Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent & Adoption

Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent. As a person who did not grow up in churches that practice Advent, it is still a new tradition to me. I love watching the candles being lit as we all pray and anxiously await the arrival of Christ. This day Advent was made more real to me as I looked over and saw the Burdett family. The Burdetts first starting going to my home church (Servant Church - Austin) the same time I did, at the time they were childless, today they have two beautiful children and during the service one of them was snuggling with Grandma Burdett as she comforted him because his finger was hurting. She held him like she had known him his whole life, but she only met this child a few months ago. The Burdett’s beautiful children were adopted from Uganda, and what’s interesting to me is how much adoption is like Advent.
During Advent we await the arrival of Jesus Christ, we wait like Mary did for 9 months, although Advent only lasts a month. During adoption the future parents wait to be matched with children like the Burdetts did, they waited for months until one day they got the call, they would become parents to these precious gifts from God. They flew to a foreign land to gather their children and then they waited for weeks in a hotel until the country of Uganda legally turned the children over to them, then they returned to the United States and waited until the US government allowed their children to become US citizens. Adoption, like Advent, involves a lot of waiting and a lot of trusting in God. And as we wait and trust in God, God assures us that our waiting will not be in vain, God has not left us, God is here. The Burdetts will not be left without children, their children will rise up and call them blessed. Christ is coming, all we have to do is trust and wait.

You can read more about the Burdett's adoption story on their blog about it:

Monday, December 17, 2012

My attempt at a book review of Torn by Justin Lee

I have never written a review for a book before, which is strange because I read books all the time. This book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs,-Christians Debate is different. Justin Lee tells his life story in these pages, and yet he also tells the story of the Church, and the stories hundreds of thousands of Christians that have struggled in this “culture war”. He doesn't just tell his story he tells my story, and the story of my friends who left the Church because it refused to show them grace. He tells the story of parents who had to leave their churches because their children were not safe there, he speaks of families that separate because of the dogma the Church promotes, and he does it all so brilliantly from the perspective of an Evangelical Southern Baptist gay man that wants to serve the Lord.
As Lee continues to immerse the reader in his own personal story he uses others’ stories to continue not only moving his story forward but working in theological information and well as the history of the Church’s opinions and reactions to gay people. His in depth analysis of “Ex-gay ministries” as well as on “Queer Theology” is done from the position of a layman making it more understandable and relatable. He ends the book by giving practical ways the Church and individual Christians can work to bring unity instead of division on the issues that homosexuality may bring up, and he does it in an unbiased fashion.

I found myself drawn to Lee’s story and even more so to the passion he has for serving Christ and the Church. In this book I saw the future of the Church and its role in hosting healthy conversation about sexuality, and more importantly about the people these conversations effect. I strongly recommend every Christian read this book, because in it there is so much information that we as Christians need to learn in order to be faithful and gracious disciples of Christ.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Unity is What Matters

As a part of the United Methodist Church, I know what division looks like. I have seen arguments over everything from pension plans, to whether or not church structure should be changed. One major argument has been going on for about 4 decades about whether or not LGBT persons should be allowed to fully participate within the UMC. This debate has strong theological arguments on both sides, as well as real people on both sides, so I feel no need to argue it here. What I do want to argue in favor of is unity.
The main problem with the word unity is that people assume that unity means that everyone thinks the same, but that is not the case. My mother and father disagree, a lot, but they are still unified in their decisions, sometimes my mom has to give up what she wants so my dad can make decisions he feels are best for our family, like when we moved to Texas; other times my dad has to give up he wants, like a new car, so that we as a family can get what my mom wants, like new furniture. Being unified means being willing to be flexible when difficult situations arise. I think the UMC needs to be a little more flexible.
At the last General Conference when presented with the Hamilton/Slaughter Amendment, the legislative body of my church decided not to “agree to disagree” on Homosexuality, when quite frankly it should have and here is why:

  1. We do disagree, a lot of us disagree on how LGBT people are to be treated
  2. Honesty is the best policy and to say we don’t disagree is a lie and breeds resentment on both sides of the argument and makes it difficult for those caught in between
  3. It’s okay to not have all the answers
I know that this debate will continue on in the future for years to come, possibly for decades more. I am alright with that, but what I am not okay with is our lack of honesty in admitting that this disagreement is occurring. Some in our church would rather split, or stay in community and just suppress the non-majority group’s opinions. But I believe that leaving a way open for individual annual conferences, or central conferences, dare I say individuals to come to their own conclusions about what God is saying through Scripture, tradition, reason, and personal experience. I believe that repentance from saying we have all the answers is good for the Church universal and that humbly welcoming people of all opinions will lead to a better understanding of God and neighbor overall. Whether we agree or not is not important, remembering we are still one in the Spirit and one in the Lord. We may not all agree but that just proves that we are family even more.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Storm Brewing in the West

