GUEST POST: Disciples Take Their Faith Public

This past Sunday my congregation was honored to welcome a guest, the Rev. Gloria Yi, into our pulpit to preach.  She was and is a gift to our church, and her powerful words, proclaimed in the aftermath of an incredibly emotional week for so many folks, were well-needed.  As a pastor, I give thanks for voices like Gloria, for she was able to preach a truth that I sincerely needed to hear at a time when I felt ill-equipped to speak myself.  Her words are printed, along with the lectionary for that day, with her permission, below:

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Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

The Gospel According to Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Today is described as an ordinary Sunday in our Christian calendar, the 33rd proper ordinary Sunday according to the lectionary… but for us in this nation that has elected our new President, it is anything but ordinary or proper… for some of us, today, marks the first Sunday of a new heaven and new earth. And for other of us, today marks the first Sunday in which nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. So you are either super excited and hopeful for what the future holds, or you are utterly shocked and fearful for the imminent doom.

Children have not escaped the divisive rhetoric and some modeled this divisiveness at bus stops, inside the bus, and at schools. And we adults have certainly not helped them mend this divide. The best that we came up with was, when they go low, you go high. And even in trying to bring civility back to rhetoric we created another set of labels: low class and high class. And nodded our heads in accord saying, that it’s just words, and both sides spewed out words that has torn our nation in half.

So I am going to read you this poem that went viral on the internet about two years ago. It’s included in your bulletins: Chanie Gorkin wrote this poem when she was in 11th grade, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. I’m not reading the last line, because she wrote this when she was in 11th grade and I think it is much better without the last line.

Worst Day Ever?

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because, when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be attained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say

Today was a very good day

 

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,

[You’ll see how I really feel.]

The genius of this poem becomes evident only if you read it top to bottom and then bottom to top. If you read it only from top to bottom, then today is the worst day ever. If you read it only from bottom to top, then today is a very good day. But if you read it both top to bottom and then bottom to top, then the Christian calendar is correct… today is just an ordinary Sunday, not the beginning of a new heaven and new earth nor the beginning of Armageddon. Today is the day of Lord. And the biblical passages that we read today declares that indeed, whether described as utopia or an apocalypse, everyday is the day of the Lord.

So it is no wonder that Isaiah’s description of utopia in chapter 65 finds wolves and lambs feeding together and the promise that ferocious and poisonous animals will not hurt or destroy us, but it is surprising to see that utopia also requires labor: building of houses, planting of vineyards, and literal labor of giving birth. In Luke’s description of the apocalypse we find the expected famine, earthquake and plagues but then surprisingly we also discover the promise that not a hair in your head will perish despite of all the persecution you will endure. And the biblical text insists and persists in declaring that no matter how we label our day, no matter what happens in each day, each day belongs to our Lord. For both in utopia and in Armageddon God is in control. And in both types of days we are asked to continue doing our part, continue working hard, enduring hardship, and trusting and witnessing the fulfillment of the outrageous promises that God makes… we will not be hurt or destroyed to the point that even if all hell breaks loose, not a hair in our head will perish, sorry, George, if you already lost your hair I guess this promise doesn’t apply to you, which actually means that you are never going to experience Armageddon.

And so I can make you laugh a little from this pulpit on this ordinary Sunday, but I was not laughing this whole week since Tuesday night. Fear entered my personal space as I felt that I woke up in a foreign land, in a land that might echo the childhood chant that I heard one too many times, “why don’t you go back to where you came from.” And it would be a lie to say that in this fear I didn’t fostered anger, because I did, particularly anger against white men. And so I sat with my grief, fears and anger. I cried out to God and as I sat there, I remembered a Mr. Roger’s song, “What do you do with the mad that you Feel?”  and the lyrics go on… I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this. And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside. That helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a woman. And a boy can be someday a man. And so I stopped and searched youtube for everything related to Mr. Rogers, an old white man who taught me and convinced me through the television screen that he liked me, I would hear him again, “It’s you I like, every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new, I hope you’ll remember, even when you feel blue, it’s you I like, it’s you I like.” And this old white Presbyterian minister who has gone to heaven ahead of us still ministered to me, and reminded me that today is an ordinary, beautiful day in the neighborhood of the United States of America.

