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United Methodist Social Principles: Rights of Children

Iowa has recently become embroiled in a debate over school vouchers. I should clarify, the most recent iteration of the debate around education in Iowa has centered around Educational Savings Accounts (ESA’s) that would use tax dollars to fund students who choose private school, online learning, or homeschooling to receive their education. You can read the bill here https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=87&ba=HSB651  Part of the argument in favor of this bill is that it will create a market environment where public schools will have to do better to compete with the other options. The irony of this argument is, of course, that they will have to be better with even less money, and our public schools have been losing funding for years now.

I’m excited to say that the Iowa United Methodist Conference Lobbyists all declared themselves as against the ESA bill. (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/lobbyist/reports/declarations?ga=87&ba=HSB651)

In light of these events, I have become convicted about the fact that I don’t teach from the Social Principles enough. You see, in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, there are at least two Social Principles that address the education of young people.

Section III, subsection C Rights of Children contains this:

Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods

of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an

individual person of worth. All children have the right to quality education, including

full sex education appropriate to their stage of development that utilizes the best

educational techniques and insights.     

Section V, subsection E Education has this sentence:

In society, this function can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure

access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary school and to post-

secondary schools of their choice.

Now, I’m going back and teaching my people about these Social Principles that call us to ensure access to public education for all kids. This means supporting our public schools, especially since our rural students do not have easy access to private schools. We could argue about the online or the homeschooling option, but this privileges parents/guardians who are able to stay home with their students instead of working. (Because who the heck can leave a kid alone to teach themselves all day?? At best, you’d come home to a destroyed house and a kid who still hadn’t done their homework…)

We, as United Methodists, believe in the ability to reason as a powerful tool for understanding the world and, more importantly, for understanding God. It makes sense that we would advocate for our entire population being educated so that we can all reason together. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of issues and conversations we are facing as a world that we need to be able to reason through. Sharing the ability to think through these issues and act accordingly, benefits us all. Even if you have chosen to not have kids, or if your kids have already finished schooling, the education of the people around you will affect your experience of the world. (Imagine someone taking care of you in the nursing home that does not have even an elementary school education??)

I know this started as a discussion about an Iowa problem, but according to Education Week, our US Schools are C-average at best. You can see the rankings here. https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/quality-counts-2018-state-grades/report-card-map-rankings.html  Which means, at least according to this source, the entire country is struggling when it comes to education.

It’s time for us all to become United Methodists, and start advocating for the education of our young people…not just here in the US, but all over the world.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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Political Responsibility

“The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”

When reviewing the Social Principles, I was surprised that the Church challenges us to be not only concerned, but also involved with the application of public policy and ideological discourse. So many times have I heard the maxim “Don’t talk about religion, money, or politics”.

It’s fascinating, however, that the UMC would want us to become invested in a sphere of influence in society that, in American culture, outright seeks to reject us.

By no means do I believe this section of the Social Principles asks us to proselytize, but to use our social capital to give voices to those who have been muted by unlawful legislation, a platform for those who would seek equity when there is none.

Our Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace, love, and justice must extend into those taboo areas- from the dining room conversation to the front steps of the capitol.

Faith is political. Religion is political. God is political.

We must rally and use our privileges as a longstanding institution of charity, education, and justice to advocate for the oppressed; to aid in liberating those who cannot see God in their laws and their leaders.


cody

Cody C. Robinson is a Cherokee scholar from Tahlequah, Oklahoma and student at Phillips Theological Seminary. When he isn’t trying to make disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Cody spends his spare time taking too long to order at familiar restaurants and seeking the perfect grilled cheese.

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Sin?

I find the concept of sin very confusing.

I’m a pastor, you would think I should have this down, but I don’t.

I can tell you all about the definition of the word and I can teach you about what the word actually is in Greek. I can exegete (fancy church language for interpreting) some Scriptural passages for you. But it all seems to be lacking.

There are religious people who will attempt to give you lists, even Paul, author of a lot of those New Testament letters, loved his lists of things Christians should not do. The problem with these lists being the sole definition of sin is that it limits the discussion to behaviors and contexts Paul or any other list maker is familiar with.

Let me suggest another possibility that’s about half-formed in my mind. Somewhere between reading ch 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, and I-Thou by Martin Buber, this idea began to come together for me.

