March 27-31: Sign, Grace, Open, Will, & With

“Through the darkness
Through the fire
Through my wicked heart’s desire
Your love remains, Your love remains
Though I stumble
Though I falter
Through my weakness You are strong
Your love remains, Your love remains”
~The Brilliance

We live in a world where there are signs all around us. An example of a sign is between Noah and God in Genesis 9:17 where it says “Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.” Signs take form in many forms in the world, we just have to look for them. How we see signs is just part of the question and journey. How will you look for signs this week? 

Grace is a very Wesleyan and Methodist thing. It’s something the founder of Methodist Church John Wesley cared about deeply. We as Methodists believe in 3 kinds of graces: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. I will be focusing on sanctifying. From The United Methodist Church site it says “Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.” So much in what I do that is social justice oriented is related to sanctifying grace.

As I have matured my ideas on ministry with the poor have changed as my eyes have been opened up with the ability to see the will of what the people in need want, not what I want. I use to be a mission trip lover but I didn’t realize how toxic we have created mission trips until I did a cultural immersion trip instead. I did a cultural immersion trip to the Philippines in July of 2014. Our objective on the trip wasn’t to change anything but to be in ministry with the poor. Our job was to just be with the children in the Parañaque. We learned about the housing crisis that was being experienced in the Parañaque, people we living off of borrowed land that the government could take away from them at any moment. No running clean water and proper sanitation was lacking where people were living. I’ve learned that ministry with the poor is about being with the people and the community, it’s not about what you want it’s about what the community wants and needs.

I’m closing with the first verse and chorus of “Open My Eyes, That I May See” hymn #451 in The United Methodist Hymnal.  Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see, Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

March 26- Celebrate

Prior to Lent, a friend of mine was deciding what special practice she was going to add into her daily routine as a means of observing Lent. Following a time of prayer and reflection, she decided that she would assign 40 friends a specific day in Lent to challenge her to do something out of the ordinary and outside of her comfort zone. It was in the assigning of these specific days that she realised that, when you count the 40 days of Lent, you don’t count Sundays. This is something that was overlooked in her education about Lent as a little kid and it is something that is often not talked about when we talk about Lent, particularly in the Protestant church. 

Another Lenten practice that isn’t often discussed, at least in the UMC, is the absence of alleluia in worship during the period of Lent. This practice has been a part of Lent since the 5th century. The Church stopped saying alleluia during Lent because some of us view this as a period of exile, as a time where we live in perpetual remembrance that we have not yet experienced the Kingdom of God in its fullness. 

Lent is designed to create a longing for the future when Gods justice will roll on like a river, when righteousness will flow like an unending stream, and when the world will be bound together by love. We encourage this longing by depriving ourselves of certain things during the Lenten season through self denial and by changing certain things in worship. 

However, I want to remind us of something: Christ did rise, and Christ still reigns. We are in a period of remembrance, but the self denial and the ceasing of saying alleluia doesn’t discount the fact that we live in a world where Jesus lives and we serve a resurrected saviour. 

Sundays are feast days during Lent, working as little “mini-Easters” to serve as a reminder that Good Friday isn’t the end, that Friday gives way to Sunday and that love and grace and life always wins. So, celebrate! Offer praise to God, serve a risen saviour, and, if you want, say alleluia! I promise not to tell anyone. 

March 24-25: Love and Journey

“Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.”

I have a confession to make, I love hymns. There is something about them that I love so much. The lyrics above are from “The Summons” by John Bell. We as Christians are always on a journey. This hymn has been song at my home annual conference during various services over the years. This song for me is all about journey, and how we follow God.

For me this song represents in a way the journey people take to ordained ministry. Each persons call story is different and unique. My call to ordained ministry started at summer camp and became more clear as I worked on the Yakima Indian Reservation with my church. I felt called to work with people, to be a bridge builder. How I visioned myself to be in ministry has changed over time.

When we let go and let God lead us and call us, the journey takes you in unexpected places. You never know where life might take you. This song also makes me think of journey in the coming out sense. When you come out you are basically saying this who I am as a queer person. You take on a journey of self discovery and growing into your authentic self. Once you come out much like following God, your life is never the same.

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.

 

March 21st-23rd: Sabbath, Joyful, & Rest

When I think of sabbath I think of keeping sabbath and how it is about hope and renewal for our faith community. Sabbath is something that you have to do everyday, continuously. Sabbath is an act of resistance. We as Christians who are actively involved in the church, rarely take time for rest and renewal. We fail at taking sabbath. We don’t know how to slow down and really rest.

