Category Archives: Ponderings

Products of theological reflection and divine inspiration.

“So She set out from the place where She had been living…” (Ruth 1:7).


Today is the day when I depart for Called General Conference. I am leaving the place I have been calling home for the past two and half years since I was appointed to Crozet United Methodist Church. I am leaving my family, my pets, my home, and my church to be with my people, my other people. All my bags are packed. I am ready to go. Soon I will be leaving on a jet plane. Yet I know when I am coming back again: the day after the close of Called General Conference. It will be a six day journey, and one where I will not be with my church for Sunday worship. That in and of itself is a huge sacrifice. One that never sits well with me. I want to be with my church for worship. Perhaps deep down I recognize that I need to be for my own well being. So today has me mindful that come Sunday, I will be missing them, and that means that prayer will be our connection over this distance.

I will have some time today before, during, and in between flights to stop and pray. I have been praying continually for many months now about this epic meeting of Methodists. Over the course of the next four days, our legislative body of over eight hundred delegates from all over the world, half laity and half clergy, will bear the heavy burden of making a decision about how the United Methodist Church will handle human sexuality and inclusion. After decades of pleas, requests, demands, protests, arguments, motions, and questions, the legislative body of the global church is ready to call the question. Thousands of other Methodists will be crashing the Conference, like me. We have no vote, and technically no voice to be heard from the floor. What we do have is presence and prayer.

In our current context of social media in the digital age, the concept of no voice seems outrageous. How can one be voiceless when there are so many platforms, websites, and apps not just allowing, but inviting and encouraging our voice? Even if we were rendered mute in real life, our written and typed voice can scream volumes about our perspective, our view, our opinion, and our thoughts on any and every topic. Yet in this instance, it is not our voice that the Church and the world need to hear. It is the Word of God. The struggle for every individual Christian and every denomination in the Church Universal is to discern God’s Word so that we can know and follow God’s will.

Now more than ever our lives are filled with sounds, noise, music, words, commentary, reports, etc. It may be making it harder to hear God above the cacophony. Hearing God is not about silence, but intentionality. We are repeatedly called through the Scriptures to hear God. The deeper we journey into our personal spirituality, the more we discover that hearing God hinges upon engaging God. Our relationship with our Lord enables us to not only hear God, but understand what God is saying. God’s grace is what enables us to fulfill God’s will. We cannot do this on our own, not as individual disciples or as a denomination. The Father created us together (Genesis 1:26-28). The Son called us together (Matthew 18:19-20). The Holy Spirit holds us together (Ephesians 4:1-6). Trinitarian theology is about being united, in the Godhead, in the Church, and in each person’s mind, body, and spirit.

The glory of the Gospel is that it tells us that God’s love has made grace available to us through Christ Jesus. Grace becomes the glue of holy community. It binds us, bonds us, and brings us together when our own humanity threatens to tear us apart. It speaks, through the Holy Spirit, in sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Perhaps that is where the power of presence and prayer is revealed. My most profound prayers have remained unspoken; so deep, so raw, and so personal that they could not have been uttered out loud. My prayers for my beloved United Methodist Church are no less poignant if they are not heard by another person, written out, or read by others. My presence is no less important, if I am not an official delegate. I am an official member of the United Methodist Church. I am an officially ordained Elder, clergy person of the Virginia Annual Conference. It is not just my voice, but my ministry of presence that marks my place in the Body of Christ. This journey is about that aspect of my Methodism.

Whether you will be in St. Louis or not, you are no less present through the miraculous power of prayer and the uniting power of the Holy Spirit to bridge gaps between people and geographical distance. The Apostle Paul testified to this power in his second letter to the Church in Corinth: “as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11). “The blessing granted through the prayers of many” is precisely what the delegates and presiding bishops at Called General Conference need of each and every one of us. Prayers to unite, uphold, console, encourage, and yearn towards God’s will being done in and through the United Methodist Church. So here is what I am praying throughout the day:

God of All,

We lift our prayers to you, in union with myriads of others.

Bonded together by our love of you, commitment to our Church, and hope for tomorrow,

We entrust ourselves into your hands.

Let your will be done in us, that your purpose will be revealed through us.

Guide us in this time of restlessness.

Heal the wounds we have made against others, and those made against us.

Perfect us by your love, that our love and service will be perfect for others.

Lead us to one another, so that we may journey forward into your Kingdom together.

You are our hope and stay, all else is fleeting and sinking sand.

May we trust you, hear you, and follow you.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray.



Planning, Packing, & Praying


There is nothing more Biblical than looking back over our journey and paying heed to how far we have come, what we have overcome, and where we started.  Last night, I started out by getting the final things together for my trip to St. Louis, and more specifically, Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  It began as a practical endeavor.  I opened my luggage and looked over the carefully packed outfits, supplies, and necessities.  Then I started to get my carry-on bag in order, and that is the precise moment when things shifted.  I grabbed some of the gifts I have been given for this journey: a blinged out notebook and matching pen, a hand woven bracelet, a picture frame with my son’s picture, and a set of markers for making visual statements on poster board I will purchase when I am in St. Louis.  Each one is a thoughtful gift, but also a talisman of the giver, a small piece of them embodied in their thoughtfulness for me.