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

Let me give you some of my building blocks and we’ll see if you agree:

  • In the ch 5-7 of Matthew, Jesus lays out the best Christianity 101 ever. Part of His message is a list of laws that He then takes to a different place.“You have heard it said…but I tell you,” is His formula. The laws He’s referring to deal with behaviors, but Jesus takes us to a place of intention behind the behavior. Law = cheating on your significant other is bad. Jesus = the bad starts with lust. Lust is not attraction to another human being that could lead to a life-giving relationship, lust is ONLY about physical attraction and what one wishes to do to another human being.
  • In Buber’s book, Buber lays out two basic words/concepts that are at the heart of all human experience and understanding. I-You is pure experience found at the heart of human to human relationship. (Buber actually includes the possibility of an I-You moment with a tree, but we’re going to stick with people for this topic.) I-It is when analysis and manipulation jump in. Let’s just continue with our example above. I-You would experience the whole person as beautiful and would be completely present with that person for however long the encounter lasted, even if it was just momentary eye contact. I-It leaves the experience of relationship to make judgments about desirability and what it would take to advance the encounter to something physical.
  • Last piece, once we move a person from I-You to I-It, it does not matter how we treat the other person or what our behaviors are, they will be able to read our intention on some level and it will alter the relationship. Back to the lust. It does not matter how sweet and noble we act if all we’re thinking about is how to use the other person. Our thoughts will change the dynamics toward the sexual somehow.
  • You could put any example in the above points: anger, impatience, the need to control, etc etc etc.

Back to my proposed understanding of sin:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

How the hell do we fight that??

I have thoughts on that and they are pretty straightforward to understand. I am stealing/modifying this from The 12 Steps.

  • We have to be aware of this tendency of ours to I-It people and admit that we cannot control it. (Romans 7:13-20 speaks to this.)
  • We have to believe in a higher power. The Triune God is my jam, particularly since Jesus enters into humanity to show us: that He gets us, how life without sin could be, and to change our relationship with God. (John 10:7-17 is my favorite but there are SO many passages about Jesus being the path to life.)
  • We have to allow God to take over our will through the power of the Holy Spirit and teach us the better way. (Back to Paul! 2 Corinthians 5:13-21)

Lists of behaviors are too easy to misinterpret and manipulate. My understanding of sin is far more challenging in a lot of ways but may actually go further in helping us heal the big problems we are facing. (Not to brag.) Imagine all the ways the world (yes, world) would be different if none of us ever lost sight of the beautiful humanity of every person? Children wouldn’t be allowed to starve, rape would be inconceivable, and the cost of war in terms of life lost would be unbearable. Not to mention the health brought to friendships, co-workers, marriages, parent-child, etc, etc, etc. The way we treat our own bodies would have to change. Even care for creation would have to change because unsustainability is deeply connected to the objectification of other people and future generations.

I am always game for a lively discussion. Thank you for reading my initial thoughts on sin.

Blessings.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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Join Us At Renewal 2018

Matt and I head to Denver next week to be a part of the Renewal 2018 Conference at Iliff School of Theology.   We are going to be recording live podcasts with presenters from the Renewal Conference, Iliff Alumni, and Current Iliff Students.  We look forward to bring you a variety of conversations over the next few weeks.

If you are in the Denver area or can make it to Denver there are still spots open for registration, just follow this link https://www.iliff.edu/renewal2018/.

If you make it to Denver hit us up we will be around and maybe you will make it on the show!

Hope to see you there!

~Zach

 

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“What is God Calling Me To Do?”

“What is God calling me to do?”  If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself that question I would have that vacation home I’ve dreamed about for so long.  For many years I questioned whether or not something was wrong with me because, unlike so many around me, I felt no calling on my life.  I felt as if I were drifting through life, working to pay the bills, feeling angry that I couldn’t find my passion, my calling.  Many nights were spent in tearful prayer, begging God to reveal a plan for my life.  I kept thinking, “There has to be more to life than this.”   I couldn’t escape the feeling that God created me for something greater than just aimless living, that surely I had a purpose.

