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.