We forget that in order to do the important work we are doing we need to take time for sabbath. Walter Brueggermann says “Even in the wilderness with scarce resources, God mandates a pause for Sabbath for the community”. Sabbath isn’t just an individual thing it’s also a community thing. When you do something with a group of people you have a different experience than if you do it by yourself. Sabbath and rest really go hand in hand with each other. Resting is a part of sabbath. Resting is an act of resistance. We are acknowledging that we live in a world where being a workaholic is normal. We are participating in an act of resistance when we take time to rest and take sabbath.

I am joyful for the opportunity to be able to take sabbath and rest. I know that my privilege allows me to do this more easily then other people. I am joyful to have been apart of church communities both past and present that have taught me the importance of sabbath and rest. I am joyful for the constant ability to continue learning about rest and sabbath as an act of resistance.

What will you do to allow sabbath and rest to be an act of resistance in your life?

 

March 19th-20th: Celebrate & Afraid

“There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure”

These lyrics are from Come As You Are by David Crowder. I heard this song at one of my internship placement sites on Sunday. I walked into church this morning and it felt like home, like I had just found my people. I celebrate churches where they live out inclusivity with everything they do. I celebrate pastors who write their pronouns on their name tag. I celebrate churches who take on renaming themselves and will launch on Easter.

Yet, Lent is also a time of being afraid. The 40 days represent when Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit and fasted and prayed. Jesus was tempted by the evil but after the 40 days he was ready to start his ministry.

Lent is a time of contemplation and thinking about who we are as Christians. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new Christians for Baptism. I think of Lent now as a time to examine our Baptismal vows and reflect on how we have failed to “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”. Like the individuals preparing to get baptized in the early church we need to look at these same vows and see what we need to do to live out these vows.

We enter Lent with a period of darkness, and a visual reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But, that is not the final story. Micah 6:8 reminds to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. How will you seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?

March 18th: Beloved

“Beloved, beloved, we are the children of God,
And it does not yet appear what we shall be;
But we know – that when God appears,
But we know – that when God appears,
We shall be like God
We shall be like God
We shall see God, face to face.”

These words come from the Bishop’s Hymn. The pre conference handbook states “This hymn, written by George Robinson of the 19th century was first used in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference under the leadership of Bishop Titus Lowe. It became the hymn to sing In welcoming each bishop of the Church who serves here. And, it has been sung in confident faith at the retirement celebration of the clergy each year. Text amended to be inclusive.”

The first time I heard the hymn was in 2010 at Annual Conference. Honestly, I thought this hymn was weird, the tune was out dated. The more I sung this sung, the more my view changed on this song. I have grown to love this hymn for so many reasons.

I love that it comes directly from scripture 1 John 3:2 to be exact. This song reminds me that I am beloved and a child of God. There’s just something about hearing over 200 United Methodists sing that we are beloved and children of God, it warms your heart. This song reminds me that we are created in God’s image. That when God appears we shall be like him. I think the thing I like most about this song is when we sing it at two different times during Annual Conference; one when we welcome the bishop each year who is serving us and two when we sing this song to honor the retiring pastors. This song reminds us that even in our flaws we are beloved children of God.

Beloved, beloved, we are the children of God.

 

March 17th: Speak

The Baptismal covenant of The United Methodist Church calls us to speak up and respond to this important question. “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Queer people have been oppressed in The UMC since General Conference in 1972. This is evil and unjust and must be stopped. Yet, queer people have also been lifted up and allowed to speak.

During General Conference of The UMC (the churches top legislative body that meets every 4 years) something happened before the legislation process even began. There was a change in the worship speakers for greetings to welcome us to GC. A pastor (Vicki Flippin) wanted to go off script and say something different by welcoming her context in particular (which is specific to the queer community) then what everyone else was saying in their native tongue. That’s where I came into play.

The director of GC worship (Laura Jaquith Bartlett) asked me if I would be willing to say the simple greeting of “Welcome! May the peace of Christ be with you.” I agreed. Some of you might be wondering why I agreed to do something when someone was turned away from saying about me? I didn’t want a white cisgender heterosexual speaking for me. Laura explains the decision of why I was chosen to replace Rev. Vicki Flippin “From the beginning of our planning process, our team has been committed to not simply talk about inclusivity, but to live it out. So when it became necessary to recruit another leader, I immediately thought of my friend Aaron Pazan, who was thrilled to have this opportunity. Aaron’s participation became an embodiment of our desire to include all persons, not only with our language, with also with our worship leadership.”

