Day 31: Place… Again

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” -1 Samuel 7:12

“Keep, throw away, or donate?” My mom would ask. She sometimes helped me clean my room, because you know, she’s pretty brave.
“Donate.”
“Keep, toss, or donate?”
“Toss.”
“What about this? Throw away?”
“No way!”
“Seriously?”
“I got it from the last mission trip! I found it when…”
“Carly. It’s a rock!”

My room is divided into mounds of papers, half-done craft projects, tangled in yarn, complete with dirty clothes and trash I had pulled out from drawers and the depths of my closet. It’s the epitome of first-world problems. Long story short, I probably could do without the rock.

Maybe you keep things too. Maybe you’ve got a million pictures on your phone from the places you’ve been. Or maybe you keep scrapbooks or key chains or snow globes. Maybe there are places you like to remember because of the impact they’ve made on your faith. Maybe it’s the camp where you came to know Christ in an real way. Maybe it’s the church where you first felt you belonged. Maybe it’s a campus ministry where you felt your calling.

Whether it’s a rock you picked up or some place you simply treasure in your heart, we give thanks for our own ebenezers.

Peace,

Carly

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Day 31 Still

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Yet again, I picked a word that I feel like has a dual meaning. “Still” can be used in the context of “stillness,” something is unmoving. It can also be used as “still” as in “I’m still here,” or “still my love for you will remain.”

Its easy to feel as though nothing is very still in our world. We all know that we live in a world full of instant text messages, direct email correspondence, traffic jams, and busy schedules. This is not a new concept to us. I don’t want to be cliche and say that we should all take a moment to be more still in our lives. That is not a new idea either.

I thought about listing different ideas about how to be ‘still’ in our lives, but I think it would be more productive if you just thought about it yourself. What would work for your life?

Personally, I have grown up around mountains. This picture is from my beloved Rocky Mountains in the wintertime. When I need to be still and to reflect, I love hiking or just observing the mountains. I think about how long the mountains have endured in that position, silently looking upon everything below. The bible verse about the moving mountains has always struck me in a powerful way. I have looked at the mountain in this picture every day of my life. Thinking about it simply moving is mind boggling. After all of this time, it is still here.

Day 30- Light

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For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. -Ephesians 5:8-10 

 Recently, I have found that church is becoming more and more exhausting. I’ve been more involved with the “bureaucratic” side of the church recently than I have with the worship side, and I’m afraid it is beginning to take its toll. I see the duplicity of Christians not as evidence of much needed grace and mercy, but as evidence of why Christianity has such a bad reputation. Used to, all I would have to do to be put in a worshipful mood is play some Christian music in my car and praise God in my own unique way, mostly with some singing and the occasional car dance, but I find it isn’t working. Sunday morning worship now seems more like an unwelcome interruption to much needed sleep, than a time to spend with God and with fellow Christians. 

 I’ve read that if the conditions are perfect, the human eye is capable of seeing the flickering light of a candle from 30 miles away. Friends, I feel as though my light is as faint as that light would be.

However, I take solace in the fact that I still have a light, it just needs to be nurtured by God, by myself, and by others to go back to where it once was. Last night I started reading Chasing Francis, a novel by Ian Morgan Cron, an Episcopal priest. In the book, a pastor begins to step away from his faith and decides to take a pilgrimage to Italy to retrace the steps St. Francis took hundreds of years before. In the novel, the pastor begins to strip away all he thought he knew about faith, and instead sits in the wonder and awe that is God. He begins to live as a child of the light.

We can all live as children of the light, in fact, as the scripture from Ephesians states, we are commanded to live as children of the light. Children do not get muddied by theological debates, they get muddied by the wonderful creation of God. To live as a child of the light is to view God not through the naive lens of a child, one who sees God as magical fit-it person, but to see God for who God is, one who embodies all grace and love.

It’s constantly a struggle to see God for who God is in a world where grace and love are all too rarely seen, and if they are seen, they come with terms and conditions. But being a child of the light means that where light is absent, we are to shine in the darkness. 

Is it hard? Yes, just ask Jesus, but it is in the midst of Lent that we are reminded that though the road may be hard, light wins in the end. Death loses. Love wins.