Recently the Western Jurisdiction voted to make the slogan of the UMC “Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds” a reality by adopting this statement:
A call to biblical obedience: Understanding that God’s grace and love are available to all persons, the WJ is on record as believing that the UMC is in error in its position that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. As a result, the WJ calls on bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings the challenge to operate as if the statement in Paragraph 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.(
More conservative Methodists have cried foul-ball, and rightfully so, the Book of Discipline clearly states that General Conference speaks for the entire global connection, and though it is extremely difficult to get any legislation passed due to the way our current system is set up - what the Western Jurisdiction has done is essentially told the General Conference that it is wrong and that they won’t listen to it when it come to LGBTIQ issues. Actions like these are not uncommon in Christianity, Protestants have done the same thing with the Roman Catholic church as have the Eastern Orthodox church. Baptists and Methodists split over the issues of race and slavery as evidenced by the Southern Baptist Convention (1845), and the Methodist Episcopal South (1844). The past ideological disagreements in these denominations have lead to “us vs. them” mentality that caused these churches and the respective denominations to split. Some like the Baptists never reconciled after their disagreement on slavery, and have continued to drift further apart as the decades became over a century; the Methodist Episcopal, and the Methodist Episcopal South on the other hand came back together and became the United Methodist Church (after merging with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968).
The very name United Methodist is in-and-of itself misleading, because the church is not united when it comes to the issue of how to treat the LGBTIQ community. Some factions of the church want full-inclusion on every level of church; some wish only for the church to allow full-participation in local congregations; and there are those that wish to exclude said community from ordination, but not from other forms of participation; some factions like that of some of the delegations of the Central Conferences truly believe that LGBTIQ persons are evil and need to be stopped. How can this church resolve these very different approaches in a way that keeps our church united?
I say “our church” because it is all of ours. This issue is not unique to the UMC, the Roman Catholic church has views as contrasting evidenced by the fact that both Lady Gaga and Rick Santorum are both Roman Catholics but their views on the LGBTIQ community are as different as they are. Our denomination had a white flag raised at General Conference, the Hamilton-Slaughter petition, which would have allowed our church’s members to agree to disagree; but the voice of our denomination could not even agree to disagree. On the one hand it is laughable that General Conference couldn’t agree to disagree because it is obvious that they do not all agree. It is also sad that GC2012 failed to agree to disagree because that means that each side feels that it is so right it must run the other side over and force it to “do the right thing”. It creates an environment that leads to hurt and to defiance, the perfect storm for another Methodist schism.
The Western Jurisdiction was not alone in its contempt of the current wording of the Book of Discipline when it comes to homosexuality. The Northeastern Jurisdiction also pushed through legislation that showed the region’s disdain for the harsh language which has aptly been described as the “incompatibly clause”, but it went nowhere near the extreme move the Western Jurisdiction’s move. Alongside these jurisdictions are countless United Methodists in other jurisdictions and Central Conferences, yet despite the unrest and aggravation on both sides of this argument no one is willing to compromise. The actions of the Western Jurisdiction prove this point, and the jurisdiction’s actions can have multiple outcomes especailly since the Western Jurisdiction is also hosting the next General Conference, here are my predictions for what will happen in the next four years:
1. These actions will force General Conference to spend more time on “holy conferencing” on LGBTIQ issues.
2.. They will cause the US Methodists to consider making the US a Central Conference, or at least making the Western Jurisdiction one.
3. They will cause the entire church to rethink and focus on what our covenant is with one another, and re-examine the authority of the Book of Discipline.
At worst this could lead to another Methodist schism, at best it could strengthen the church if we the church approach this with the humility and grace becoming of those who dare to call themselves Christians. What I want to happen is that different from what I envision happening: I want the US to be a Central Conference and end its colonial approach to church governance; I want General Conference to spend more time talking about homosexuality; I want the church to really think about what it means to be in covenant with one another. Most importantly I want this church to follow Christ.
I asked earlier: How can this church resolve these very different approaches in a way that keeps our church united? The answer is so simple: Fix our eyes on Jesus. We spend so much time looking at what makes us different and not focusing enough on why we were united in the first place, we were united by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ. We have open doors so that others can come in and be lead to Christ as well, we have open hearts so that Christ’s love might pour out and touch others, and we have open minds so that whether we are right or wrong we are still faithfully loving all, and treating everyone with the same grace that the Creator showed through Christ.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thoughts on Communion

As some of you may know, I plan on going into ministry full-time, that has lead me to seminary applications. One of them requires I write a one page essay on a theological topic that concerns the church, the community, or the world. This is that essay, I was already thinking about Communion after serving it at Servant Church (Austin, TX) this past Sunday, so this essay literally just popped out of my brain onto Google Drive, hope you enjoy.

