Wednesday, April 25, 2012

General Conference, Days 1 and 2

Admittedly, this will not be one of my most creative blogs...but it you're a United Methodist geek, you may enjoy it nonetheless. Basically, it will simply be a log of my 5 days at General Conference 2012 - my FIRST General Conference. I'm ridiculously United Methodist, so I'm thrilled to have this opportunity. Thank you, Claremont School of Theology. :)

April 23, 2012
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

3:00 a.m. The alarm sounds, and like Jesus, we arose, while it was still dark. While I wouldn’t call the Ontario airport a desolate place, it wasn’t really hopping at 5:00 a.m. Our flight departed at 6:00, we had a layover in Dallas, then arrived safely in Tampa at 4:00 p.m. We were blessed with a safe journey and a FREE ride to our hotel. We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn about 5:15, unpacked and relaxed until a group dinner at 7:15 at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. The weather was perfect and the 5 block walk to the restaurant on historic brick streets was leisurely, lovely and quite enjoyable. Ybor City is an historic area of Tampa with interesting and charming architecture that was once a celebrated location for cigars. We arrived back at the hotel about 9:00 p.m. with aspirations of studying, but little sleep, jet lag and travel culminated into an early lights out. Joyously, our 6:45 a.m. departure was moved to 9:00 a.m. and then to 10:45 – perfect for our first night/morning.

April 24, 2012
“…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – Acts 5:38-39

8:30 – wake up
9:00 – breakfast, met a delegate who called Claremont “the bastion of liberal thinking,” but then said he “Loved it!” – then a little New Testament Class conversation/studying with Brian and Melissa. Brian is much more in tune with Dr. Riley than I am, so this was VERY helpful.
10:00 – grooming, with great conversation about the day ahead of us with Monalisa & Melissa
10:45 – departure
11-12 – booths, free stuff, Cokesbury and beautiful Tampa – what a stunning location for a conference! I’ve never been a big Florida fan, but I’ve never been to Tampa before. It’s quite stunning.
12:15 – Orientation Session for Seminarians: Sixty to Seventy-five seminarians and professors gathered in the lower level of the Convention Center in rooms 20 and 21 and were welcomed by a guy. lol. Another pastor proclaimed that yesterday he experienced his “greatest day in ministry,” when he was able to deliver 2012 beautiful, hand-made blue silk mantles for every delegate, alternate, bishops, etc. The idea was born with a small team of people and grew and grew. With every increase in the number of mantles needed, Acts 5:38-39 was quoted. Each mantle has been prayed over so that each person wearing them knows he or she is covered in prayer as they discern over the next ten days. It was a beautiful story, and to see all of the delegates put them on during worship tonight was quite moving. “Covered in prayer, we are never alone.” 1:30-Lunch, pictures, making new friends
4:00-Worship! The highlight of the day was worship with thousands of Methodists from all over the globe. I loved all of the languages, the liturgical dance, the music and the preaching.

Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Maskoke Nation, consecrated the Conference in his native tongue, and taught us the word, “estongo,” which is a way of welcoming or greeting people in a more meaningful way. Then he welcomed us and asked us to be mindful of the footprint we leave on “colonial Florida” – the homeland of his people. He also asked us to remember our ancestors and the native people who are here now, living and breathing human beings. (He was also part of the worship band, playing several instruments.)

After music and the blessing of the conference, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, president of the Council of Bishops, invited us to hear Jesus’ call to “Follow.” He reminded us of the James and John leaving their father and their nets to follow. He said we gather every four years to mend and clean our nets, and he challenged us not to be so busy with “our” nets that we miss Jesus walking among us and asking us to follow. He said John Wesley’s introduction to the New Testament was that they forsook their employ…Happy are they that follow Christ at the first call. Immediately the disciples responded to Jesus – with relentless spontaneity, exuberant urgency, and extraordinary disruption. Jesus' call moves us from business as usual to boldness and urgency. Jesus transforms lives. John Wesley challenged Methodists to reform the continent, beginning with the church. Finally, one of my favorite parts of his sermon was his analogy about fishing. The first disciples were “net” fishing – pulling up EVERYTHING together. Too often we’re doing a different, specific kind of fishing for people who are like us, whoever that is. Jesus will show up while we’re mending our nets. Will we see him? Will we hear him? Will we notice?