God of grace and God of love, please make us children of the light. God, we want to walk as children of the light. Amen.

Day 29: believe – why do I stay?

By Aaron Pazan mosaiclogo4C-296x300

I was struggling to come up what I would blog about. But, then I realized my belief in why I say in The United Methodist Church was the perfect topic to blog about.

As someone who identifies as queer and is highly involved in the church, I often get questions as to why I stay in The UMC. I consider myself to be a walking paradox, because I’m a raging liberal, outrageously queer, and highly involved in the church. One, could even call me polity nerd. There is a part of me that I think will always wonder why I stay until the church changes its official stance against homosexuality.

I think for me the major reason I stay in The UMC is because church people both lay and clergy have been my biggest supporters all through my coming out process. The first two people I came out to “hold(ed) space” for me in a way that was so desperately needed. Being queer and in the church is difficult. I never really know who I can trust, or who really is accepting of queer people. I find myself having to read through the lines on people to try and distinguish who really is safe to tell.

I’m a firm believer in the impact of telling our personal story to other people. I believe that we have more in common with people then we realize. If we can just share part of our story to someone else we never know how much difference we could make to that person. I have recently found my mini-me, and I have noticed how similar we are to each other. I have realized that if I had gone through something or am currently dealing with something major, then the chances of them going through it as well is huge. I can use my history of dealing with issues to reach out to someone else who is dealing with those same issues as me.

I’ve started to learn that sharing my story is oh so important. If I have gone through something I know that there is a huge chance someone else has gone through the same struggle. If my own personal story reconciling my queerness with my faith can just help one person, then I know I have done the right thing. I have learned even now as I continue the process to figuring out who I am, that I can help people who are on a similar journey.

I stay because I know my story of mixing my queerness, raging liberalness, and Methodist involvement can change the impact of one person and how they view the church. I stay because my story needs to be told and I’m not afraid to admit about what I have struggled with, everyone deserves the right to feel worthy and like they belong.

Day 28: endure

by Meredith Gudger-Raines

The first rule of St. Benedict is to stay where you are.  It’s a vow of stability, to remain committed to your monastic order. For us non-monastic Christians, it reminds us of the importance of commitment to our families, our communities, our churches, our earth.  It teaches us to stay where we are, despite the challenges and frustrations that will come.  It presupposes that life will be difficult and that people will be infuriating.  (Why are we always surprised by those realities?) Even when people make you want to leave, stick it out.  Endure.*

There have been times in my life as a pastor when I’ve wanted to quit.  I didn’t quit because, frankly, we needed the income.  It was painful to wonder if I’d make a mistake, if I’d misheard my call, to wonder what the purpose of church was, and to consider all that while still preaching faith every Sunday.  It was painful, but not worthless.  In fact, those experiences were some of the richest of my life.  Because I was paid to come back, week after week, I couldn’t quit.  And what did I receive for my commitment to stay?  A much deeper understanding of God, calling, community, church, the gospel and myself.  I trust Jesus more because I didn’t give up when I trusted him less.

I’ve often wondered how I can communicate this experience or invite people to have this same experience.  Obviously, we can’t pay everyone to go to church.  Our budgets are tight enough as it is!  But if only everyone could have that experience of having to stick with it, of not giving up before the good parts start.

During Lent, we are approaching the season of resurrection. Frederick Buechner teaches us that resurrection means that the worst thing is not the last thing.  But so often, when the worst happens, we assume it’s the end.  We chose poorly, our worst fears are confirmed, everything has ended terribly.  Why do we assume that’s the end of the story?  Endure through those times of darkness, because the last thing is about to happen, and it will be the best.

*Let us be clear that there are certainly times when leaving is justified and healthy.  Clergy, laity and The Church for too long have told women and others to endure abusive relationships, often not taking them seriously, paying lip service to “forgiveness” and “transformation.”  God does not want anyone to live in violence.  There are some things that are not meant to be endured, but to be left.

Day 26 – Celebrate… Again

As Lent continues each Saturday night is becoming increasingly stressful. Each Saturday I rack my mind trying to figure out what I’ll celebrate on Sunday. And without fail each Sunday I am surprised with a wonderful celebration. 