I remembered his most moving Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award acceptance speech, I remembered his interview with Charlie Rose in which the self-proclaimed pundit and beloved newscaster slowed down and had moments of confession and reflection on national television as Mr. Rogers answered Charlie’s questions. As Mr. Rogers highlighted the importance of influence that television has and the essential need to capture wonder rather than information, create room for silence in a world filled with noise. Mr. Rogers told Charlie that he had a plaque in his office with the phrase, “What’s essential is invisible to the eye”, an ironical phrase to be found for someone in the business of utilizing a camera lens, and so Charlie Rose asked Mr. Rogers, “What can’t we see about you that is essential?” And Mr. Rogers answered, you can’t see my spiritual life unless you ask me about it, you can’t see my family life, and he went on to tell Charlie, the things that are center stage are rarely the things that are most important.” And then, Mr. Rogers asked Charlie, “What’s essential to you, Charlie?” To have a satisfying life that has a connection to something larger than you and to know I made a difference. Mr. Rogers is the most pastoral person, and he asked, “Have you known anybody who was satisfied and did not make a difference?” And Charlie answered, “They want to be recognized and want something larger than life, and benefit their world, neighborhood, and their world.” And without condemnation but just sheer modeling, Mr. Rogers taught a lesson worth relearning today: He took Charlie’s definition of the essential as satisfaction from doing the most good that benefits others and compared it with his definition of the essential. By Mr. Roger’s definition, the essential is getting a hug from a down syndrome child at the end of a long work day.   And Mr. Rogers unwrapped that by explaining: I want to be the best receiver, graceful receiving is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give anybody.

So what are the essentials that disciples do to make their faith public? They become graceful receivers who eat together. If you are a democrat, you need to gracefully receive a republican neighbor (yes, the one with the Trump/Pence sign still on their lawn) over for dinner, lunch, or at least a cup of coffee—don’t offer them tea, it’s not a tea party! If you are a republican, you need to gracefully receive that democrat co-worker, (yes, the one who openly made fun of Trump and is enraged and in tears, who will wear yoga pants every single day of her life as a protest against men) and take her out to lunch. Let her fume. She’s not so much grieving the loss of Hilary Clinton, but the loss of a possible history making moment of having a woman president (if this doesn’t make sense to you, just keep on chewing your food slowly and be quiet and gracefully receive her venting). When the donkey and the elephant feed together, we gracefully receive one another, we don’t pass up the opportunity to testify that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. For everyday is the day that the Lord has made. Let’s us learn to receive each day graciously, for our Lord tells us that each of us whites and colored, democrats and republicans are a delight to our Maker, so much so that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die for us, so that in Christ, we may be united on this ordinary day and everyday. Amen.


Gloria Yi is an Associate Pastor at Woodside Presbyterian Church in Yardley, PA. Gloria Yi came to Woodside in 2004 to work with the children and youth with her late husband, Steve Yi. God blessed them with Emmanuella Yi (Ella), and allowed them to shine God’s light in joy and sorrow. Gloria’s favorite group to work with is the junior high age group, believing that critical spiritual decisions can be made by the age of 12, as Jesus was found at the temple discussing with the teachers. She enjoys having the youth group over to her house, going to the beach, having heart-to-heart discussions, and trying any new cuisine.

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Theology 101: Faith

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!


Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

IMG_6087.JPGA gardener decided to plant a garden.

She started the fall before, picking the perfect spot—for days, she watched the suns daily movement across her land, until she knew the pattern of light well enough to know that that patch, over there, past the oak tree, near the dam, would get the best morning and afternoon light. She tested the soil and squealed with delight to find it rich and nourishing, perfect for what she had planned.

Only then did she set to work—tilling the soil within her plot, pulling out stones, removing the roots of distant trees snaking beneath the soil, digging up those intrepid volunteer weeds that would not be able to share this space with what she had planned.