I was caught unaware by this wave of sadness that washed over me, even as I smiled at the precious artifacts in my hands.  I was getting ready to leave on an airplane that would take me to a city where a pivotal moment in United Methodist history would occur.  I am excited to be there in person.  I am anxious about what may happen.  I am hopeful that God will make a miracle for my beloved denomination.  I mourn that we Methodists find ourselves at this place where we know that hearts will be broken, fractures may become permanent, and some will choose to walk away from our family of faith.  The reality of a Body of Christ comprised of human beings is that no matter what we do, someone is upset.  Someone will leave.  That is not a statement about this issue of human sexuality and inclusion, or even how we have handled it to this point, but the reality of living in community, even a Christ-centered one.

I have been planning this pilgrimage since it was announced after the 2016 General Conference.  I knew that I would need to be there, to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and experience with my person the atmosphere of spirituality or its lack thereof.  United Methodism has a concept of Holy Conferencing, when the Body of Christ gathers to be in prayerful discernment together, not just individual discernment while sharing same space.  We believe that the Holy Spirit moves in a unique and powerful way when we come together to seek God’s will and word for us in this manner.  I have seen it before.  I have been part of it since becoming clergy.  I know that it has a distinctive feel from any other gathering, meeting, or governing body.  We have to engage and work at it, but there is nothing so powerful as God guiding one of the largest denominations in Christendom.  I want to testify that it did occur.

So here I am, all packed and plans confirmed, and there remains so much prayer to be done.  Countless Methodists, and I suspect Christians from outside our formal membership covenant, are praying about this gathering.  I hope we are not praying for our desire, our wish, our way, but God’s will.  I hope we recognize that human will is powerful and can be manifested by our sheer willpower.  Perhaps that too reflects the divine image in which we were all created (Genesis 1:26).  Yet the challenge is to set aside our will, and create space first in our being, and then in the Church for God’s will to overshadow our own.  That is what I envision happening when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she became the bearer of the Christ-child (Luke 1:35).  If we, as the United Methodist Church, are to bear Christ to the world with our unique and vital theology of grace, then we must be willing to be overshadowed, so that God may be fully embodied.  That is the hard part, but no less necessary.

Last night, after checking all my packing one more time, I unpacked the one thing I do not need: my will.  It was so heavy and burdensome.  I did not realize how much so until I set it aside.  Then there was all this room for the truly important and Godly things!  I had all this room for hope for the future, openness to receiving God’s word, assurance of God’s providence, and the peace that no matter what does or does not happen at Called General Conference, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).  Now I am truly ready to journey to a place where my brothers and sisters of Methodism will converge from all over the world, and seek God’s will and way together.  Now all my planning, packing, and praying have culminated in a heart ready for anything, because God is once more my everything.

My Pastoral Response to the Tragic Events in Charlottesville


To my family of faith in Crozet,

As I sit here in Pennsylvania, having presided over a worship service of Holy Matrimony less than six hours ago, I am struck by the juxtaposition of that celebration of love with this day of suffering and hatred in our neighbor, Charlottesville.  While I am not with you in body, I have been joined with you in prayer, and am with you in spirit now.  I have too many words.  There are words of anger and outrage at the suffering of an entire community.  There are words of sorrow and mourning for those who lost their lives and those who have been harmed in the course of events that escalated because of hatred lived out in violence.  Mostly there are words of prayer and supplication, as I cry out to God for relief from the kind of human sinfulness that can only be satisfied by hate-filled words and causing public fear.  My heart breaks for our community.

I am not going to sit here and offer some form of analysis for what went wrong.  We do not need that, because I think it is obvious: what we experienced was sin.  It is a sin to hate another person.  It is a sin to use violence against another person.  It is a sin to make another human being feel anything less than the beloved child of God that our Lord created them to be.  It is a sin to strip another person of the dignity with which they were endowed by our Creator while they were still in the womb.  Those that gathered in Charlottesville to proclaim their hatred and cause fear sinned, and brought evil into our midst.  It literally crashed into our lives, our peaceful community and caused death.  I do not need anyone to decry that.  It is obviously wrong, a sin, and evil to murder another person.

There is no excuse, no other side, and no option to ignore what happened.  We shall not.  We shall not forget what happened when human beings decided to give into their hate and cause hurt.  Hatred never stays a feeling, a harmless sentiment.  It eats away at us, poisons our minds, and perverts our hearts until it has no where left to go internally and ruptures into our world, often in words and acts of violence.  We saw this today.  So our work as people of faith and servants of Jesus Christ has only begun.

