development and growth than I can ever truly convey. The feeling of someone loving you should be the way we feel about God, church, and the people at church. This needs to be my focus and the model I give to my ministry. I’m still struggling with how I can do this in the most effective way, and in what form of ministry I can do this the best. This is something I will be contemplating and working on here in the near future.

I hope that each and every person in the world can feel loved at some point in her or his life. Feeling alone and without Love is a horrible thing, and the church should do more to show people compassion and comfort. This is my hope and dream for the church, and my goal to work on!

Grace, Peace, and Love,
Z

This day…

I just finished watching the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Barrack Hussein Obama is now the President. This really is and historic and moving day, regardless of your political views. I was moved numerous times through the morning, and sometimes at things I normally wouldn’t.

Normally I am not into patriotic songs, but Aretha Franklin’s singing was amazing this morning. The classical “jam” session that took place before the oath was done was equally as impressive. Then the poem after the speech really brought together the feeling of this election and this day. It was a great day for the arts to be portrayed on a world stage.

There was so much in the speech that was amazing, but the one line that sticks out to me right now is, “for the world has changed and we must change with it.” This is my personal view as well. We must find a way for the world community to live together and operate without war, hate, poverty, and suffering.

As I watched this morning and thought about these events and the hundreds of years before this, I remember my feelings about race relations as a child. Growing up I read a lot of historical books and biographies. I also watched many specials on PBS and other educational channels. I can remember stories about the Civil Rights Movement bringing me to tears as a young child, not understanding how these events could really happen. I long wondered why someone, like Martin Luther King, Jr., was not our president because they were such great leaders. I often wondered what it would be like if Dr. King of Bobby Kennedy had not been killed. These were my thoughts as a young child, upper elementary school, and stayed with me for my life.

I rejoice this day that not only a progressive president has been elected, but a president who comes to us striving for a post-racial world. Obama not only recognizes his role as the first African-American President, but as the leader of a movement forward in history. This day is just a small step forward, there is much to do in the days to come, but it feels good to just be proud and hopeful for a little while.

Refelctions

I’ve never been one to set resolutions as a new year begins, but I do think it’s important to reflect on events and happenings in my life and see what I can learn. 2008 was a year of much diversity in my experiences. There’s been highs and lows, and everything in between.

2008 started and ended in the exact same place and with some of the same people. I found myself in cold machine shed in rural Nebraska with friends from college. That might have been the same, but everything in between was anything but familiar.

I spent the first 5 months of 2008 living in Kansas City and working at Baker University in Kansas. I enjoyed the time very much, and often miss living in a city with so much to do. That semester is also when I experienced a class that forced me to think in different ways about theology. I was introduced to Process Theology, and think that this will be an area I will spend more time in, either in a class or on my own. I discovered an understanding of God that made sense to me and lined up with my experiences. This was a big moment for me to have discovered something in seminary that got me excited about what I was doing.

The spring of 2008 also brought about the quadrennial gathering of United Methodists known as General Conference. This was my second time attending, but my first as a primary delegate. This was a time of deep struggling for me personally and spiritually. There were many glimmers of hope that I saw and experienced during the conference, but there were also some down times. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but there was much disappointment in the church’s continued decision to ban the ordination of homosexuals. Also, the continued policies that make the church less accessible to the LGBT community troubled me at the time, and still does. However, I experienced a progressive community that I had not previously within the denomination. These were people I shared views and passions with, and gave me some comfort during that time.

Following General Conference, the school year ended and I received my first appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. This resulted in a move back to Nebraska and a few life style changes. I also spent July in Dallas at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference to elect bishops for the church. This was my last act as a lay person in the United Methodist Church, and was a reaffirmation of why I am moving towards ordination and greater leadership in the church. The politics and clear prejudices present at this event showed me the need for great change in the church.

As August and September came around, I became very excited to start school again. I was ready to start learning and to see my friends again. However, I never thought that this fall would be such a challenging time in so many ways. These last 4-5 months have been the most difficult that I’ve experienced in my life, and there are so many different elements that have contributed to it. I’ve learned so much about who I am in comparison to who I thought I should be, and learned a lot about trust. I’ve gained some amazing people in my life through these experiences, and wouldn’t want to have had any other people in my life during this time.