And then, because she knew there were plenty of foragers who might be tempted by her garden, she laid a fence. No scavengers or menaces would be welcomed here. She buried it a foot into the ground to keep out the groundhogs and rabbits, and hoped that the four feet would be enough to deter the deer that year.

As the winter frosts set in and the sun retreated earlier and earlier into the night sky, she began to plan—poring over seed catalogues, planning out the garden of her dreams on paper, plotting each plant to ensure the best possible yield. She ordered seeds—tomatoes and corn, beans and lettuce, beets, potatoes, cabbage and celery, herbs upon herbs and FLOWERS—And then she waited for the mailman to bring her treasures to her front door.

In February, her garden lay frozen beyond the oak tree, but she continued to work for her garden, starting the tiny little seeds in unassuming flats of soil on shelves in her basement. Every morning, she checked the grow lamp, water levels, tended to her babies as though they were her most precious possession. She counted the days until the final frost had passed, sowing carrots, peas, beets and lettuce in neat rows of dark, damp loam.

In the mornings, she began to sip her coffee on the porch and laughed at the rabbits as they hopped around the fence, unable to find their way in.

In late spring, she brought her little babies out of the basement and set them on the porch—seeds that had become tomatoes and eggplants, peppers and cabbage, herbes upon herbs and FLOWERS—and she laid them in their plots. She put cages around the tomatoes and built trellises for the beans and the cucumbers, piled the dirt upon the beginnings of potatoes and corn, and when all was finished, she sat back on her porch, tired and satisfied, and waited for it to grow.

She waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In June, she started to get worried. The plants were growing, alright, but they weren’t setting any fruit. Her carrots were spindly, and her lettuce was as pokey as could be. What was wrong with the garden that she had planted? There were no pests to be found—the rabbits, the groundhogs, even the bugs had left her patch to itself. Only the bees zipped around, seeking in vain for the flowers that refused to emerge.

In July, she got angry—not even the hint of an eggplant or a tomato to be seen. All of that labor was threatening to yield nothing more than a few sparse salad greens and whole lot of frustration. She had a stern talking to her plants, and then retreated to her porch, stewing as the sun set in the sky.

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What then, do you suppose she should do in August, when nothing has changed? She has done everything right, and these plants she had tended lovingly, they have refused to do the one thing that ought to come naturally to them—they have refused to bear fruit. Would we blame her if, in her frustration, she gave up entirely? Ripped out the plants, the fence, the trellis and the tomato cages, plowed under the garden and let the grass overtake it once more?

I can relate to her—for years now, I have been tending the roses in the back yard of the manse, willing them to flower. And I have done everything I could for these plants that I did not even choose—when we moved here, Sean Pope helped us cut down the weed trees that choked out the light. We weeded, we mulched, we fertilized. When Japanese beetles and rose slugs and aphids emerged, I picked them off, sprayed them with garden soap, smothered them in a bucket of soapy water. Most of the roses have responded gratefully, and this spring their blooms were overwhelming and received with joy.

Except for one. One sickly, spindly, leggy rose in the corner by the nursery has flat out refused to flourish. Despite my best efforts, it has produced little more than a handful of pale pink blossoms on the end of sickly, leggy, stalks. Nothing I have done for it has worked.

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And so, it will go. This fall, three summers into this rescue mission, it will go the way of all ungrateful plants, and make room for something that will do something with the plot of land that it has been given. There just isn’t room in our yard to be wasted on roses that refuse to bloom.

Am I sad? Of course. I didn’t plant that rose, but I tended to it like it was my own. It received the same attention and care that I gave to everything else—the dahlias and Echinacea, tomatoes and tulips that grace the earth. But unlike them, it didn’t seem to care how much time or attention I gave it. And so, I will save my efforts for those corners of my garden that show promise. They haven’t given up on me, and I won’t give up on them.

Of course, this was never really about a garden, was it? In our first lesson this morning, Isaiah speaks in metaphors—and when he speaks of the garden, we know that what he means is the people of God. That God is like a gardener who planted his people, who gave them everything they needed to flourish. And in our text today, perhaps we find ourselves threatened as God tears down the walls and leaves his garden to perish. Or perhaps we are intimated by Paul’s list of all of the faithful gardens of the past, whose examples seem impossible to follow.