I can’t tell you that I have answered this question of “what God is calling me to do.”  If you google this question you will find many who have attempted to answer this, and many more who are seeking answers.  So many of us want an easy answer, we want to see it in black and white – a billboard on our highway of life, “Mikel, you should ______ – Love, God.”  If only.
It’s not that easy, however, there is beauty in that.  There is much to be learned in the journey, whatever that journey looks like.  By not limiting my identity or purpose to one thing, my “calling” if you will, I have been able to live a myriad of experiences.  I have learned so much about myself.  I have discovered I am stronger than I ever believed I could be.  I have learned to depend on other people more than makes me comfortable.  I have learned to expect the unexpected and to never get so comfortable that I become complacent.  I have learned to stop comparing my callings to other people and I have learned that even those who think they have life figured out, are just as lost as the rest of us.
The danger in trying to answer the question of “what is God calling me to” is that we often forget the live the life that we were given.  We forget that God is speaking to us in the quiet, in the chaos, in the mess, in the emptiness.  We can forget that we have an opportunity to live our best lives where ever we are.  We can get so caught up in the searching we don’t realize that we are already at our destination, and that our destination can change as we change.
We tend to make things more complicated than they are.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  However, I have learned to find peace in my uncertainty in knowing that there are really only three things we need to worry about: Love God, Love others, Love yourself.  If we can manage that, even to a degree, the rest will fall into place.  Enjoy the journey.

13087918_10154164251769938_6289861413863975931_nMikel is the woman behind Zach’s beard.  She made from peppermint mocha, Christmas cheer, and adventure.  Mikel lives in North West Montana with her wonderful husband and kids.  She loves a good adventure and being in the mountains.  (Don’t tell anyone but I’m pretty sure she’s Wonder Woman!)

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Puff Sleeve Theology -6 Tips to Discover Your Calling

Two months ago, I moved back into my old room at my dad’s house – totally living the millennial dream, folks – and I discovered that my brother had convinced my dad to subscribe to Netflix. If you knew my dad, a man who refuses to use electric or gas heat in the winter because it is expensive, you would understand this feat might as well have been Harry Potter level witchcraft.

While I still have not unraveled the mystery of how my brother arranged this, it means my dad has access to the internet and Netflix. It also means, by extension, that I have access to the internet and Netflix. Since winter is coming and I live in a cold house, this is an exorbitant luxury for which I am extremely grateful…and last night, I discovered the Netflix original series, Anne with an E. As a child I loved these books, so naturally I had to watch the first episode.

It was beautifully done, but what struck me most as an adult is this little girl’s obsession with puff sleeves. She is absolutely maniacal about these sleeves, y’all. She wants them so much she speaks about them incessantly, and I feel like every other scene mentions these blasted sleeves.

(At this point, if you are wondering how Anne with an E has anything to do with God’s calling, we’re almost there.)

She is obsessed to the point she cannot let go of the possibility that one day these sleeves will adorn her tiny shoulders. She talks about them to others, imagines how they will look, and requests them at the first opportunity in her new home. Anne might be a childish fictional character, but her behavior reflects our own. When we want something badly enough, we obsess over it. We talk about whatever our obsession is constantly to anyone who will listen, we research it, we imagine it over and over again, and we often idealize it.

This connection between Anne and our own obsessive nature led me to a question. What kind of responses would I find, if I became obsessed with determining my calling? Would the answers I found be helpful or inspiring? What would I learn, if I googled – What is God calling me to do?

What I found were surprisingly well written recommendations that would help guide someone away from being merely obsessed to being meaningfully focused on discerning his or her calling.

These are the top four tips I discovered from googled blogs and articles:

  • Pray: You should be talking to God about your calling at least as much as Anne talks about puff sleeves. God does not grow weary of this conversation, so have it often.

 

  • Dive into scripture and listen carefully to what compels your heart to action: God wants you to know your purpose and fully live the abundant life Christ gives. Often the best way to discover your calling is simply to read God’s word and embrace the pieces of scripture that stir you to make the world a better place, to seek justice for those who are oppressed, and to serve as a witness of God’s amazing love.

 

  • Acknowledge that your job does not have to be your calling and that is acceptable: Your calling is far more than a profession or trade. Do your best not to limit God by determining that your calling and your job must be synonymous. God has been known to use a volunteer or two. Last time I checked Exodus, Moses didn’t get paid to drag the Israelites out of Egypt. Noah didn’t receive a commission for every animal he welcomed onto the ark and Lydia wasn’t on the clock when she provided hospitality to Paul. In fact, her secular job is what allowed her to live into a calling outside the realm of her professional work.

 

  • Trust God to help you discover your calling, but try not to be discouraged if God does not provide something tailored just for you: Our greatest calling is simply to be a disciple, who loves God and our neighbors. God might not call you to be a specialist, but God calls each of us to be practitioners of our faith. God calls us all to serve as a witness of Christ’s love and grace. The calling of discipleship transcends everything else.