One shining highlight of the year was the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I spent much of the year hoping for that night when the election happened. I had the opportunity to see Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton in person, as well as take part in a few political rallies. It was exciting to be a part of something so historic. Election night was also a lot of fun in KC. I got to see the results with my closest friends and had a blast.

I know there will be challenges and difficulties in the future, but at this point I’m hoping for all the best in 2009. I have a lot of questions about my calling and my future ministry, but am going to take it as it comes and discover where I’m suppose to be in life. It may even end up being something I never imagined.

I’ve gained so much from my close circle of friends in the last part of 2008, and feel a lot better than I would if I didn’t have them. In some of my most difficult times, I gained people that are family to me. I can never thank you all enough, and look forward to the times we will have together in the future.

I pray that everyone will receive love and happiness this coming year, and all the years ahead. Take time to evaluate life, and be willing to try something new!

Grace and Peace,
Z

Time to start again…

So I was cleaning my apartment today and found my old backpack and it had stuff still in it. One of those things was my journal. I picked up the leather bound notebook that I purchased almost a year and a half ago, and obviously haven’t used in quite some time. Actually, while looking at it I noticed my last entry was January 18, 2008. Almost an entire year ago. However, the entry I read was interesting to me. It was a theological life statement that I had wrote for Polity class last January. It reminded me of what I feel and hope for the local church. Here is the entry:

I want the local church to realize its potential in changing lives. Through my personal actions and interactions with others, I want laity and clergy I come in contact with to grow in their faith. The realization that one single person or community can make a huge difference, is to realize God’s amazing Love for each individual. We must always be messengers of Grace, for what greater gift can we receive from God? As we connect with each other in the places we live and play, God is realized in the faces of others.

Part of my new start this January will be to journal more regularly… or I guess at all :)… as well as to blog about my thoughts and ideas about the present and the future. I hope that once in awhile something profound comes forth and can also help others think about life. If it doesn’t, at least I’ve started to bring things out of my head and into the open.

Grace and Peace,
Z

It’s Almost Here…

Was looking at different resources and writings about Christmas and came across this one. Thought I would pass this along.

Grace & Peace,
Z


Messiah’s Grand Entry

by the Rev. Roger Scott

Hear me, my friends and relatives,
Hear me, all you people.

An honor is bestowed upon me to be the Master of Ceremony
to the greatest grand entry of all time.
You who walk in darkness, come to the arena where there
is great light.

The Messiah is making His way to the arena,
And His give-away to all is the good news
that will bring you much joy.

He is coming in from the east, wrapped in a star quilt
and cradled in His mother’s arms.

Rise to your feet, all you people, in honor of the “Great One”,
as the father and mother step to the beat of the drum.
The song that is rendered has been composed
by heavenly hands.

Coming into the arena behind the child are a host
of heavenly angels, adorned in their ceremonial garments;
behind them are the family lineage of the child, followed by
our own ancestors, dressed in their finest regalia,
dancing proudly.

Come, all you people, let us enter the arena,
dance to the beat of His song;
our time has come to celebrate,
to greet the future with traditional dignity.

This sacred circle will make us one,
for unto us a Savior is born. (Luke 2:8-11)

The Rev. Roger Scott is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. His poetic interpretation of Luke 2:8-11 draws upon his experiences from the pow wow culture within Native America.

Copyright © 2007 Roger Scott. Used by Permission. Reproduction granted for use in church worship services. See column on right for information about obtaining reproduction permission

I’m reminded…

Every once in awhile, I get a reminder of why I believe the things I do. I am not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of person when it comes to being in trouble. I have always believed that we need to help each other when times get tough, and that it’s not an individuals fault in sustained hardship. I mean, really, why would people choose to suffer if they can prevent it?

Recently, many events have caused me hardships and distress. I don’t want things to go this way, and I really don’t want to feel the way I do. It took time, but I am reaching out for help and at times things still go poorly. If I am to have any hope, “saving yourself” cannot be the reason alone. Sure, there are things I can work on and I am working on those…but it is not always enough.