But there is another way to read these lessons. Perhaps we can take heart in the knowledge that God has given us absolutely everything that we need to flourish. That if we are God’s garden, we have amazing potential. We have been given the same care and attention that God gave to the Israelites in the desert, to the judges and the kings, the prophets and the martyrs, who at the end of the day were ordinary people who trusted that the Gardener would stand with them in extraordinary times.

The truth is that the garden that is Ivyland Presbyterian Church could produce the most amazing fruit—enough to feed everyone. And like any good garden of the people, we have so many different gifts to share. Spiritual tomatoes and corn, potatoes and eggplant, peppers and celery, herbs upon herbs upon herbs and FLOWERS! And none of us isn’t important. We all have a purpose. Remember, the tomato and the corn may seem like the king of the garden, but they are stronger for the carrots and marigolds and beans that provide additional nourishment, deter pests, and encourage the bees to take a visit. And the herbs—they provide so much flavor to our communal life with so little.

I could beat this metaphor into the ground, of course, but the point is this: when we see ourselves as the garden that God made us to be, then we see that what comes naturally, what we would call faith, is the work of learning to live together. That what comes naturally is supporting one another, encouraging one another, loving one another, because together we are far better than we are alone. Together, we have everything we need. Together, we make the most beautiful garden you have ever seen. A garden of justice, of mercy, of kindness, and righteousness.

And that, my friends, is what faith looks like. It looks like a garden of people, planted by God, filled with the goodness and promise of harvest. People doing what they were made to do, because they trust in the Gardener who made them and who tends them still. And that, brothers and sisters, is pleasing to God.

 

Church and State

    Yesterday morning I read that the IRS is investigating the UCC because of a speech given by presidential candidate Barack Obama at general synod. It appears that the distinction between church and state may have been breached because Obama, who has always identified as UCC, accepted an invitation to give a speech to his own denomination during their general synod.  According to what I have managed to read so far, the crowd at the synod, which most definitely included a wide spectrum of political opinions, was informed and warned before Obama took the stage that the speech was not in any way campaign-related, but rather was intended (ironically, in retrospect) to address the question of “how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service.”  Personally, I think that is a great idea and probably was a wonderful speech.  Obama is known, at least in the circles in which I move, for his ability and desire to live out his faith through his work, and it strikes me as fitting that the UCC would call upon one of their own, an inspiring young representative of our often-times uninspiring government, to infuse the denomination and especially the youth and young adults of their denomination with a bit of hope for the future.

So then, I can’t help but wonder, what does it mean when a candidate who happens to be a person of faith is disallowed from speaking publicly within his or her denomination?

Considering the  close relationship that President Bush likes to appear to keep with Christianity in general and the religious rhetoric that he has consistently injected into not only his presidency but into the campaign that got him there, it strikes me as odd that Barack is the one who is getting in trouble.  It seems like just yesterday that discussions of Obama and faith centered on the question of his relationship to Islam rather than Christianity.

But really the point here is the sad fact that the UCC, a wonderfully hopeful and vibrant community of Christians, may be forced to pay the price for supporting one of their own.  If the IRS determines that the UCC is at fault, then they may lose their tax-exempt status, and anyone who knows anything about the church knows that the UCC cannot afford that kind of blow.

At this point, it is unclear how this is going to end up.  As for me, I can only continue to pray that the UCC and those who are affiliated with them, as well as other denominations and their memberships who will no doubt be affected by this decision, can continue to feel safe and encouraged to live out their faith publicly and to talk about it with others.  I pray that those who devote their lives to public service might feel encouraged to speak about their work with others, whether in a church or a meeting house or a general synod.  And I will continue to pray that separation of church and state will be used as it was intended rather than as a means of silencing people of faith.

Drumroll…

update on my last post– things went well!  I was recommended by my CPM for candidacy and will be appearing in the presence of Presbytery on April 5th…. so soon too! 