Serving the Body & Blood of Christ
I don’t know if it is the liturgy leading us all to Christ and humbly receiving the grace He through the Spirit provides, or simply the gathering of saints creates this perfect atmosphere in which people feel that can show who they really are at the altar. When I serve communion I somehow always get the wine, so my line is always the phrase “This is the blood of Christ shed for you”, this line never gets old to me because of the reactions the line elicits from the people receiving Christ’s blood. Some of the congregants will smile, affirmed in their faith and in God’s love of them, some will cry for precisely the same reasons, others stare at me and look as if I have just cast a spell on them. 
My favorite moment in serving communion came on the last Sunday I spent at my home church before leaving for undergraduate study at the University of North Texas. One woman who was in town for the baptism of her niece came to the front already weeping, as she reached out her hands, “This is the body of Christ broken for you” , said Travis she nodded and moved in front of me still crying, I bent my head down looked in her eyes and said “This is the blood of Christ, shed just for you.” I changed my line for her, I knew that she was moved by Christ’s love for her, and I felt in my heart that she needed to know that this body and this blood, was here for her, not just the bread and wine, that the church was there to help her bear her cross daily, that God had not left her unto herself, but God had sent another Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth, and that Comforter was working through this bread and wine and this community of saints. As her eyes were level with mine she looked as if a veil had been lifted and she said to me “Thank you, thanks be to God”. I never saw her again, but I know that the Comforter had done a work in her that day through that body and blood, I only pray that the Church and I can be a body that the Comforter sees fit to use to bring comfort to others.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why should we keep VBS?

This last week I recently began the fun journey of chaos, noise, debauchery, and often inter-child violence that churches all across the United States inaccurately deem “vacation” Bible school. If you have ever volunteered at a VBS you know that there is nothing about it that reminds you of a vacation. I had the particular pleasure of working with the 5th graders, who I expected to be better behaved because they were the oldest group, but I quickly learned how wrong I was about that presumption. My 5th graders, 29 of them, were boisterous in every sense of the word, there were the saving graces in the group, the ones that helped and tried their best to behave...but I would never describe VBS as a vacation save to describe it as a vacation for my patience.
Why do churches across the nation do this? If you cast aside the obvious answer: babysitting for the parents; you are left with typical surface answers, “To teach kids about Jesus”, “To draw in families”, blah blah blah. We can teach kids about Jesus any Sunday, and drawing in families can happen many other ways, there is something about Vacation Bible School that seems to be very important across denominations, across racial lines, VBS is very all-encompassing. On one hand it can be used as a metaphor for the Church at large, one giant production that sugar coats and fluffs up a simple truth, that God loves us and wants relationship with us. Or it could be a sign that churches everywhere are trying their best to reach out to their communities and society at large. Why do you think churches continue this yearly tradition?
At our VBS this year the kids had a “penny-war” to raise money for a local homeless ministry, they raised over $800 in 5 days. But fundraising is not the reason for VBS. They were taught stories about Noah’s wife, Naaman’s servant girl, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul. They sang songs, that most of my 5th graders complained were “lame”, “boring”, and “stupid”. They did arts and crafts, science, and recreation. But what really stuck out to me was their drama sessions. At one point the leader of this activity asked the kids “What is it we can do that pleases God?”. I expected the kids to reply with stereotypical Sunday school answers like “pray”, “be nice”, “listen to our parents”; but these kids threw me off with answers like “volunteer to  help others”, “donate money to the homeless”, “recycle”. At 5th grade these kids were already connecting their faith to serving the world.
And I think back when my kiddo who has difficulty processing social situations, who is terribly shy and was even for a time was assigned a “special buddy”, volunteered to pray for another one of our 5th graders who was sick that day. I was moved to tears because it. I wondered then if VBS was more for the volunteers than it was for the children. But it really is not more for either group. It really is all about the Church, not individual churches, but the Church universal, because it teaches kids about what church is. Vacation Bible School’s messages are very general; there is no deep theology or philosophy that would confuse children or worry adults; but there are simple truths that are taught that improve the understanding of these children. My little kiddo learned that even though he is not the most popular of kids, he is still a part of their community and that it is his responsibility to care for others when they are sick. My other kids realized that the earth is a gift from God and that gift needs to be treated with respect; they learned that the homeless are God’s children too, and that we need to love the homeless like God loves us, because God loves them too.
Through VBS kids are taught not how to be better people, or better Christians, they are taught about why the Church is here. The Church is here to be Jesus for the world, to sacrifice itself so that others might live. These kids are learning through those “stupid” and “lame” songs, to “dare to care” for others, to “depend on God” not money to supply for our needs, to go out and “change the world”. Change it not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of those less fortunate, to the glory of God.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Holiness and Favoritism

Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. It is written, You will be holy, because I am holy. Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land.” 1 Peter 1:14-17

I have always known that God plays favorites, prime examples would be Jacob and Esau (Malachi 1:3), Joseph over his brothers (Genesis 37:1-10), the children of Abraham over everyone else in the entire world (Genesis 15), the list goes on. So this verse has always been somewhat confusing in that is explicitly states that God does not play favorites when he judges. If you look in the Hebrew scriptures you will clearly find that some people sin and God blesses them for doing, the biggest one is lying. Satan is allegedly the “father of lies” (John 8:44), but when Rahab lied twice (Joshua 6:17)  God spares her life and counts it to her as righteousness (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25); David’s wife lies to her father the king (1 Samuel 19:11-17), but there women are respected and praised for lying saved lives, but according to the law they should be punished. God makes exceptions in His judgements to spare their lives because of their devotion not only to those whom they loved, but to God as well. Rahab ends up becoming an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5) and although Mical does not end up bearing any children and ends up getting dealt a really bad hand by whoever authored 1 Samuel, she was still married to the greatest king of Israel, David, and she still saved his life. These women examples call into question what holiness really is.
To conservatives, holiness is following all of the rules and praying that you do enough “holy” actions. To liberals holiness is serving in as many non-profits and helping as many people as you possibly can. And moderates are just a mix of these two options. Both conservatives and liberals have it wrong though, because the focus of their holiness still comes from within them not from God, the source of all that is holy. They use their actions, or their in-actions in some cases, to prove their holiness when the way to holiness is simple: give into God’s demands instead of your own desires. Mical could have spent one more night with her husband David who she hadn’t seen in months, she would probably have loved to spend time with him, but she knew there was a strong chance he would not be safe there so she told him to leave to save him. Rahab put her life in danger to save Joshua and Caleb fromt the soldiers that were searching for them, but she risked her life so that others might live. Holiness is laying down your life so that others might live, and giving up yourself that God might use you to be a blessing to the world. Jacob was chosen so that God might so the world that even a deceiver can be called righteous; Joseph was chosen to show that even trust-fund babies are capable of having a servant’s heart; Abraham was chosen, because even a pagan can hear the voice of God and obey. What is holiness if nothing but being willing to be used by God. If a prostitute, a trust-fund baby, a liar, and a man married to his sister can all be holy, what’s to stop us from being holy as our Father is holy as well?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Suck Up Sunday: Day 4

“Suck up Sunday” is what best sums up the final business session of this Annual Conference. If I gained a penny everytime someone brown-nosed someone else, and a dime every time Bishop Dorff was being pandered to I would have enough money to fund the SWTX Conference for the next quadrennium. I know the Bishop does a great job and deserves to get some recognition for all of the hard work he does, but seriously we looked like Catholics the way we stood up to clap then sat back down then stood right back up, over and over again. I wonder what it would look like if we Methodists spent as much time praising Jesus as we spend praising one another, but I digress. The business session did have a few final reports, one irked me slightly because the report on the status and role of women was given by an old white man. Sure men can serve on that board, and of course men can be concerned about how women are treated in our Church, but really? They couldn’t have at least had some sort of minority represented? I would have settled for an old white man that needed a cane or hearing aid at least. But I digress.
My conference really does try its best to foster a community of Methodist diversity as evidenced by the special guest speakers Jim Winkler and Rob Renfroe (no they aren’t minorities either). And they do work really hard to get “younger” people to participate in the Church’s governance. By “younger” people they mean anyone under 35, which the age of what defines younger will probably move up as the Church’s average continues to climb upwards of 57.
Our last and final worship session was great. Rev Jorge Acevedo (a minority :P) returned again to deliver one last sermon for us. And he challenged us to stop being professional Christians, and to start being actual Christ-followers. He spoke of his own shortcomings making the hard lesson easier to bear. The appointments were finalized, the District Superintendents were prayed for, and another year in the SWTX Conference has been started, this July 1st will be the consummation of said new year as each minister is moved where the Bishop has placed them. The journey back to Austin was a long one, and the journey back to Denton from Austin felt even longer, but I did arrive safely.
View of the convention center from the Omni hotel.
This weekend has proved one thing to me, that I really love my Church. Not just my local church, or the global UMC, but I really love MY Annual Conference. The eclectic group and people that make it fill it with so many different flavors and fragrances, like an ice cream shop. And like ice cream, too much of these personas can make one very tired and borderline sickly, but if you are around for only a few days (4 to be precise), you get to see Jesus in so many different faces, and like the right amount of ice cream, it refreshes you and makes you very glad.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ordination/Commissioning Service Day:3

