Saturday, December 15, 2012

My response to tragedy

I pray that the God who breathed the breath of life into humanity, who listens to eir children, who even sent a messiah into this world to proclaim eir love, who came back after being murdered and said, "Tend my sheep" (love my people),  can be felt in the world today.  There is so much tragedy, so much heartache, and I just pray that people are able to sense God's love despite the tragedy of human sin.  I fully believe that God weeps with us, and laments with us.  I believe God holds all those who can barely breathe because of grief in eir loving hands.  I believe that God does not cause tragedy, unfortunately humans have the power to do great evil, but God will always be there for the wounded after tragedy strikes. 
I cannot say what should or should not be done after tragedy, but I do hope that people can find God despite the carnage and the wreckage. If they need to, I pray that people are able to take their anger and deepest grief to God.  If they need to scream and yell at God, I pray that they are allowed to do so.  I believe that God can take their words and I know God will still hold them when the anger leads to sobbing. From the depths of despair, the depths of Sheol, we can always cry to God.  
I pray that we are able to give our responses to tragedy over to God, and somehow God can redeem acts of despicable human violence.  That is what I pray for our world today. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Christian Education Rant

I was talking with a friend about issues within the church universal.  The subject quickly turned to the devaluation of young people in the church. Now I'm not talking about the need to have young adult representatives or youth representatives involved in church functions.  I've been there and done that, and most of the time I had to wonder, "Am I here because of my age or am I here because I can really help you out?" and the answer was usually that I was young. (Side note: Have you ever noticed that the younger you are at a church meeting, the more attention you get? It's usually not the kind of attention where people are honestly taking in your ideas, critiquing and incorporating them if they benefit the church, it's usually the "oh my gosh, someone under 40's actually here" kind of attention) I'm talking about the refusal of the church to do real Biblical studies with their young members.  Of course, the church has a hard time doing real Biblical studies with their adults, but that's why I think it's especially important to do them with the youngest among us.  Somehow we think that youth want to watch DVDs where random people talk to them about "issues" and maybe give them a piece of scripture to tie everything together.  Youth group often devolves into "Let's play games and do a morality lesson so we can be better people".  That's not going to grow our church or create authentic disciples.  Give the kids scripture, give them the conflicts of the texts. I think youth Sunday School should look a lot more like my Old Testament class and a lot less like goof off hour.  It should be engaging, they should be diving in, learning about conflicts in the texts, looking at extra-Biblical sources and trying to figure out what this God they worship actually looks like.  Of course that involves training teachers, so there'd have to be a commitment of the adults involved in our youth programs to study and struggle themselves, but there's no reason why they couldn't do that right along with the kids.  It would have to involve someone actually putting out a decent Bible study program or the priest/pastor getting involved and using the Biblical knowledge they accrued in seminary, but I think it could be beautiful.  Imagine if what was taught in the seminary classroom was commonly taught in our churches, in our Sunday School classrooms, to our teenagers and young adults.  What if people knew what modern Biblical studies scholarship actually said about the Bible?  What if it was actually relevant to how the church operated?
Now, I say this, but I'm not a youth person.  I don't know much about working with youth or anything like that.  Also, I don't think I'd necessarily be the most effective at implimenting a change in our Christian Educational system. All I know is that if we want to have effective and relevant disciples of Christ, we need to teach people about the God they follow and the Bible they read.  We might as well start with the young ones, because if they don't find relevance in the church in their younger years, they probably won't be around when they're older.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Becoming Episcopalian

I am officially becoming part of the Episcopal communion on Sunday and I assume that many people are curious about this new development in my life.  Why on earth am I leaving the United Methodist Church and becoming Episcopalian?  Am I really making the right decision? First I'd like to say, I've asked myself those questions over and over again.  They make me stop and ponder what it is that God is doing in my life right now.
I guess I always assumed I'd be United Methodist forever.  I was a third generation United Methodist, it connected me to my grandparents on both sides, and I was proud of that fact.  I was an active church member, I was an intern at my church, I served my Annual Conference, I was a leader.  Why would I leave something I knew so well and had a passion for?
I can say this: I'm not leaving because I have a major problem with the church.  There were no fights, no heated discussions that turned me away.  I am not leaving out of anger or malice.  I'm leaving partially because I think the denominational structure is too big. I love the congregation I was a part of and the Annual Conference I was a part of, but I disagree with having large overarching structure that puts out a Book of Discipline and tries to run an effective and efficient church in that manner.  I think that the system has become cumbersome and has held back church progress.  That's not to say that I don't believe that churches should be structured and organized, I am after all joining a church with bishops and a loose national structure, I just think the global structure of the United Methodist Church is too rigid.  It doesn't allow for regional differences in belief systems within the global church.  Who is to say that rules about how to structure your church that comes from white middle class Americans really works for the African church? As I looked more into the structure and system of the national and global United Methodist Church, I began to seriously question whether following one Book of Discipline was really something that was best for the church.  I began to also seriously doubt if I could connect myself with the Book of Discipline in my own personal ministry life.  There were some rules that I simply did not feel comfortable with, and I am not going to go against rules and regulations set out by my church.  I am not a rebel, I cannot knowingly break rules.  It makes me uncomfortable and makes me feel guilty. And I kept thinking questions like, "What if one day my friends want me to officiate their wedding and I have to say no because they are a same sex couple?" It would break my heart and I questioned whether I could stand in a United Methodist pulpit after something like that happened.
All that being said, those are the reasons why I began to question the United Methodist Church.  They are not the reason why I'm becoming Episcopalian.  That was a much more natural thing, something that began the first week of seminary and has progressed since then.  It all began the first week of orientation with a friendship. Since I have not asked his permission to mention him on my blog, I shall call him "D".  D is an Episcopal Studies student and we became close friends fast.  One Sunday he took me to his favorite Episcopal Church in town, and I was struck by the liturgy and the emphasis on Eucharist.  I enjoyed the service.  So when D asked me if I wanted to go to the Evensong service at school, of course I said yes.  Things progressed and soon I was hanging out with Episcopal students and Br. K, the abbot of an order of monks in town invited me over to the monk house.  As soon as I started doing complines with the monks, I was sold.  I loved how everything was so scripturally based and so meaningful.   I of course resisted the idea of becoming Episcopal every step of the way.  I was United Methodist, it was part of my heritage.  But the more I was at Episcopal services and doing the daily offices, the more I needed it.  The liturgy and eucharist soothes my  soul. The use of scripture in almost every aspect of the service is enriching and enlivens me. I walk away nourished.  When I talked to one of the Episcopal bishops, I learned about a church that isn't as structured denominationally and has a lot of leeway and freedom within each diocese to do as they see proper within their context. This both terrifies me and excites me. So I'm joining the Episcopal Studies program at school and I'm joining the Episcopal church.  It's honestly one of the scariest decisions I've ever made, but I am so happy with it.  I can't wait to be a priest, to preside over the table, to lead people in morning prayer.  I am free to be me, and I am in a church structure that supports me.  That's why I'm becoming Episcopalian.