 

When we are as obsessed as Anne is with puff sleeves, however, we rarely stop with Google. As I have tried to discern my calling, with my own Anne-like tendencies, I have discovered two additional recommendations that are completely obvious, but no less helpful.

 

  • Talk to other people about your calling: Family, friends, and mentors who know you best can often see your calling before you do. Listen to their words of wisdom and ask them to pray for your discernment. Lastly, listen to the people God puts on your path. God does an amazing job of confirming our gifts, talents, and calling when we listen.

 

  • Your calling can change: This is not a heretical statement. While our call to discipleship will not change, the ways in which God uses us for higher purposes can evolve and that transformative process, no matter how unnerving, can be God ordained.

I believe when our obsession with finding the “perfect” answer to the question of calling ends, then God can do the transformative work required to guide us in our callings…so let go of your perfect puff sleeves and enjoy the journey. I promise, whether you are a specialist or a disciple at-large, living your calling will be the greatest adventure of your life.


19732366_847958712354_4601996656973187886_nMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school.  After 7 years in communication, fundraising, and development serving five conferences and a short stint in fundraising consulting, I have been given the amazing opportunity to return home. Now, I am serving the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church in communications and I am beyond thrilled about this gig!  Currently, in my spare time, I am teaching my dad how to check his voicemail on his new smartphone.

 

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The Kentucky Fried Chicken Incident!

 

We can be anywhere and witness God, even in a fast food restaurant.  The question is:  Are you observant enough to know it when you see it?  

As Christians, we often go through life, wearing crosses or making some display of our faith to the public, but if someone asked you the question:  How does the fact that Christ died on the cross affect you on a daily basis?  How would you respond?   99% of people that profess to be Christians don’t know what Christ’s crucifixion provided us on a daily basis.  I saw this on a TV show recently, a researcher trying to figure out the reason that attendance is down in churches nationwide, asked that question of hundreds of professed Christians.  They had an overwhelming response of silence. (You know, when the editor of the TV story puts in the sound of crickets chirping in the darkness and the video does a close up on their blank expressions!) They know why they are Christians, because He died for us to receive eternal life in heaven.  But they didn’t know how that gift affected them in their daily lives.  

I thought on that for a while.  It is not an easy question to answer right away.  Your first thought is salvation, but we don’t witness it daily – or do we?   

Last Saturday, my family was sitting in Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It was early for the lunchtime, and the crowd hadn’t shown up yet.  We were the only ones sitting in the restaurant, and there were 4 employees in the cooking area relatively bored.  A man looking to be about 20 to 30 years old walked up to the counter.  He was cleanly dressed in fairly fashionable clothes.  He asked for a certain employee.  They asked if they could say who was asking for this girl, and he said, “No one of importance, I just want to thank her.”  This caught our attention, and we couldn’t help listening.  We were sitting in the closest table to the counter.  The girl came up to the counter, a co-worker stayed back for her protection, because they watch out for each other.  The man said to the girl, “Do you remember me?  I came in here early in the week and didn’t have the money to pay for my meal, and you paid it for me?”  At first, the girl looked at him as though she was trying to figure out if she really remembered him.  Then her face opened up like she couldn’t believe this man had come back to thank her.  He then handed her an envelope and said again, “ I just want to thank you, I hope you enjoy this” and quickly walked out.  He never spoke his name.  The co-worker looked shocked too and quickly asked the girl what was in the envelope.  She said with a smile on her face, “It’s a Caliche’s gift certificate”.  Caliche’s is a local frozen custard shop.  At that point, my family looked at each other at the table and thought, “Awww, how sweet is that”.  It was sweet of the girl to pay for the man’s meal, and sweet of him to repay her in kindness.  And by the look of this man, he was not homeless or destitute.  How many people would have paid for his lunch in the same way they would help a needy person?  We are often quick to help people who we think are worthy of our money or time based on our need to judge their situation and our need to feel good.  But sometimes, you may not be helping someone who is physically hungry; maybe you are helping someone who is spiritually hungry.  

 

There are at least four lessons here.  One, be quick to do a good deed like the KFC employee did.  Two, be purposeful in repaying kindness.  Three, while passing on the good deed in a pay it forward motion is nice, and keeps the idea of “Good Karma” going, it is also important to thank the individual who was kind to you.  Why?  Because so often, good deeds are overlooked, unappreciated, and taken for granted, and people need to have their good habits reinforced, because if they don’t get that positive feedback, they quit doing those good things and become hard hearted.  God doesn’t want us to become hard rocks, he wants to keep us tender hearted enough to not only know when to react positively, but also be able to witness when others do it.  The fourth lesson is about the man who paid the girl back.  He may have needed to be able to learn how to receive God’s blessings.  He may have needed to have his faith restored with this girl’s act of kindness.  It is obvious that no one works as a fry cook in a KFC if they are financially secure.  So his way of paying her back was sweet because he could have handed her the money, but in her perspective that money was already gone.  So he gave her a sweet treat that she could enjoy in a different location to where she worked.  