All of the music was wonderful, but one of the most moving songs for me, was “God has Work for Us to Do.” Here are the lyrics:
Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled; 
Till no one hurts or steals or lies, and no more blood is spilled; 
God has work for us to do, God has work for us to do 
Believe in the promise, “I make all things new” 
God has work for us, work for us to do. 
Till age and race and gender no longer separate; 
Till pulpit, press, and politics are free of greed and hate:
In tenement and mansion, in factory, farm, and mill 
In board room and in billiard hall, in wards where time stands still, 
In classroom, church, and office, in shops or on the street; 
In every place where people thrive or starve or hide or meet: 
By sitting at a bedside to hold pale, trembling hands, 
By speaking for the powerless against unjust demands, 
By praying through our doing and singing through fear, 
By trusting that the seed we sow will bring God's harvest near.

Grace and Peace to all of you who stuck through this entry. :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doing things that don't make sense...

Sometimes God asks us to do things that don't make sense.

In Luke, chapter 5, we read about a time when Jesus was standing beside a lake and crowds of people were pressing in on him, because they wanted to hear the word of God. Jesus saw two boats there at the shore of the lake. The fisherman were not in the boats, they were washing their nets. So Jesus got into one of the boats (the one belonging to Simon Peter), and asked him to pull out a bit from the shore. From there, Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished, he told Simon Peter to go out to the deep water and put his nets in for a catch. Simon Peter was tired. He'd been fishing all night and hadn't caught anything. He told Jesus this but then said, "If you say so, I will let down the nets."

Simon Peter was a fisherman. He understood his trade. He'd worked all night. He wanted to rinse his nets and call it a night. But Jesus. Jesus wanted to bless him. Jesus wanted Simon Peter to trust him and to obey him. We're so often like Peter. We get up, go to work, do our job, come home. Get up, go to work, do our job, come home. We work hard. We become masters in our trade. And everyday, we get up, go to work, do our job, come home. But Jesus. Jesus wants to bless us. Jesus wants us to trust him and to obey him. Even when it doesn't make sense.

We must trust again and again and again. And, when we do, we can be surprised and thankful and amazed at how God always provides more than we can ask for or imagine.

So, Simon Peter did what Jesus asked. And when he did, he caught so many fish that the nets were beginning to break. They had to signal their partners in the other boat to come help them. And they filled both boats with much so that the boats began to sink! Simon Peter and his partners, James & John, and all who were with him were amazed at the catch. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

Like Peter, when we do what Jesus asks, and we recognize God's power and providence we feel humbled,completely unworthy and even afraid. The love God pours out to us is overwhelming, but far too often we live our lives simply getting up, going to work, doing our job and coming home. We spend our lives missing God's love. ...even pushing God away.

Jesus responded to Peter by saying, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people."

Peter says, "Go away!" and Jesus responds, "Don't be afraid." Peter says, "I'm a sinful man!" And Jesus responds, "Soon you will be catching people."

At the beginning of the story, Jesus tells Simon Peter to do something that doesn't make sense. Peter does it and is overwhelmed by God's provision. Then at the end of the story, Jesus tells Simon Peter that he's going to do something soon, something that also doesn't make sense. (How does one catch people?) Jesus sees in Simon Peter something that Simon Peter does not see in himself. Jesus calls Peter to break the cycle. To do more. To be more. To write a different story.

Jesus is asking us to write a different story too. A story of courage, trust, obedience and hope. When we do, we too, will understand and live our purpose. Soon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

So Much Has happened since July last Blog

For the past several years, I have heard God's call to seminary, and like many others before me, had put it off and put it off. I wasn't sure what God's plan for me was post seminary,and I was quite content and fulfilled serving in Student I waited, and I waited, and I waited. In the summer of 2009, I was asked: "If you could do anything you wanted--and money was no object, what would you do?" In a strange instant--without a lot of thought or consideration--I answered, "I would go to seminary, then teach theology and world religions on a university or seminary level." I was surprised when I heard my answer. For the first time in my life, I felt I had chosen a career path, instead of the path choosing me. I felt assured that God has and had led me to this moment. I am passionate about working with students, about learning, and about God…it seems to be a perfect vocation for me.

After applying and being accepted to three United Methodist Seminaries, I chose Claremont School of Theology/Claremont Lincoln University...and it chose me. I am absolutely loving my life, and I am so amazed EVERY day at this blessing! I love my fellow seminarians. I love southern California. I love what I've learned so far. And, I love the possibilities for peace, justice and reconciliation in our broken and beautiful world.

I strongly believe that the most important theological issue of our time is theology itself. I am fascinated by people and the way they love, worship and serve God. We all have a need for something greater than ourselves, and in our search for significance, and meaning, and order, we find a God who answers, who loves and who is faithful. Our understanding of God leads us to behave in ways that bring peace or destruction, bring comfort or condemnation, bring justice or war. Everything is theology. All of life and all of our actions can be connected to our theology--in fact, are intertwined completely. We can learn a lot from one another: Muslims, Jews, Christians (and others) about the ways we practice our faith and about a God who can not be contained.