Never before have I been so sure that I want to be apart of this denomination than I was last night at the Ordination/Commissioning service. But I am getting ahead of myself. The day began with me...sleeping in, again. I eventually got out of bed and made my way down to the conference center for the 3rd business session. I rode on our little shuttle with an older man who was talking with me about the Catholics and the fight against providing birth control to their employees, we had different opinions on the situation, but it did not stop us from relating to one another and developing a bond. I loved how kind he was in the way the way he disagreed with me, and I am grateful to him, because he showed me how our differences in age and race and theology and political beliefs don’t change the fact that we have the greatest unifier of all, the Holy Spirit.
I can’t really even recall what was talked about in the 3rd business session at all save for Gil Rendle’s speech, so I will skip to the 4th where are General Conference delegates and alternates told their stories. They all spoke about the harm that was done, to them and to others, but they spoke about the joy that was experienced there. Our Lay Leader told this story about how he gave his Christmas gift from his wife, a Stetson hat to a delegate from the Ivory Coast. That delegate returned to him the next day and handed him a shirt handmade that all of the Côte d'Ivoire delegates wore, and a whole role of more of the cloth from which women from our conference made bags which were sold here to raise more money for the UMC’s Imagine No Malaria campaign. Those bags raised over $4,300 so far.
Our Mid-day worship service was absolutely inspired. Rev. Jorge Acevedo brought the Word and when I say he brought it, I mean he BROUGHT it. I have never had my toes stepped on so hard, and been so challenged and yet inspired to share my faith with everyone I meet. Our gathering was moved to tears as he shared the struggles his son faces with addiction, and the heartbreak it brings him and wife, and we were uplifted as he shared how his church was and still is there for him and supports him and his wife through difficult times. He told our church that growth comes not through programs but through forming relationships with people then simply bringing them to Jesus. That sermon will be bouncing in my head for days.
One really special treat, I and my deacon, Abby Parker, got the opportunity to meet the woman who with her brother integrated the church where my church, Servant Church in Austin, is housed, Ms. Mae. She was so sweet and kind and she told these stories about how that church changed her life.
The Ordination/Commissioning service was so great. It was so beautiful seeing all of the ordinands kneeling and being ordained into the service of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. I was so touched by it all. The music lead us all into a mood of reverence and as Bishop Jim Dorff prayed he truly did usher us into a holy moment. I was most excited by the ordination of my church’s own Abigail Parker. It was so awesome, because I know how hard and how long she worked for this moment, and I was so honored and glad to be apart of it, even if all I really did was stand in support of her.

Afterwards at the reception, the conference got to congratulate its new ministerial servants and thank them for working so hard to become the hands and feet of Christ for our portion of this wonderful Church. We went to Texas Roadhouse to celebrate the finality of Abby’s ordination, she refused to take off her stole, so she looked like a pageant queen in.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unification Debate/Vote: Annual Conference Day 2


Stained glass UMC Cross & Flame
Day 2 of Annual Conference began. I tried so very hard to wake up and make my way to the Methodists Renewal Movement breakfast just to see what they are all about. Unfortunately my spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak, I did not wake up for it. But I did manage to make it to the conference center in time for 8AM Communion services. I went to this wonderful service where we wrote/drew out our failures to bring Christ to others, then repented of those failures by shredding them in front of the Cross. We partook of the body and blood, then left the service singing praises taking our shreds of failure as a reminded that God can turn our sorrow into dancing.
Our first plenary session started out so slowly and so boring. It was about an hour of the heads of boards and committees talking. One great thing was the recognition of persons that are to be ordained and commissioned this Saturday. It was really great because the deacon of my home church was being commissioned and brought into full membership in our AC. Of course the focus of this session was on the unification of the two conferences. Everyone in leadership was agreed that this unification is necessary, they just have to get all of the lay and clergy delegates on board with the plan.
I almost spoke at the mic during in the midst of our conference's discussion on the potential unification of the SWTX Conference and the Rio Grande Conference. I was so frustrated by the lack of consideration for our brothers and sisters in the RGC, and also on the focus so maybe people were placing on how it would affect them financially. The only speech in that mentioned concern for the representation of the RGC in this union was a speech against unification given by a sweet elderly black woman, who essentially argued that she did not want this unification to take place because she was afraid that the Hispanics/Latinos in these churches will not be aptly represented in our church leadership, and that our conference's only goal in this unification was just a way to get Hispanics in our churches without working to reach them on our own. I saw her point's validity, and to some extent I agree. But for me this unification is so much more than just trying to reach more Latino people, it is about our AC repenting for the injustices it committed to this community over 150 years ago, it's about telling those people that we are sorry we wronged them and we want to make it right.