We must now ensure that we have seen what unchecked and unquestioned hatred can do.  Are we aware of our own prejudices?  Are we actively working to eradicate it in our hearts and in our beloved Crozet?  Do we prefer people who look like us, sound like us, dress like us, and live like us?  Are we willing to turn a critical eye internally and see where our words reflect that we see some people as other while our Scriptures tell us that in Christ there is no distinction?  If the Apostle Paul were writing his letter to the Galatians today, then I have no doubt it would read:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer native or immigrant, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer black or white, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer heterosexual and non-heterosexual; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

It is a sin to hate a person God loves, and just because you might temper that word “hate,” do not think that God is fooled.  We are all sinners.  We are all in need of the grace that only Christ provides.  We can all be transformed from sinners, and liberated from our hatred.  So we start with ourselves, and we no longer let each other speak the language of prejudice that makes hatred of another person socially acceptable.  Change starts with us, and Christ has freed us for this very purpose, this holy cause.  We need to raise the children in our homes and in our community to love as God loves, and reject the sinful divisions humankind has created to reinforce a false hierarchy that raises some up by forcing others down into the depths of an unholy social prison.  In this country, people have the right to hate, but we are not building an earthly kingdom of legalism, we are building the Kingdom of God, and there is no room for hatred here.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

When the painful reality of human sinfulness makes us suffer, we get down on our knees and lift up our prayers to the highest heaven.  Together let us pray:

Merciful and mighty God,

We come to you, our refuge and our redeemer,

Crying out from the aftermath of hatred in tangible form,

Poured out in our lives from human vessels.

Save us from this sin, Almighty God.

Protect us from this insidious evil that has taken lives,

And continues to cause pain, suffering, and bring forth violence.

We know that we have work to do to purge this sinful hatred from the world.

It begins with each of us taking on the heart of Christ,

Which rejects hatred and prejudice against any other person.

It means that we can not harbor hatred in our own hearts,

And we cannot allow it to be spoken and lived out in our community.

We seek your strength to do this,

Your guidance to help us accomplish this holy purpose.

We are not willing to accept hatred as a reality any longer.

We are people of faith, hope, and love,

And you proclaim that greatest of our attributes is love.

Let it be so, in accordance with your will.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

We pray.


Taking Its Cue from Christ, The Church Goes On


Back in April, I was invited to be part of the journey to ordination known in United Methodist Church as the Provisional Process.  Ironically, I had just been there and done that, but as a Provisional Elder myself.  I just celebrated my one year ordination anniversary last month, and about six months into my first year I was being asked to be present with and mentor to those who were beginning their journey in the process.

Like most of those called by God in the Bible, I felt fear.  I wondered if I could, if I was worthy, even capable.  I thought that surely there were others more qualified than I.  Then, as God always does, God settled my fears and whispered into my heart those words that have brought me into service countless times in my life: I am with you.  My mind had a snarky reply: You’d better be!  Of course God was, is, and ever will be.  I serve a local church where God permeates everything, even the physical space.  God is manifest in our worship, our love for others, our service in the name of Jesus Christ, and our intense desire to reflect the grace by which we have been saved.  No amount of sin, failure, or mistakes can stop Christ from being at work in the Church, or those of us who call the Church our home.

I have been plagued by the thoughts and fears of what might happen to the denomination that has been a part of my life from the very beginning of it.  The United Methodist Church has finally called the question on human sexuality, and will convene a special called General Conference, that global meeting of Methodists, usually reserved for every four years, but will now take place in February 2019.  Many of us wait with bated breath to see what will happen.  There are fears of breaking, splitting, fracture, and dissolution.  Considering how much I love the United Methodist Church personally, I am keenly aware of those fears, feeling them myself.  Yet I give thanks to God that no fear can stop the work of the Church.  As God says, “I am with you.”

Yesterday I gathered with fifteen clergy for their first Provisional meeting since being commissioned during worship at the Virginia Annual Conference in June.  They vary in age, reflect a range of seminary and educational experience, are diverse in ethnic and gender, and yet are all equally committed to this call from God to serve the Church in the specific role of clergy.  They refuse to let fears and talk of a denominational break stop their servant leadership, even when their ordained colleagues speak of it incessantly.  Thank God for that kind of fearless commitment to the journey, to the Church, and to Jesus Christ.  They reminded me that God is with us, not just in the presence of the Father in our consecrated, sacred spaces, or as the Son when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, or even in the movement of the Holy Spirit, but in those who bear the mantle of clergy to serve the Church, and ultimately that parish known as the world.

My life experience has countless examples of God reassuring while my spirit was assailed by fear, and God providing what I needed to move from merely surviving to thriving with confidence in the exhortation of Jesus not to be afraid (John 14:27).  My Lord who refused to be stymied by disciples who could not comprehend his messianic mission, fell victim to fear, and fled in the face of the suffering and death at the cross.  I cannot help but think that by creating the opportunity to be on this faith walk with these Provisionals, God has once again given me a stronghold and gift of assurance to carry me through this time of prayer and waiting to discover the future of my cherished United Methodist Church.