As for the process, I will say that this time around was much less nerve-wracking than the previous two meetings with CPM, which is weird because I was expecting the experience of moving to candidacy to be much more stressful.  Instead, I found myself once more in the company of good and gracious folks, faithful Christians intent on helping folks like me discern my place in God’s plan.  They were ever so kind, ever so obviously intent on walking alongside me rather than standing in my way, and as a result I left that meeting feeling built up in the way I believe we are intended to feel.

As for particulars, here are the sorts of questions I was asked:

1) What sort of frustrations have you experienced as you practice ministry?

2) How has the academic environment at Harvard shaped your ministry?

3) With which biblical character do you most relate?

4) How do you understand the mission and task of pastor outside the walls of the particular church?

5) What gifts for ministry have you discovered during your internship?

Really, it was a wonderful experience.  I felt as though I was able to talk about my experiences authentically, which is more than I can say for many of my friends who unfortunately have found this process to be much more stressful in their own presbyteries.  On every account I was affirmed, and in fact I cannot recall a single moment in that meeting where I felt that I was being judged or criticized. 

I feel almost like its bragging to say this went so well, but the fact is that I know that it only went well because the Holy Spirit is truly present with that committee.  I could feel God in those people so strongly, and in turn was able to feel confidently that God is working through me, even when I cannot see it clearly.  In fact I often question my call, and the most vulnerable aspect part of being in that room was knowing that my future is not in my hands.  Then again, to know that other people are walking alongside me, and that when I fail to see God acting through me they are there to reassure me that God is indeed present in my life,  that is truly a blessing that cannot be ignored.

Into the fire

It’s D-Day.  And by D-Day, I mean my annual CPM meeting.  Now, granted, I love my CPM.  They are great folks and I every year I leave with the sense that they are truly committed to this process.  They are loving and supporting (and to my knowledge none of them read this blog so, no, I am not lying or embellishing.  They really rock.).

But then again, every year I find myself so nervous as I approach that meeting.  This year is no different, and if anything it gets worse because I am finally applying to be moved to candidacy.  This year I was asked to bear my theological soul, bite the bullet and put in writing what I believe about God and ministry and my calling.  And I did it, but doing it makes me vulnerable to these people in a way that I wasn’t before.  Things which before were only mine (my dreams, my beliefs, my fears) are now in their hands, and they can choose to accept them or criticize them at will.  It’s as profoundly scary as it is empowering, and I can only hope that I would remember God is in that room with me, and with them.  Because God is in that room.

 But just in case…. pray for me, would ya?

In the Struggle there is Hope

I went on a retreat a few weeks back with my fellow seminarians where we spent almost two days in seclusion on the property of some Cistercian nuns in Southern Massachusetts. It was a great experience for me, to a great extent because it was intentional space set apart from the world around me, space in which I could think and reflect before diving into a new semester. It was meant to provide peace and comfort, community and grace to those of us who came.

And it did. For in many ways, now that I am in the thick of classes, and feeling the beginnings of stress again, that retreat reminds me that it is always possible to set aside time for oneself. One of the most meaningful things that we did while we were there, actually, was to practice silence. Which can be lonely, but in a room full of people, it felt so full and spiritual. I was also touched by the rituals in which we partook. At the end of the retreat, in particular, we were asked to each write something to ourselves, something that we wished to take with us when we left the retreat center. Then, we placed our wishes for ourselves in a bowl and each of us picked a new wish to take with ourselves out of the bowl. My new message said the following:

“Be at peace with the struggles and joys of the journey– you are on the right path.”

I cannot tell you how often I have found myself returning to that small piece of lined yellow paper in the past few weeks. For this semester has not been easy. I had begun my spring thinking that I had addressed the major problems and concerns of my last semester, confident that this was the time to figure them out, to explore more intentionally what was meaningful to me and to be unabashedly myself. Then I watched in disbelief as my safety net began to crumble. My character was attacked by a fellow student. Then my roommate began to have problems. I found myself being attacked by those who are in pain themselves, people whom I did not ever try or intend to hurt, but people who nonetheless feel hurt by me. I began to wonder– is this where God wants me? Did I take a wrong turn? Why all of this suffering, God?