It is this witness of small random acts of kindness that we need to see on a daily basis.  This is what keeps our heart well in a spiritual way.  Loving your neighbor is the key to salvation.  An old friend, Fr. Peter Sanderson’s favorite sermon was his shortest.  He said, “Little Children, love one another” and he was done.  He knows it is the key to all things in faith.  If we live in love, we will be walking with Jesus, and we will be on the right path every day of our lives.  It is the key to our salvation.   

I know there are lots of lonely people out there.  I know that telling them Jesus loves them often falls on deaf ears.  But the fact is, we don’t have to be in love, or feel love directly from another person to know what love is.  We can witness love in many different ways.  Witnessing love on any level, from a distance, or seeing an incident in which you yourself are not involved, is how we know God loves us.  That “Aww” moment you feel when you see something really sweet is a reminder that God is near and loves us.  Now, we just have to recognize it and not live with blinders on, look past the distractions and witness God’s love.  

So, if someone asked me on Saturday afternoon, after I got to witness this incident, “How does the fact that Christ died on the cross affect you on a daily basis?”  I could answer like this:  He did it out of love for us, and because of His love for us, we can see love in others.  If we can’t see that, life is hard, so hard, it is not worth living.  Anyone who says they can live without love of someone or something is full of rocks!

Hebrews 6:10 God is not unjust: He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him, as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  


100_3566Madeleine is a young woman, who at a very young age heard God calling her to mission.  Over the years she has brought God’s love and hope to children who are fighting for their lives in hospitals receiving treatment for various childhood cancers but providing handmade pillows cases and port pillows. She continues to be an inspiration in the lives of youth and adults.

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Facebook Prayer Time

Rev. Katie Bishop

It is 8:30 pm on Thursday night and I am sitting on my living room couch. My iPad has the latest Upper Room devotional open and my laptop computer is open to a post from my Facebook feed. In the palm of my hand, my phone is open and after a deep breath, I press “Go Live.” It is Thursday night. Prayer time.

About six months ago, amid some real struggle in our broader community – real heartbreak – I started this Thursday night prayer time. Out of a desire to speak HOPE, I flipped my phone’s Facebook app open and started to pray. As people gathered to watch, the movement of the Spirit was palpable. Tangible. Powerful. Even across the screen.

Since then, I have posted an invitation soliciting prayer requests on my Facebook page every Thursday morning. And every Thursday night – sometime between 7 and 10, I hop on Facebook Live to gather God’s people.

We start with the Upper Room’s daily scripture reading and then move into the prayer requests that people have posted on my feed. People are invited to add requests to the Live Feed, and most do. To finish our time, I remind people why we pray.

First, prayer helps align our hearts to God. We step outside of ourselves and center ourselves in God’s Spirit.

Second, prayer activates the Big God Family – the community of believers. As we lift up prayers and concerns, we can witness the ways God has blessed us, testify the power of resurrection in our lives, and stand with each other in brokenness. This has been one of the greatest blessings about Thursday night prayer. Since we have been praying overtime, we have been able to celebrate how God is work in our world. We have celebrated answered prayers. We have celebrated changed expectations. We have celebrated God’s grace even in the brokenness.

Finally, prayer witnesses God’s action in the world around us. We recognize that God is not done with us yet. That God is still moving in the world around us. That God uses us as God’s hands and feet to usher in the Kingdom.

After I speak these truths out loud, we pray. I pray with words, those watching pray with me. Comments continue to fill the screen as a chorus of “hearts” and “likes” join the words that are uttered. We pray. Across phones and iPads, computer screens – we pray. Sometimes by ourselves – sometimes with others.

And when I say “Amen,” a chorus of Amens join in.

I remind everyone they are loved – and it is done.

In total, most weeks, it is about 5-7 minutes. Sometimes – if I have more prayer requests, or if my two daughters “help” then it is longer. But really, it is just a few minutes – across screens for prayer.

The big question is – why?