You may not be physically present with us when we gather, but believe me when I tell you that God is doing something there for the good of Christendom, and no threat to my beloved denomination will prevent God’s will from prevailing.  God still calls good and faithful servants to lead.  God still nurtures them into the servant leaders we need.  God will not abandon us, and God remains greater than any denomination.  If like me you call yourself a Christian, and seek to fulfill your call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then trust me when I proclaim that the future looks bright indeed.  I have seen it in the faces of those who will lead when I am gone, and my heart is not just warmed, it burns with gratitude to God.  There’s no room for fear, as it has been replaced with greater faith in Christ.

And I Cried.


Yesterday was a painful day.  I was following the events of General Conference, that world wide gathering of United Methodism which takes place every four years.  It is a time of holy conferencing and communion of the Wesleyan faithful from all over the earth.  I was once blessed to attend the gathering in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas with my mother.  It was an experience I will never forget and always treasure, so I was devastated to read the news reports and accounts on social media yesterday which relayed the extreme strain and real possibility of a potential break in the denomination.

I love this Church.  It is mine, and that of millions of Methodists.  It is the church of my birth, my childhood, my youth, my adulthood, and my pastorate.  I have joined it with all that I am, and served it with all that I have.  I have made great sacrifices personally to be Methodist clergy, and I expect to give much more during the course of my life.  Just the thought of it being rended caused me great agony, emotionally and spiritually.  So much so that I was overwhelmed, and I cried.

I cried tears the likes of which had not fallen since my first marriage failed, and my family dissipated from the promise made during the worship of Holy Matrimony.  I cried as if I was once more confronted with a brokenness that would never be fully healed in this lifetime, a failure from which no restoration would come.  I cried as if the feelings of betrayal that destroyed my family were once more tangible in the possibility of the loss of my beloved United Methodist Church.  There have been times in my life when the only thing I had was God, and God was readily available in the United Methodist Church.  No denominational break can take God from me, but I fear that this may not be the case for all.  What might the loss of United Methodism mean for others?

There are many who feel loss right now about their place in the United Methodist Church.  They wonder if their identification as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer means that they are denied God’s grace or the love of Christ’s Church.  They wonder if they can be welcomed into worship and the fullness of church life their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.  They have experiences of pain, suffering, rejection, and persecution.  They fight for inclusion.  Many of my beloved family and friends count themselves in these numbers.

Others feel like they are being portrayed as monsters for their understanding of Scripture, and their faithfulness to the current doctrine of the Church.  They feel villainized and unfairly depicted.  Labeled hate mongers and cast as the Judas of this drama, they feel as if they too are misunderstood.  They have loved this Church, tried to be faithful to the Bible, and just to the doctrine.  They have their own tales of struggle and suffering around this issue.  They are the counterpart to the first perspective, and no less in pain.

I cried for both sides.  I also cried for my own: another stuck between the two.  I thought the Church was where all can come before God, no matter their sin or state of being, and encounter grace.  I thought we all fell short of the glory of God, and were looking to grow beyond ourselves into reflections of Christ who died because we all sin.  The sins may differ, but the consequences are all the same: brokenness.  As one whose life was forever changed because of sinful heterosexual sex, I cried that my family of faith was threatened with its own form of divorce.  No one person, perspective, or side is right.  I suspect that there is truth to be cultivated from all sides.  There is no simple truth, no ready fix, no easy path.  However, I believe that the path will be dictated by the desire to walk together or away from one another.

I cannot change the events of General Conference, or the hearts and minds of those elected to represent me and the Annual Conference I serve.  So I turn to prayer.  I pray for God to overwhelm us all with grace, hope, and truth.  I pray that every United Methodist recall the pledge to the Body of Christ in our membership, not just our vision for the Church.  I pray we can hold fast to one another, no matter the side we hold to be righteous.  I pray for the leaders of our Church, both clergy and laity, to endeavor to model Christ as the denomination and the world outside of it look on with bated breath.  Many marriages like my own have failed because one party was all too wiling to walk away.  I pray that we recall our covenant before God to endure until we are parted by death.  There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  No sin can either.  In our collective imperfection, let us model perfect unity.  Let us love in spite of our differences in expression, identity, and perspective on any issue.  May God turn my tears of fear and sorrow into tears of joy, that the United Methodist Church will persist despite all obstacles and present trials.

I have no answers.  I have only prayers, and this incredible faith that God can do all things.  May God’s will be done in and through the United Methodist Church.  Amen.

Transition: The Trial and the Triumph


The Book of James tell us that God does not change: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 NRS).  Perhaps we can take comfort in the steadfastness of our Lord whose love never ends and grace for us does not waver.  Maybe we need to be reminded of that more than ever when things change in our lives.