Today we had the blessing of getting to hear from Rev. Brian Diggs, the director of UMCOR West Depot here in Salt Lake. Not only is UMCOR a wonderful program but his message was so inspiring. One of the things he said that has especially stuck with me today, “Christ is calling us to see the light. Christ is calling us to be the light.” 

I left today wanting to go serve, not just help with UMCOR, but to help out those families in my community. And that inspiration is something I want to celebrate! 

Day 25: Search

By: Bailey Brawner

Being in worship is hard stuff for me.

I mean, literally being there is hard, but also being in a state of worship. Even once I get myself to show up and find a spot, I can’t seem to be in that present state of being in worship. You know, like feeling God’s presence.

The last time I’ve felt God clearly via worship was last year while in my old campus ministry. This feeling likely came from a feeling of safety and comfort, as well as some kick-butt worship singers (AKA Erin). After that year though, I started losing faith and security and just an overall state of like for the ministry I was a part of. I left it, and in doing so, lost the worshipful spirit I had been experiencing each Thursday night. I don’t regret my decision to leave in any way, but I do miss the feeling I got from God during those evenings in the Great Room.

I’ve definitely been to great churches in my day. I definitely have been to great churches where they have wonderful worship. Neither of these statements are in question. However, one thing I’ve learned, to quote Jimmy Needham, is that “worship is more than a song”. As a recovering control freak, my biggest challenge is letting myself go. Worship, to me, means letting oneself go, giving that self to God, and letting Him guide you. I love a good chorus of “How He Loves” as much as the next millennial church goer, but to say that I can worship to it, that requires much more than a general liking for the beat and the lyrics.

Maybe my introverted ways cause my ‘worshipping God comfort zone’ to be writing in my Jesus journal. Actually, it probably does. The cool part about that, in my mind anyway, is that I can be with God alone, on my own time. Nobody has to know about it, and actually, nobody will know about it, because that’s super rude if you read my journal. Don’t even try.

There is a part of me though, and probably a part of all of us, where we want others to see us in the presence of God. Or maybe not so much the seeing us as it is being out in the open when we’re chilling with God. That’s your typical church worship. People gather in one place to sing praises to the God on behalf of themselves and the congregation as a whole. It’s a situation where we can let go and let God, not worrying about the person next to us can hear our awful voice, or wondering if now is the appropriate time to lift those hands up in typical evangelical fashion (both of which I do in the norm, by the way).

This state of being was both taught to me and lost by me while I was part of that campus ministry. I’ve learned what a blessing both were to my life, because now I can clearly understand and grasp the meaning of worship. Ever since I left, I’ve been constantly searching for the same experience.

This past Thursday night, I attended the Rock and Worship Roadshow, a Christian concert touring across the country. The show featured some really amazing artists; Jon Guerra, I Am They, Group 1 Crew, Jamie Grace, Crowder, Tedashii, and MercyMe. Those are some big names, guys. Check them out. Being an Alaska girl, no big names are about to fly up to the barren fields of Alaska, so I was low on concert experience. In fact, the only other concert I’d attended was a has-been in Montana, which probably could have been classified more accurately as the first opportunity of the year for college kids to make poor, drunken decisions. So to make my point, this was a huge deal for me. I’d been planning it since January, when I first heard about it on the radio. Finally, I was there and excited. Jon Guerra, one of the artists performing, passed out cards as we were waiting in line, getting me hyped for the night that would unfold. I was expecting a fun night of ‘Christian-celeb’ sighting.

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It’s a bit of a weird experience to go from hearing these songs on KLOVE in the car on the way to work to seeing the artists who sing them performing in front of your eyes. That night, I jammed out to girl power ballads courtesy of Jamie Grace, clapped along to a ‘hoedown’ rendition of a Crowder song, and even unconsciously had some rap-like head bobbing going on during Tadashii’s rapping. He’s a Yankees fan, so I’m not embarrassed quite as much as I should be. I spent three plus hours in front of some of the very same people who had been my ‘bowling bumpers’ in my faith. These artists not only produce some awesome songs, but they also live lives which inspire, because they so clearly reflect true Godly relationships. Bart Millard of MercyMe was just one of the many examples of this. He so openly shared about how many crappy things he has done, and how many times he tried to be that perfect Christian, only to recently find out that there’s no possible way God could love him more or less than he does at this moment.