And for me, it gets back to my Methodist roots. Wesley, when starting a movement of revival in England, went to where the people were. Why do we, as the church, wait for people to come to us? Wesley went to where the people were, “submitting to be more vile” – a quote from his April 2, 1739  journal – so that people would come to know God’s love and grace.  He was willing to meet them in their brokenness, in their everyday, in their ordinary, in their heartache. Why do we, as the church, refuse to move to where the people are?

Facebook – it is where people are. And love it or hate it, there is a huge segment of our population that are always on Facebook. It is where we share stories of our greatest joys and our greatest struggles. It is where we “connect” – however inauthentic or authentic it may be.

And taking time every Thursday to pray, seeks to meet people where they are, resurrecting the brokenness, the heartache, the ordinary.

It is not much – by any stretch of the imagination. It is very simple. It takes hardly any time and very little effort.

But it is powerful. It is Spirit-filled. It is resurrecting.

So, if you are feeling a burdened, or broken, lost or weary… If you feel like you need some Family time… If you have seen God move and can’t keep it to yourself… come and join us some Thursday. We are but a click away.


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Katie Bishop is a United Methodist pastor serving in Frederick County, Maryland. She is married to Chris, also a pastor in the UMC, and they have three children- Eden (10), Bethany (5) and a son they are waiting on from Haiti.

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Thankfulness in the Ups AND Downs

As I reflect upon the last several weeks, we as people have experienced a lot of grief, fear, devastation, and tragedy.  There have been earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, political decisions, day to day struggles, loved ones have succumbed to illness, others have started treatment for cancer, and the list could go on and on and on.  As we approach the holiday season when we are supposed to be thankful and cheerful we may find it hard.  Do not feel guilt or shame because you find it difficult to be thankful and find joy this season.  There is a lot going on in our world near and far that makes our hearts weigh heavy.

On the other hand, there is a lot to be joyful about this season.  Despite all this is going on in the world, our lives have brought us hope.  There have been opportunities for healing, to see family and friends, maybe even starting new projects or jobs that are life-giving.  I am hearing stories from people across the country that in the midst of tragedy they are finding hope.

My encouragement for all of us this season is that we take a cue from the Psalms. When we read the Psalms we find there is often great lament for the heavy heart.  There is an outpouring of grief and pain.  In this season if this is you, please pour out.  Please grieve, please name your pain.  In this outpouring remember that the Psalms teach us with an outpouring of grief, comes an outpouring of thanksgiving because we have opened our hearts up to healing and with healing comes hope and thanksgiving.  Don’t forget to pour out in thanksgiving as well.

Life is a lot like a rollercoaster.  There are ups and downs, twists and turns, anxiety, anticipation, fear, joy, excitement, and sometimes we get off the ride and our stomachs hurt, others times we can’t wait to ride again.  No matter where you find yourself, in the ups or downs of life, God is always there.  God is there in the ups standing with you.  God is truly there in the downs, reaching out a hand to help you up. Psalm 138 is a great outpouring of thanksgiving and in its conclusion reminds us that Gods faithful love endures forever.

No matter where you find yourself this season, up or down, grieving or joyful, God’s faithful love endures forever.


22366779_10155962606633694_6767176542225626637_nZach Bechtold is the Co-Founder of Bearded Theologians, as well as a Husband, Father, Pastor, an avid Colorado Rockies fan.  In his free time, he enjoys hiking and being in the mountains.  You can listen to his sermons and find out more about his church at http://www.umchoteau.net.

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It’s Time #MeToo

#MeToo is popping up all over social media in response to sexual harassment/assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The news cannot stop talking about the women who have come forward, his alleged behavior, the women who were paid to keep their mouths shut, and the consequences he is now facing.

They all sound shocked that this happened…shocked that so many women would be quiet for such a long time…shocked that such a successful man could possibly do these things.

Before Weinstein, the press was preoccupied with Taylor Swift’s groping trial. Again, there was shock – a DJ grabbed Swift’s backside during a photo shoot. You can clearly see this in the photo and a jury agreed that Swift was NOT, in fact, responsible for the DJ’s shattered career.

Before Swift, we saw photos of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. We even saw an artistic image with an empty chair sitting next to women who had been brave enough to come forward; that chair reminded us of all the other women who might have been assaulted, but whose silence made them invisible. How many were there? Will we ever know?

What did we see and hear from the media? Shock. Absolute shock. A beloved American icon was facing abhorrent accusations and for some reason, we found it very difficult to separate our admiration for the lovable, Cliff Huxtable, while grasping the overwhelming possibility that Cosby might not be quite as respectable.