I have been through much change in the thirty-five years of my life.  I have moved more than nine times, and am preparing for my tenth.  I have been married, and then divorced; a change I never would have anticipated.  Becoming a mother continues to be a daily encounter with change.  My life changed again when I unexpectedly met the man who would become my new husband, step-father to our son, and partner in ministry.  Now I am at the culmination of my journey to ordination and my first appointment as an ordained Elder.  This is change.  It means life in flux, and the transformation of self and circumstance.  I could be frightened.  Some might say I should be scared, but I am not.  I believe that God is at work in my life and my ministry, and God is active in this change.  Perhaps I am foolish to feel so at ease, or perhaps I have reached a point in my faith life where I am so grounded in God that nothing can shake me, unless I let it.

Change can be difficult.  I am deeply invested in my current congregation in Norfolk, VA.  I have been with them for eight incredible years.  They have been invested in me from the first stage of declaring my candidacy for ordination to its completion this June.  We have been through countless trials and tribulations.  We have experienced the fullness of human emotion together, and emerged stronger.  God has knitted us together for a time, and I have been blessed to be bound to them.  But now that bond is being severed.  I am being called to a new congregation, and there is much to mourn about this separation.

The miracle of God is that even in the sadness and mourning, there is so much to anticipate with hope and joy.  I have been granted gifts and graces in ministry which are needed, valued, and desired.  God has moved hearts and minds to send me to Crozet, VA, not least of which is my own.  My hope is not at the expense of my current congregation either.  God has made sure to send them a new pastor with his own gifts and graces, and passion for ministry.  When he arrives, the Holy Spirit will begin to knit him and the congregation together, weaving the next panel in a tapestry of their identity.  While I am only beginning to know him, I know that we serve and honor the same Lord.  I can trust that the God who called me and upheld me, can and will do the same for him.  It is a blessing to fathom the graciousness of God in this time of transition.

This is the tale of only two churches in transition, but spring in the United Methodist Church is a time of profound change for many churches and their congregations.  The Body of Christ is being made and remade all over the world.  There are many who will be frightened of the future, and that is an honest emotion.  There will be others who will find this serene sense of God sweeping over them, and if we find ourselves in that category, then we are duty bound to share that comfort, while still allowing space for the ambiguity of change.  This is a time to draw near to God and one another.  It is an opportunity to cling to our faith rather than digging in our heels against inevitable change.

I am praying for all those who are in the throes of change.  My deepest prayer is that we can allow change to be a time of transition, moving from one state to another with grace and the preservation of human dignity.  God may be unchanging, but in the midst of change we just might see God in the most profound ways, and come to understand the claim God has on our lives.  May any change we experience be filled with tangible signs of God’s presence and providence.  May we stand firm in our faith, even when the ground seems shaky.

Change Over Time


(Image by Sarah R. Wastella)

I think those of who have been part of the Church for all or most of our lives can easily forget that transformation into a Christian and then into a disciple takes place over time.  I realize that many people have this moment when they are willing to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, but that is often proceeded by encounters with others of faith who inform and provide the necessary seeds for faith to take root by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even Peter, according to the Gospel account of Luke, first heard Jesus preaching to the people on the shore (Luke 5:1-3), then witnessed the miraculous catch (Luke 5:4-7) before he fell to his knees and pleaded with Jesus to withdraw from him because of Peter’s sin (Luke 5:8-10).  Peter was not ready to follow Jesus then; he asked him to leave!  But it was a turning point, the beginning of a dialogue and relationship that would EVENTUALLY lead to transformation of Simon Peter, the fisherman, into Peter, the fisher of men and women.

Have we so easily forgotten that the Twelve, who followed Jesus for the three years of his earthly ministry, were still confused and scattered at his arrest, trial, suffering, and death?  They started to follow at Jesus’ invitation, but they were not complete then too.  It would take years of encounter, experience, and witnessing the countless miracles (feedings, healings, and mighty acts) to be in a place to finally be transformed into the disciples we know as those who first spread the Gospel of Christ.  I think that Scripture prepares us to be part of the long haul of making disciples.  If we follow Jesus’ model, and I think we should, then we have to cultivate relationship and have a conversation that will last years, and not all of that with words.  While that same sacred text reveals instances when people immediately became believers, we have to recognize that profession of faith, declaring oneself to be a Christian, is not synonymous with becoming a disciple.  A Christian professes belief in Christ, but a disciple follows Christ and his teachings.  This world is filled with those who believe, but not all will follow.  Just as dozens came into Jerusalem with Jesus, believing in him, but only a faithful few followed him to the cross, while the others scattered in fear and self-preservation.  Many profess Christ in their hearts and even with their mouths, but are not willing to take the next step and profess him with their lives.  If every person who self-identified as a Christian lived that out, then this world would be a very different place.  Love of God and love for others would overflow tangibly.