My problem with our conference was primarily was that money was being lifted up where Jesus should have been. So much so that I wondered why we were all really here. If our conference is really only about budgets and money then we are in the wrong business, but if we are about our Father’s business, which is tending to those in need and serving Jesus Christ; then reconciling with our brothers and sister in the RGC is necessary.
Myself and Ms. Joanne
I had lunch at the MFSA/RMN luncheon and it was amazing. The food was Tex-Mex (of course, and Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society. Jim Winkler spoke about the Church and “Growth Through Justice, he referenced different types of social justice movements that prompted the Church to grow. “Good works are the innate response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”, Winkler said and as he spoke to over 200 Methodists concerned with social issues and serving Christ in this world. He spoke fluently and eloquently about what justice really is: “Justice is about righteousness!” The lunch was started by recognizing University UMC (in Austin) with the Community Achievement Award for Justice, and Ms.. Joanne was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jim Winkler and myself
The second plenary session, went smoothly. We recognized our retiring clergy and their spouses, it was beautiful seeing the servants of God being recognized for all they have done. We prayed and thanked God for them.
I went with a group of young clergy and delegates to discuss our Church’s present and future. It was a beautiful night and it was filled with wonderful conversation. It seems everytime I feel that this Church is no longer worth fighting for or staying in, the Creator forces me into situations which remind me that the Holy Spirit is very present, and is doing something new. My faith and hope in the Church restored, I will continue to wade into these waters, trusting that God will part them, and get me into the promised land. Amen.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 1: Southwest Texas Annual Conference

      I have no idea why, but I am one of the biggest nerds when it comes to being a United Methodist, I believe the term for it is being a "Methodork". When the pastor of my home church, Servant Church (a new church plant of the UMC in Austin) asked me to be the alternate lay delegate for our church at annual conference I jumped at the chance. Unlike most people I love keeping up with the inner workings of the church, and how legislation shapes the Church and its ministry. I love the idea of General and Annual Conferences because as an extrovert it means another opportunity to meet a ton of new friends. 
      Day one for me starting at 6:30AM in Round Rock, I got ready and drove down to Austin to meet with my pastor and the lay delegate. We then left from Austin to drive 3.5-4 hours to Corpus Christi. On the way we almost ran out of gas so that was a fun little detour, but we made it to a gas station in the middle of nowhere on fumes. We arrived at Corpus after making great time, and we were greeted by a ton of Methodists with big smiles and warm hugs and handshakes. The best part of day one was that there was no business meeting, only one really great worship service and clergy/laity gatherings. There was a chance to sit in on a question and answer session concerning our vote that would take place on Friday on the unification of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference with the Rio Grande Annual Conference, which is not geographically-based. The information session was rather uneventful and filled with a lot of questions about money (of course). I was slightly irritated by the focus on fiances and the lack of focus on Jesus Christ and His kingdom. 
      The worship service was absolutely amazing, the Grace UMC choirs were absolutely breathtaking, and the service of remembrance was both somber and holy.Bishop Minerva Carcano was there to preach, and boy did she preach. She told these two seemingly unrelated stories, one about a church that was unwilling to reach outward of its building to minister to its community, and the other about a man from the Assemblies of God church who planted over 200 churches. She spoke about how she and the pastor tried to get that church to focus its ministry outward to bring in the community and the church did not, while the man from the Assemblies of God church lived in that neighborhood and even attended that church as a little boy. While he and his mother lived in that neighborhood, when he was young she got sick, and they couldn't attend the church, for weeks they were gone and no one from that UMC church called or came to see about them. But two ladies from the local Assemblies of God church showed up and prayed for them, the next day those ladies returned with food, and cleaning supplies and cleaned their house while his mother was sick. They returned everyday to see about her until she fully recovered. When his mother got better they started attending the Assemblies of God church and never looked back. These stories broke my heart in many ways, but what was most important for me to take away from the message was this: God has blessed me with a chance to be His hands and feet, and I would be a fool to refuse to do it. The church in the story was foolish because it refused to be God's tool, instead of being used by God that church decided to stay in the shed, I pray that the UMC as a whole, never allows that to become true of us.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Conservative, Liberal, or Moderate, be Faithful