Before Cosby, there was #YesAllWomen. Women flocked to Twitter and used this hashtag to express how they had been sexually assaulted, harassed, and degraded. More than 1 million tweets went out within the first four days of the hashtag’s existence…1 million tweets showcasing misogyny at its finest.

You know what we heard from the media? Shock. It was shocking! It was ridiculously shocking that so many women would have these experiences and would talk about them on Twitter. It was also distressing, so much so that another hashtag developed. #NotAllMen (Obviously, their shock caused them to miss the point entirely.)

Here is the problem. This isn’t shocking news. Women have been talking about these issues for years, generations even.

Women shouldn’t have to feel compelled to keep talking about it so others will believe this is a real issue. Women shouldn’t need to feel compelled to share deeply personal and tragic stories of sexual assault and harassment on social media – telling their stories so society can finally realize the massiveness of this problem. We have already told these stories

Women do not owe it to society to continually prove this is real.

The shock needs to end. It is dismissive to women across the world. It reinforces the idea that our experiences are not believable and questions the possibility that men, especially talented or powerful men, could perpetrate such despicable actions. We can allow men to be innocent until proven guilty, without perpetuating the nonsensical charade of shock. Doing so will not make us anymore complacent about misogyny than we already are.

If women are only ever allowed to tell their heart-wrenching stories of harassment and assault, while society listens with attentive shock, we will never start addressing misogyny. Things that truly shock us are unexpected. They are anomalies. We are stunned by them in the moment and then we continue with our lives. This isn’t an unexpected anomaly. Sexual harassment and assault are real problems that can be solved when we choose to hold people accountable for their actions.

It is time to stop the shock. It is time to stop expecting women to tell these stories over and over again as if they were revelations. It is time to get to the part of the story where we fix the problem. That is called the climax and resolution people, the very best part of the story. Do women get to experience that part of the story? Trust me, women are ready to be at that point in the narrative. We are exhausted from living and retelling the ugly first parts as if society at large is just now hearing them for the first time…


leiawilliams

My name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. I served The United Methodist Church for 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications. Currently, I am working as a consultant, but in November I will return to my work with The United Methodist Church.

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Help Is On The Way

 

Hurricanes have always been a major part of my life in southeast Louisiana. As a child when my family decided to “ride out the storm”, I can remember filling the tub with water, taping our windows in the shape of an “X”, and parking our cars on high ground, praying the storm would pass us by. Hurricanes are a way of life that I never got used to. In the back of my mind, I am always wondering if this is the storm that will change my life forever.

Meteorologists can guess a hurricane’s path but we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature. We can’t possibly know where storms will go or what to expect when they hit. We have seen the chaos and havoc these storms can have on communities. People who have been affected by hurricanes, like Katrina, identify timelines in their life as “before the storm” and “after the storm”. An impact of a hurricane can be felt for generations.

Hurricanes aren’t’ the only disasters that have us on high alert. We have seen quite a bit of devastation in the United States over the past few months with heat waves, forest fires, flooding, and earthquakes. No matter what your views are on global warming or the environment in general, you have to admit these natural disasters are more dangerous and happening more frequently, and not just in the United States, but around the world. No matter where these catastrophic events happen it is God working in His people that remind us that it is not what we lose but what we gain in our most challenging times…each other.

Matthew 25:35-40 is assurance that when we are most in need, most desperate, God is present among us through the kindness and generosity we show to one another.

Our first responders are a perfect example of God showing up for people in distress, but they are not the only ones. We have seen heroic efforts from everyday citizens going above and beyond to help the “least of these.” We have witnessed an overwhelming response of donations and support to nonprofit organizations devoted to response and recovery, like the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We have also heard reports of everyday citizens risking their lives to rescue souls from danger and getting them to safety, even going as far as offering refuge in their own home. God is present among us!

In 2015, I had the honor of traveling to Bellagio, Italy to share my experience of recovery after Hurricane Katrina with leaders from around the world. At this convening hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Art Society, representatives from countries impacted by natural or manmade disasters told stories of pain, recovery, and hope. Each delegate was faced with the question, “What makes a community resilient?” Our conclusion regardless of ethnicity, language or region, resilient communities exhibited determination, inclusivity, and philanthropy, which is parallel to the research conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities. Resilience is about people.