So why it is that there is this pervasive expectation that we immediately condemn the sinful actions of others, expect them to convert to faith in Christ, and be instantly transformed?  While Peter self-identified as a sinful man, he did not stop his sin immediately, but he did immediately start the path by engaging with Jesus.  Peter would continue to sin, denying Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in suffering and death (Matthew 16:21-23), and denying Jesus himself (Mark 14:66-72), yet he remains an example to all those who would seek to become disciples to persevere over time.  Jesus did not begin his relationship with Peter by declaring Peter to be a sinner and demanding he repent.  Instead he asking him to come along, to be with him as he lived out his divine purpose.  As clergy, I cultivate relationship long before I can speak into the heart to evoke change.  I have to build trust, earn respect, and model what I preach and teach.  Only then do I stand a chance of being a vessel of God’s transformative love and grace.  Even then I am a part of a larger narrative of other faithful followers, disciples who bear Christ’s name and love in this world.

Jesus never modeled a love them and leave them ministry.  He entered into conversation, went to people where they were in their daily lives, and invited them to experience something wholly and holy other.  Some listened, some ignored, but those who chose to continue the dialogue stood the best chance of being truly and lastingly transformed.  But even we who have been a part of the Church for so long should be mindful that we have had instances of rejection of the Gospel, refusal to follow, and backsliding.  We are not perfect disciples either.  While I do not think we claim to be, sometimes our manner of interacting with those outside of the Church communicates a sense of superiority and exasperation with those who have not entered into our fellowship as full members.  We cannot expect everyone to immediately become Christians much less disciples, and we should be quick to engage rather than condemn.  Transformation is the goal of the Gospel and that takes time.  Are we willing to practice patience and invest it in the very people to whom Christ sends us?

Principles and Policy Collide with Religion: The Kentucky County Clerk Conflict


If you have been following the drama in the Rowan County Clerk’s office, then you know that a Kentucky public official has refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.  She has now been found in contempt of court, and you can read the update here: Kentucky Clerk’s Office Will Issue Marriage Licenses Friday – Without Clerk.  The topic came up at my Bible Study yesterday morning.  This clerk, an elected public official, is charged with issuing a legal document for marriages, and she has refused to do so since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriages in the United States.  Many religious spokespersons and political leaders have supported her stance.  I do not.  It is not about supporting or opposing gay marriage from a Christian stand point either.  In the United States, couples, both heterosexual and now homosexual, have the right to be legally married.  That may have nothing to do with Holy matrimony.

Holy matrimony is a covenant made before God and consecrated, made sacred, by the blessing of God upon the individuals and the union.  It is officiated by clergy, acting on behalf of the Church, and done within the context of a worship service.  The language is specific and includes prayers, Scripture readings, and the invocation of blessings.  As clergy, I officiate Holy matrimony.  It just so happens that the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I reside and serve a local church, recognizes my authority to perform Holy matrimony as valid for legal marriage as well.  So that, if a couple goes to the courthouse and fills out the proper paperwork to obtain a marriage license no more than sixty days before their wedding ceremony, I can fill out the license, submit it to the court, and then the Holy matrimony is also a legal marriage, but this does not have to be the case.  I can and have performed Holy matrimony without it being a legally recognized marriage.  God does not stipulate that Holy matrimony be a legal change in status for secular institutions and governments.

What the Rowan County Clerk fails to realize is that her objection on religious grounds is inconsequential because the Supreme Court did not and could not require religious institutions to perform Holy matrimony for gay couples.  There are certainly many Christian denominations and churches that do, but it has never been required by the United States government.  Holy matrimony is under the Church’s purview.  If the County Clerk wishes to belong to a church that does not perform Holy matrimony for gay couples, then that is her prerogative, but to withhold a civil license for a secular purpose is ludicrous.  Her argument is even judgmental and flawed.  While I understand that she is against Holy matrimony for gays, she has been providing legal licenses for heterosexual couples without any proof or knowledge that they are justified to be married from a religious stand point.  She performs no premarital counseling, as I and most clergy do.

Premarital counseling is not just to makes sure a couple understands the gravity of their request to be married or that they have proper communication and conflict resolution skills; it allows the officiating clergy to be comfortable with presiding at the covenantal ceremony.  I will be asking questions that are part of a life long commitment ratified before God.  I need to know that there is no abuse going on.  I clarify that both parties understands divorce is not the way God intends for marriage to terminate, but to last until death parts them.  I make certain both parties desire this union and are committed to it.  I am acting on behalf of the Church and calling upon God to be witness.  I do not take that lightly.  Even as a Christian lay person that would not be the Clerk’s role, and she lacks the training and religious authority to make that judgement call.  I have no doubt at least one heterosexual couple has been issued a marriage license during her tenure for whom I would not have felt comfortable or confident performing Holy matrimony.