And still I wonder. I am worried out of my mind for my roommate, who becomes more paranoid by the day and whom I feel helpless to aid. The issues that surround that such that I don’t want to go into it on a blog, but I can say that she is very hurt and that many of the things that I believe in and participate in, both in school and in faith, are painful for her.

How does one protect oneself when the one who is attacking her does it not out of anger but rather of pain? Knowing my roommate, she is a kind person who is suffering. I feel as though I am targeted by her because of what I represent, but at the same time I know that what I represent and how i relate to the world makes her feel unsafe and attacked. Who is to blame then? How does one heal? What can we do? These are all questions that I have no answers to. I can only hope there is an answer somewhere, and trust in the little yellow sheet and the soul that formed it, that there is hope in this struggle, that there is peace, and that this is the journey I was meant to take.

One less hoop…

So today, whilst many a folk was probably enjoying the weather, or reading a nice book, or whatever folk do, I was doing the final preparations to send my forms for candidacy to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in San Jose, CA who oversees and handles my ordination. It was a pretty big deal, because this year I am requesting to be moved from the status of “inquirer” to “candidate”, indicating that I am fairly certain that my call is within the church and request that they confirm that call. Overall it requires a lot of paperwork and even more spiritual discernment. And to be honest, it took me over 3 months to finally finish the questions, because I found that whenever I sat down to write about them I would end up reflecting on the meaning of the questions for hours. I think that is better, actually, but it ended up being an intensive process that I, for one, am relieved to take out of my own hands and finally place in the hands of the committee.

I guess I thought that, in honor of finishing that process, I might finally make public my statement of faith, probably the most important part of this process. I am quite proud of it, but I also know that it will probably change as I learn more about God and faith and the church. I also have realized in writing it how valuable of a process it is, because by writing a statement of faith I had to think about what I really do believe and then find a way to express that belief.

So here you go. Enjoy. (as a note, the references in my statement of faith are to places within our Book of Confessions that are in line with my theology).

STATEMENT OF FAITH

I believe in a “living and true God” who was and is ever present in the unfolding drama of this world, a God who “created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image,” a God who does not love a single created thing any more or less than any other and whose “sovereign love is a mystery beyond the reach of our minds” (WCF, BSF, Conf. of 1967). That same God cries out in solidarity with a world that is lost, a world that often fails to see God’s grand vision for this place. This God seeks constantly to “act with justice and mercy to redeem creation,” to set right what has been wronged, to teach us to live not in this world but in the possibility of this world (BSF). I believe in a God who walks beside us, who both rejoices and laments with us, who seeks always to challenge us to imagine and to work towards a way of living that more fully realizes God’s vision for this beautiful but fragile planet.

I believe in a God whose “reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery,” a God who loved this world so much as to be willing to die for it (Confession of 1967). God’s sacrificial love for this creation was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s “eternal wisdom, the substance of God’s own glory,” the one called “Immanuel” by the prophets (SC). Christ lived and worked alongside creation, giving of himself completely to those whom God loved. Christ taught us how to build up the kingdom of God here and now on earth through love and humility and self-sacrifice. Christ’s life and Christ’s message of hope are recalled to the church through the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s act of reconciliation, both in death and life, makes possible the reconciliation of humanity to God through grace, love of justice and love of neighbor.

I believe in the Holy Spirit who moves within the lives of us all, “comforting us and abiding with us forever” (HC). The Holy Spirit is the still small voice of God in our hearts which “creates and renews the church as the community,” encouraging us in our lives as we seek to live more fully in God, with God, of God (Conf. of 1967). That Holy Spirit guides us through our daily living as divine inspiration, lending us vision and courage as we seek to love our neighbor and our God more fully. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts as we are born into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.

It is in this God, a God of infinite and indescribable love and grace, a God who inspires me to look beyond myself and to participate with my whole mind and soul in the glorious work of reconciling the world “to whom alone I must cleave, whom alone I must serve, whom only I must worship, and in whom alone I put my trust” (SC).