As an out non-binary trans person, I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided that I would be willing to participate in opening worship. I knew that I would get backlash from my own queer community for participating. But, I did it anyways. I wanted people to see that queer people were here and present in worship at GC. I wanted to show people that by speaking “Welcome! The peace of Christ be with you.” I was allowing my whole non-binary authentic self to be in the room and open about who I am.

From the words of my dear friend Mark Miller “No matter what the church says, decisions, pronouncements on you, you are a child of God. And there is no thing or no one who can separate you from the truth that you’re someone, You are family, you are meant to be, a child of God! You are a child of God!”

Faith, Led, and Presence

In light of it being spring break for me and because life happens I’m going to go ahead and do a three-in-one blog post:

The three words for today are: faith, led, and presence. When I read these words this morning the first thing that popped into my head was the story of the Hebrew people. They were led by Moses, they were sustained by faith, and they were accompanied by the presence of God as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. 

I read a book recently written by Bishop Ken Carder about prayer. He was explaining in his book that every church he had ever served had, what he called, A Back to Egypt Committee. This committee was a group of people within the church who resisted change and, “Longed for a time when things were bad.” 

All of us have probably experienced a season in our life where we “longed for a time when things were bad”. The Hebrew people did not long to go back to slavery, but they longed to go back to a time where the bad things that were happening were things they understood. The same thing happens in our own lives when we long for a time when things were bad; we don’t long for it necessarily for those bad things, we long for the bad things that we understood. When in a time of change and upheaval we long for those things we are familiar with whether good or bad. 

The Hebrew people were freed because of their faith and they were led by the very presence of God. Yet even then they longed for a time they were familiar with even though it was a period of slavery, because when you allow yourself to be led by the presence of God you open yourself up to a period of uncertainty and change. This causes us to long for a time of stability, no matter how questionable that stability. 

We do not have the luxury of seeing a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day to show us that God is with us, but in times of uncertainty and change we can rest in the knowledge that we have Jesus, who is Immanuel, literally God with us. 

So when you find yourself this week, or this year, or any time in your lifetime longing for a time when things were bad, remember that you are not alone in this longing: so many prophets, and pastors, and people of faith before us have been uncomfortable with the idea of change and newness. 

When you allow yourself to be led by the very presence of God, you are allowing yourself to be led by change and uncertainty, but through faith God will provide and God will lead you to a land where justice will reign were all maybe well. And thanks be to God for that. 

March 11th – 13th: Led, Celebrate, & Kindred

I live in the Pacific Northwest, also known as the none and done zone. None as in no religious affiliation and done as in done with institutionalized religion. Which makes doing ministry out here quite interesting. Churches are closing every year yet; new churches are starting that don’t look like institutionalized churches. My bishop Elaine Stanovsky said “Methodism is an institution. We need a new renewal movement.” That renewal movement is happening in the none and done zone right now. Church is happening in a bar at After Hours Denver, through the thousands of daily meals served at Glide Memorial in San Francisco, through the new church start that is dreaming and thinking of what church should be in the Green Lake area of Seattle.

I feel led to do ministry out here because church isn’t just something you do on Sunday mornings. There is no right way to experience church. But, as someone who is considering ordination in The United Methodist Church as a Deacon I see my role in the church as being a bridge between the world and the church in a way that lives out my Baptismal Covenant.

I celebrate the fact that I live in the none and done zone. Ministry out here is just different. You’re in uncharted territories. You can hear people like Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking in a church saying things such as “Burn it the fuck down and start over” on homosexuality language in church discipline and rules. And hear people clap joyously for there is so much truth in 8 words that have caused so much harm to people both inside and outside the church.

Church out here is being an open and inclusive church since day one of starting your church. It’s when church pastors aren’t afraid of asking their non-binary and trans friends for support and suggestions when a congregation member comes out to them. I celebrate the ability to be completely open about my gender identity in the ordination process without the fear of being turned away because of being my whole authentic self.

In ministry, I’ve noticed you can’t do things alone. You must have people with you on this journey. To help you, to mentor you, and to be a companion with you as you navigate ministry and its evolving ways. Saint Augustine of Hippo sums up kindred quite well. “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.” Who are the kindred spirits in your life that help you in your ministry setting?

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