No government entity is requiring religious institutions to perform gay marriage ceremonies.  We are still free to keep Holy matrimony as heterosexual or as universal as we please.  Christians need to remember that there are things of God and the Church that are not tied to legal status and secular recognition.  Holy matrimony is one of them.  Even if state and federal governments suddenly stopped recognizing  Holy matrimony as legal marriage, clergy would still perform the covenant.  Just as baptisms and Holy communion have no legal bearing, they are sacred to us and have infinite value to those who partake in their grace.  Holy matrimony and services of death and resurrection (funerals) are the same.  Some Christians need to stop looking for a fight, and taking every opportunity to be outraged.  Instead, let us focus on whether we are living out the Gospel of truth, hope, and love.  There is plenty of work to be done, and fighting over legal paperwork is probably not high on Christ’s list.

A Portrait of Forgiveness


Forgiveness is a difficult thing to grasp.  It means to pardon, to absolve of guilt.  The adage “forgive and forget” is not biblical, and God never says God will not recall our sins, but rather God will forgive them when we seek forgiveness.  Forgiveness means that we are willing to clear the wrong from the slate, and seek the relationship over punitive measures.  Forgiveness is not about vengeance, but reconciliation.  We may never forget what was done, but in forgiving we promise to not hold it against the other, to wield it against them when we feel angry or hurt.  That promise is difficult, and human sinfulness would quickly and all too readily use the wrongs of the past as a weapon in a future conflict, so even as we forgive we must always be on guard not to slip back into the state that preceded our granting grace to another.

“I can never forgive.”  I have heard that many times in my life, personally and professionally.  I understand the sentiment.  I have felt the feeling, but I have also known grace from God.  I know that there have been times in my life when nothing meant anything until I had that assurance that I had been forgiven my sins.  Those times when you are seeking to be reconciled to God can be the most barren and spiritually painful of human existence.  You can feel the weight of the world and be keenly aware of the magnitude of your sin, and the shame is unbearable.  The thought of being cut off for all time from the life force and sustaining love that is the Lord even now makes my chest tight.  To recall how close I have been to that, and then remember the flood of grace into my consciousness and into the fabric of my being is a liberation like no other.  I try to remember that when I need to forgive.  I try to remember what it felt like that moment I knew that God had once more let the blood of the cross cleanse my sin sick self.  I want that knowledge and visceral feeling to motivate me to do likewise for others.

I have known my share of pain and suffering at the hands of others.  I have known the ultimate betrayal, and I have survived.  I now thrive in the aftermath of all of those times precisely because I have forgiven.  I do not seek retaliation, or suffering in kind.  That would only perpetuate the cycle of suffering, and I see no reason to continue the pain I have known.  I want it to die.  I want to hang it up on the cross and leave it there to wither and fade.  I want life and hope to grow forth from the space that forgiveness makes in me and in the lives of others.  I know the hard and too often unspoken truth that reconciliation is not synonymous with restoration, but forgiveness does not rest on the certainty of restoration.  Restoration is something God can do for us, not something that we can make happen here in this world.  Even when I have been willing and wanting, restoration has not always been possible, but the forgiveness made something new possible.  I have learned to live out a new way of being, one where I am free to leave the chains of pain and suffering in the past.  I have been liberated by Christ’s offering on the cross, and I offer that to all who offend me.

If I could paint a picture of forgiveness, it would be a small, but perfectly crafted ice sculpture of whatever image you prefer.  Its beauty carved, and meticulously so.  So lovely that we wish for it to remain that way for all time, but then sin happens, and it fractures, maybe even breaks in two.  We grasp it in our hands, holding it together as if by doing so we could will it to mend.  Yet the image has been destroyed from the form it once held.  Our hands become cold, achingly cold.  We could open them and let what remains of the sculpture fall to the ground and shatter, or we could let the life blood within us circulate in our hands, warming and morphing.  With time, it becomes transformed from the application of body heat, and the ice melts.  Water rushes out from every seam.  It flows between our fingers and down our arms.  It drops to the ground and nourishes whatever lies beneath the soil.  Something hidden and unknown soaks in the life-giving water, and will grow forth in time.  But now our hands are free, liberated to open and grasp something new.  They may reach out to others, or clasp themselves in prayer.  They can become the means by which we help what was thirsty under the ground and out of sight emerge and thrive.  While we thought we would hold tight to that ice sculpture forever and wanted nothing more than to do just that, we now have the opportunity to do something different, but just as loving and amazing.  Perhaps if the other is willing, we will carve a new sculpture together, or maybe we will accept that the sculpture of before is forever lost.  Either way, God wants to help us discover a new purpose for our hands and our lives.

God wants to let forgiveness be the beginning of healing and a new wholeness, not just for us, but for the other one too.  If you have pain and have suffered at the hands of another, then forgiveness is not something God is making you do.  Forgiveness is something God models for us, so that we can discover how incredible it is to be emancipated from the bitterness suffering breeds.  Rancor would suffocate the life out of the spirit, smothering the joy God intends for every person.  Forgiveness is opening the door to a world of hope and new blessings, unknown but promised in Christ.