For the first time since last year, I was able to worship, to really worship in God’s presence. The fact that I went alone might have eased the process, but I felt myself completely content, not caring whether the woman on my left was standing or being paranoid about whether I was being watched or judged. God and I had our own little hangout sesh, complete with singing at the top of my lungs and regretting it in the morning as I had to coax myself to swallow my food at breakfast.

I found my worship!

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I know the search isn’t over for the next source of group-wide-feeling-God’s-presence, but for now, I’m happy, and I’m reminded of the joy that comes when people worship alongside one another, unashamed and beautiful. Let us never give up the search for those moments, no matter how we’ve been hurt or broken or how much we’ve grown apart from the church. Here’s the cool thing about the church. We are it. We can’t escape God’s love, and there’s always going to be someone to share that love with us in a meaningful way, even if it means visiting a new building on Sunday mornings.

Praise God for the church, and praise God for the search! (I feel like that should be a Sunday School rhyme, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.)

Day 24: Practice

IMG_2152Practice.

I feel as though I am practicing something or another constantly. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am currently a college student. I come back from class, sit down, and practice my calculus. Or my chemistry. Or my cellular biology. Or whatever else I need to do. I practice until I feel confident that I have achieved a certain level of mastery, and hopefully show that level of mastery when I take my tests.

But I realized, rather recently, that a part of me was missing. I hadn’t been practicing my calligraphy lately. So I pulled out the scratch paper from the math and the chemistry and slowly started practicing a new hand right on top of all of it. (A “hand” is what calligraphers call what typographers would call a “font”.) And every once and a while, I would just pull out the endless scratch paper, right a few words or a phrase down, and put it aside again. But every time I would focus on the individual strokes that make up each letter until they improved and became more consistent. Maybe you can’t recognize the mistakes in my practice, but I can. So I will keep working until they are gone.

Christianity, to me, is not about being perfect. That automatically sets us up for failure. Instead, it is more about striving towards perfect. It is about practicing how to live like Jesus until it becomes a way of life. It is about learning from our failures and shortcomings. It is about knowing that it is okay to practice and to not to have everything put together right away.

Have we been practicing lately? Have we pulled out our bibles recently, or prayed a little more often? I’ll be honest, I haven’t. But practicing can take a lot less time than we think it needs to. For calligraphy, maybe just a few words every time I switch subjects. For Christianity, maybe just adding prayer into our routines a little more often or to pick up the Bible just a little more. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to practice.

Best,

Rachael Palmer

Day 23: Stop

Ampelmaennchen By Aaron Pazan

I decided to use the East Germany ampelmännchen for my image of stop. The red figure means stop in Germany. I remember first seeing the sign as we were doing some traveling in the former East Berlin which would be almost 5 years ago come this summer. At first I thought the images were kinda silly. But then as I repeatedly saw them throughout my week and a half stay they began to speak to me in a different way.

Germany was my first out of the country trip without my family. I think on this trip I had the ability to stop and think for myself about what was actually important to me. I remember that this was the summer before the start of my senior year in high school. I first started really realizing that I might be different than the majority of humans on this planet. I started realizing that I had this vivid attraction to women that I could no longer really ignore. While I was realizing this important piece of who I was I began to notice that my denomination’s stance on homosexuality was not very welcoming and made it so that I was a second class citizen in the church.

I began to wonder why my teenage self was so active in the church when I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. Then I wonder why now, my young adult self is still so active in the church when I’m almost constantly having to explain to people my pronouns or my gender identity. But then I think of Isaiah 43:19 “See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness & streams in the wasteland.”

For me that verse makes me stop and think “why am I still involved in the UMC when it has caused me so much harm and despair?” I think for me I’m still involved in the UMC because I know my story needs to be told. And if I can just help one person reconcile their faith and sexuality then I have made all the difference in the world.

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