I am not conservative, or liberal, I am a moderate. Being a moderate in the United States is difficult enough when the government operates only in binaries, but it is even more difficult in the United Methodist Church. Sometimes it feels as if the entire Church is battling every other member for power and control, instead of working for the Church, it seems that the members of the body are all working to be the head. In the struggle for power the Church has lost its original purpose, servanthood.
The Church was called to serve the the Lord and the world around it, not fight with itself over who will rule, the leader of the Church was determined when it was started, Christ is the head (Ephesians 5:23), then why are we as the body trying to supplant the head? I have seen such behavior before, coup d'etats occur all the time in history, but the one place where they should never occur is within the Church, nevertheless they do. The Roman Catholic church had multiple popes battling for power, the Southern Baptist Church and the takeover by the conservatives, the list goes on.
I find myself asking over and over again: Why should I stay in this Church that does not listen when I speak, or care how its policies affect me? And the answer comes to me everytime like a gentle voice, the reason to stay is not to be heard, but to serve. Service does not mean stop speaking or trying to change how the church operates, but it does mean that fighting for power is no longer necessary. It means putting more effort in trusting God than in trusting in the system. The system is a means to an end, not the goal. The goal is serving God and the world, the Church and its structure is only a means to meet that goal. At the same time, it is more than just a means to an end.
Why do I stay with with Church? Because the Church is my family. Just like my family it is loud, rude, messy, out of control, and full of love. My family shares the trait of racism, homophobia, and distrust of the “other” with the Church, but it also shares, faith in Christ, love, compassion, generosity, and so many other desirable traits with the Church. every group of people out to do what is right, makes mistakes and stumbles. Some of those mistakes last for decades, but without voices and servants to remind the Church how to do good and walk humbly with God, the wrongs would never be righted. I plan on staying in the UMC because I want it to be said of me that when hard times came I did not give up, but I continued to be the voice of one crying in the midst of the wilderness, serving the Lord and doing His work, serving His Church and the world around me. As a moderate, I may be outnumbered, I may be ignored, but I will continue to be faithful.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Few thoughts on General Conference 2012 thus far

            First let me start this off by stating I am not physically present at General Conference 2012, I am at school in Denton. School is so boring, and what really captivates and motivates me is happening all the way in Tampa, FL. I am not captivated by the legislative process, but in what it means for the UMC as a whole, and consequently how it will affect me in the future. 
            So far a lot of decisions have been made that I have not been happy with, I was very upset with the church for not voting to remove the "incompatibility clauses" or the punitive language in ordination and same-sex unions. I was not pleased that the committee on General Administration could not reach a decision on church re-structuring, and I was not appeased when it came to the bullying of LGBTIQ delegates/observers/clergy. I was not happy with the decision to move on legislation that removes guaranteed appointments to ordained clergy, and the decision not to speed up the ordination process. Not to mention women's rights are completely being ignored, as are most of the voices of the Central Conferences.
            In spite of all of the actions/in-actions I did not like, God was still very present, and very much moving. Last night a new trend on Twitter arose from out of GC2012, and it was very inspiring. The hashtag "whywearemethodist" was so very inspiring. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I did not know what to do with myself. Just hours before I was online shopping for another denomination, since it seemed like the UMC did not want me. I was so close to calling my home district and telling them to withdraw me from the ordination process, cause I was moving onto greener pastures. The tweets about "whywearemethodist" reminded me of why I love the UMC so much, about how she courted me and wooed me unto herself and consequently reminded me of my love and desire to be with Christ. I may not love everything the Church decides this week but honestly, I really do think I am going to stick with her as long as she will let me. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Few Thoughts on War

“Do not kill.” - Exodus 20:13

“Then Jesus said to him, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.” - Matthew 26:52

It is very ironic to me that I am a pacifist that lives in the United States of America. The USA is by far the most aggressive and violent nation in the world, no nation can even come close to comparing to the absolute supremacy of the US when it comes to being a nation of war. No other nation has as many active military bases, only one other nation has a comparable amount of nuclear missiles. Thus living in and being a citizen of this nation is very ironic seeing as everything the US government truly stands for is completely the opposite of what I, as a Christian am expected to stand for.

Let me say this now: The US government does not, nor ever has stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of property or happiness, at least not for all people. Just ask the Native Americans (I suppose the government was pursuing property there), the slaves (from Africa and the child sex slaves still being trafficked through US ports), women, the LGBT community, Hispanic-Americans who have to respond to “Show me your papers”, the list goes on.