Hopefully this all will pass, and I can get back to working on those things I was doing a few months ago before things started going downhill. I hope and pray that they do, and I guess that’s all I can wish for at this point.

Peace,
Z

Let There Be Peace

As it is the Christmas Season, there is a lot of Christmas music being played right now. As I listen to the lyrics, sometimes I wonder why songs have become exclusively labeled as a Christmas song. One of those songs is “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I have heard it used in Worship a couple times in my life outside of Christmas, but not very often. I think the simplicity of the song could be made to good use throughout the year.

Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

So here’s my challenge: find ways to use this message and song throughout the year! Share how each of us can play a role in making peace. Peace isn’t only an Advent activity…it’s a lifestyle!

Shalom!
z

Hope

Hope is such a strange thing. Normally, you don’t recognize that you have it in your life. When things are going well, when you aren’t worrying about tomorrow, hope seems to be a constant, yet silent, part of your life. It’s easy to be full of hope when you are riding the tide of joy and happiness.

Hope is about expectations and waiting. It’s about being patient at times. Lately, hope has been a difficult thing for me to grasp. Now, I know that I can be a pessimist many times, but I honestly have always held hope in my heart to get through the day. It has become increasingly more difficult to hold hope that closely. I don’t like this fact, and it troubles me quite a bit. Things around me continually get me down, some for good reason, some not. Optimism is a struggle, but I want to have hope. I came across this quote today from William Sloane Coffin. He has increasingly become one of my favorite preachers/leaders/writers.

“Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”

This is my goal. To maintain a state of hope independent from what may be going on around me. It may not always be easy, and I may not always be successful, but hope is the only option. I wish everyone hope as the go through each and every day.

Grace & Peace,
z

Reflections on Chapel Today

For the first time in quite awhile I was really moved by the chapel service at school. The sermon was excellent, communion was done in a way that embraced completely the theology of those serving the elements, even the prayers were deligently decided upon for their value. The overarching theme was to not give into fear, even when the cloud of fear is completely surrounding us.

The message was on Matthew 25:14-30. Here is a small excerpt of that passage:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This slave lived in so much fear that he was not willing to even attempt to invest or expand on what he is given. This fear is so much that it actually pushes him to not act at all. How often is that the case in our lives? I know the fear of the results push me to not act many times. The fear of the unknown can debilitate us in so many ways. This message of overcoming fear continued at the Communion Table. We were called to come and partake in the meal, as Jesus and the Disciples did, without fear of there not being enough. Jesus allows there to be enough of him to go around all the time. During communion, the pianist began playing the song, “Give Thanks.” There was no intention for the congregation to sing along at this point, but slowly we all began singing with the music. As I was walking up to receive Communion, the lyrics really started to speak to me.

AND NOW LET THE WEAK SAY
I AM STRONG
LET THE POOR SAY
I AM RICH
BECAUSE OF WHAT
THE LORD HAS DONE
FOR US

I began to choke up for no apparent reason at that point and really felt vulnerable as I came to the front of the line to receive the elements. It was extremely powerful moment in a time where I needed to know about the hope and love that is still present in the church. I also want to share the prayers from the service today.

For all that we have been given, for the many gifts with we have been entrusted, O God of Abundant Life, We give thanks. For the many times we have failed to respond according to our ability, for the many times we have been paralyzed by fear and insecurity, for our complicity in the unjust distribution of weatlh, O God of Mercy, we repent. For the many who live without, for the many who live with too much, O God of Compassion, we pray. For wisdom and courage, O God of Sustenance and Grace, we hope and trust in you. In the name of Christ, Amen.

May many blessings be upon you in your life!

-z

Prop 8 in California

I haven’t updated this in awhile, but finally something has come through that has forced me to post. In California, voters voted to define marriage between only a man and a woman. In a monumental election where Barack Obama is elected president, Californians voted to take away civil rights to a group of people. Usually I would have a long, emotional response to this action, but Keith Olbermann really got it right with this one. I don’t always agree with Olbermann’s thoughts or emotional responses to everything, but this is one time I couldn’t agree more. The YouTube video is below of his monologue on Monday night.