What Worship Really Means


This past Sunday, during the 9:45 Emergent Worship service I lead, I was preaching on the Minor Prophet Zephaniah, whose prophecy emphasized the deterioration of worship by God’s people, and the ways in which the leaders had contributed to this decline.  There are other messages in the book, but worship kept jumping out at me each time I sat with the text.  Through the discernment process over the course of the week before, I kept thinking that I often hear people incorrectly interchange worship with private devotion.  I address this in my sermon, an educational moment if God ever presents one.

Worship is corporate in Christianity, and underscored by Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20 NRS).  Christ tells is that when two or more gather in his name, as we do in communal worship, then he is present too.  Not only is Christ in our midst, but he is made manifest in a miraculous way: the transformation of a group of Christians into the Body of Christ.  This transformation and real presence of Christ is one of the things that cannot be duplicated by an individual Christian, and I suspect that Jesus thought it would be hubris for any one person to think they could fully manifest God the Son on their own.  As clergy, I cannot do it all by myself either.  My God appointed role is to lead others in worship, and whether that is just one other person or a thousand, my purpose is the same, but requires at least one other person to fulfill it.  Honestly, I enjoy being able to lead a large gathering in our worship, but mostly because it is powerful to hear many voices united in proclaiming the mighty acts of God, singing the praises of the Lord, and lifting up their prayers as one.  It is not about me, but us together.

Personal devotion is just as important, and bridges the gap that would exist between Sunday worship of one week and the next.  Acts of devotion include: reading Scripture, being part of small groups like Bible Studies and prayer meetings, family and personal prayer, spiritual disciplines like fasting and abstinence, and singing hymns and other sacred music.  While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does give some insight into the kinds of religious acts and activities that are important for individual Christians to grow their faith, deepen their wisdom, and sustain them over the course of time and during the midst of tribulations.  God gave us these means of grace knowing that worship once a week for an hour or so would not be enough.  A decade of ministry and a lifetime as a Christian confirms this.  Worship is crucial, but it also needs additional commitment and fuel of personal devotion.  Just as no personal devotion could ever fill the void that exists when we do not come before the Lord to worship together in community.

We worship together to give glory to God and praise for the blessings we have received.  We also benefit from God graciously granting us God’s presence during worship, offering us insight into God’s Word through its proclamation and expounding in sermons, and being in the midst of others like us.  As I said Sunday, we are not perfect or worthy to be in worship before God.  We are those who recognize our need for God and God’s grace, and come to give our gratitude for receiving it through Christ Jesus.  We come together with other imperfect and sinful vessels to be filled with hope, God’s love, and the limitless grace for those who repent, which we also do in worship.  It is in the context of worship that we take part in the sacraments, those tangible signs of God’s grace: baptism and holy communion.  During both sacraments, God cleanses us of the guilt we incur from our sin and discover justifying grace, which empowers us to go forth as renewed people freed from sin and death.  However, we will all sin again, even if it is only unintentional sin, so we can come back to worship, continuously take holy communion, and receive the grace that comes from confessing our sin and receiving forgiveness.

As clergy, I can see the vast difference between the time when I am clearly engaged with my personal devotion and when I am not.  My personal devotion fuels my passion and productivity in worship.  It strengthens my connection to God through the Holy Spirit and that bond bears fruit.  I come to exist in a framework of theological reflection, filtering everything I hear, see, and encounter through the lens of Christ.  It provides me with limitless material for sermons, lessons, worship series, and blog posts, not to mention prayers.  It becomes a means by which I provide current, contextual reflections for my congregation.  It makes me a better pastor while making me a better Christian.  When I am in a vibrant, healthy place in my personal devotion, then I am able to take the worship I lead to the next level also.  I believe this to be a reciprocal statement for lay persons as well.  I notice who sings with passion, singing the words as if they were your own.  I hear those who speak the creeds and affirmations of faith with conviction.  I can see the engagement on your face when I am preaching, and see the Holy Spirit moving through you as we worship.

So worship really isn’t about us.  It has always been about God, and the community within which God is calling us to take our rightful place.  We come as individuals to be melded into the Body of Christ, and we depart to carry that experience back into our lives, the spheres of influence that comprise our world.  While back in our daily lives, we partake in the various means by which God connects to us, and sustains us until we can all come back together again in worship, and share in the rejuvenation that it brings to those who yearn for God.  Worship and personal devotion are not the same, nor can one be a complete substitute for the other.  They complement one another, and bring us to a fuller faith, a more mature relationship with God.  The Church must respect the vital role of personal devotion and individual Christians must honor the place of worship in their faith.  Together we will all grow into the Body of Christ God has called us to from the moment of our creation.