One of the primary problems of modern American Christianity is simply that it is more American than it is Christian. I have met many “American Christians” in my life but I have met very few “Christians who are American”. Christianity today in the USA has opened itself up and allowed itself to become infected with the “holy spirit of US patriotism”, this patriotism promotes the worship of the flag, it has its own “holy days” (the 4th of July, President’s day), it has its own idols (the bald eagle, the Washington memorial), it has its own praise and worship music (“America the Beautiful”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “Proud to be an American”). This patriotism is so close to religion that is even has places of worship where people can go on pilgrimages such as Plymoth Rock, Mount Rushmore, and Gettysburg to name a few. Christians in America typically do not realize that they are putting their nation on equal footing with their deity, if they did they would quickly “repent”, but most do not and continue in the practices of celebrating the marriage of Jesus and Lady Liberty (not Uncle Sam though...). The problem with this is that the US has as much of a say in within the American Church, if not more, than Church leaders do. The government can convince the US Church that God did not really mean “Do not kill” what was meant was “Do not kill - unless the US government says it’s okay.” Other matters get twisted as well like in historical approaches to women’s rights, slavery, just refer to the list above.

This problem really has an easy solution for those that know this is an issue, they must stop placing their country in a position that should only be reserved for God and they should do their best to help others cease from this practice as well. For those that do not really see this as an issue I suppose they do not really care to change things, and that is dangerous because then they are in a position where they are proselytizing a religion that really is not a religion it is simply just patriotism with the words and names of Christianity utilized. I think that could also be one of the reasons more and more young “Christians” are becoming atheists, most of them were never really Christians, they were just Americans talking about this beautiful blond-haired blue-eyed man called Jesus.

Back to war. The Biblical evidence is there, Jesus, the Jewish one, was not in favor of any form of violent retaliation (Matthew 5:39; Matthew 26:52; Luke 6:27-28) The question I have now is: If Jesus Christ is the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), then why is His command to to put down the sword not enough for Christians?

Feel free to respond I love input.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Boys vs. Girls?

            God is not a man, God does not prefer men. Yet God calls "Himself" Father; this is an issue I struggled with in Sunday school. "God isn't a boy or a girl, HE is just God." Well if God is not a man why do we call "Him", "He"? Yes the Bible says that God is the "Father", Jesus is His "Son", that He is the "King"; but we also know that the prophets were writing in the context of their own society, our's has progressed. Why then do we in the 21st century still need to make God a man?
             John Piper recently has come under fire, and rightly so, for saying:

"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."

"He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel."

"When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here's what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community. All of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus."
            John Piper and I rarely agree, but I found these statements rather disturbing mostly because of how absolutely gender exclusive Piper's Christianity is. I honestly have to categorize this as a new form of Christianity because it is obviously not the Church Jesus founded. Jesus was inclusive and protective of women (Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11; John 4:1-42). John Piper forgets that if he is simply going off of what the Bible says in the Old Testament where he locates his primarily "masculine" God, that he, a gentile, would not welcome to be a leader in the Church. In fact, even in the New Testament the all-male leadership of the Church at Jerusalem determined that gentiles could be saved, but no where does the New Testament state that male Gentiles can be leaders in the Church, they must first become Jews. John Piper, and others in his camp, are aggressively using the Holy Word of God as a weapon to harm women in the Church, subdue them, and rob them of the spiritual freedoms that Jesus Christ made for them. The double standards exhibited in this weak theology is not only sexist, it is dangerous for the women within the churches where this theology is taught. It essentially states: "God made Christianity for men, but don't fret women, you can still be our sidekicks." It forces the women that are within the churches to almost grow to loathe their own womanhood and desire to be men in order to be full participants in this "Masculine Christianity".
             I am a man, and I am glad that I am a man because that is how God made me. But my mother is a woman, and I am so glad that she is a woman, and that my grand-mother is a woman, and my aunt, and my female cousins, and Mary the mother of Jesus. I am glad that Ruth, and Esther, and Mary Magdalene, and Mother Theresa were also women. And I am glad that they are women, because they each brought something to my faith that men could not bring their femininity. I am so glad that God does not have a sex or gender, because then people might start foolishly thinking that he/she/it picks favorites in the "boys vs. girls" arguments that go on on the playgrounds of life. God in the wisdom that only is contained only in an infinite being created both men and women and said both were good. Unlike the U.S. government God in supreme demonstration of wisdom also did not make men and women "separate but equal" God made the two become one, so that they can together be a minor reflection of the splendor of their Creator's glory, and most importantly their Creator's love.