We sometimes want God to shield us or protect us from harm. We pray for grace and to be spared from pain. However, God doesn’t guarantee that we won’t experience heartache. The Bible has numerous examples of good people enduring the most extreme circumstances. Sometimes the storm hits and rocks us to our core, and sometimes it spares us. If a storm tears our world apart, rest assured, just as it entered our lives, it will also pass and the skies will clear. In the aftermath, we can give thanks and know that God’s love will be living and moving through the courage of His people. When someone helps a neighbor in need, or gives without expecting anything in return, or opens their heart to the broken, we know this is God showing up for us just as He promised!

So, when we pray for safety in these most uncertain times, may we also pray for resilience. Just as one is spared by Grace, another is seeking Grace. Our faith tells us that God will show up! May we each be used as God’s hands and feet, when our neighbors need to see His presence the most.

 


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Mrs. Sabrina N. Short is a ministry consultant specializing in community engagement and outreach. Mrs. Short has been recognized for her work with youth around social justice and youth-led community organizing. A former faith-based community organizer, with PICO National and All Congregations Together, she works closely with United Methodist Churches across the country and its national institutions advocating youth leadership in ministry, social justice and mission. She has over 15 years experience in the non-profit field, partnering with numerous organizations to serve disenfranchised communities.

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Seek Adventure

Seek Adventure.

Seek: verb; attempt to find (something)

Adventure: noun; an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.

Simple words, but they’re not always the easiest to follow for a wanderlust traveler like myself. I have driven thousands of miles across the last few years in search of new sights, new creatures, and new experiences. Most of my time has been spent in the American Southwest. I’ve spent countless weeks in this area hiking along trails and looking for reptiles/amphibians. I love the heat, the giant cactus (especially the saguaro in Arizona), and the rugged beauty of the landscapes. More importantly, I love the sense of adventure.

When I think of the word ‘adventure’, I typically picture a several day trip to some state park, national monument or national park where I camp hundreds of miles from home beneath a sea of stars with a campfire crackling a few feet away. Even driving to these locations is an adventure because of the sights and sometimes the traffic. I can spend hours outdoors hiking and exploring nature. Going off the beaten trail in search of a lizard or snake I thought I saw. Standing in a forest or on the side of a mountain listening to the quietness that fills the moment. Someplace wild where I lose the familiarity and comfort of everyday life.

Adventures such as this are rare, particularly for the everyday working person. We wake up early in the morning for an 8-5 Monday thru Friday job and seem to only live for the weekend. Even on the weekends, we are too exhausted to do much besides things around the house or spend an evening out with friends. We now daydream of adventures with family and friends but we can’t break out of the daily grind we have found ourselves in. Having to deal with the real world just sucks some days, especially when you’re stuck in the office planning your next trip almost a year in advance. The longing for a wander will become a real issue at this point, and it will make you want to leave your job to find the nearest nature trail.

Leaving your job isn’t the best answer however, but I have found that in our daily grind, we can find small adventures. This can be anything from saying hello to a new person, to trying a new restaurant, or just driving around an area of town we aren’t familiar with. Just by saying hello to a new person we may make a new friend and that new friendship could turn into another adventure. By trying a new restaurant we may experience new tastes and possibly find a new meal that we fall in love with. By exploring a new area of town we may find a business or building that offers a unique service or activity for us to try out.

When I first moved to Lubbock, TX I worked at the University Medical Center. It took me a while to talk to the people I worked with but when I finally did, I became really good friends with them. From there they introduced me to a new restaurant that I love (Torchy’s Tacos is the best) and they invite me to random places where we hang out at. It may not seem like it, but I consider all that to be an adventure nonetheless. These smaller, personal adventures keep me going until it’s time for the next big adventure.

An adventure is meant to be something that gets you out of your element and to experience something new. As much as we badly long for the epic adventures, these adventures don’t fit into our daily routines. As much as I’d love to be outdoors hiking and seeing wonderful views, I’ve come to realize that the small, daily ones challenge me in different ways, and they matter just as much as the grandiose adventures.


18589082_10154791395419069_7623149350546830247_oJacob Kemmer is a young man from Lubbock, Tx who seeks adventure everywhere he goes. I’ve known Jacob for a long time and his passion for nature and the creatures in it is inspiring… minus the snakes… snakes are never “cute” or “cool”.  I’m pretty sure Jacob is one of the Wild Kratts brothers… GO WILD KRATTS!

(Sometimes I enjoy writing bios for people ~Zach)

Blogging, Contributor Blogs

Never Too Young For Mission

This summer was a humbling one and one that opened my eyes to the important things in life. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to both Honduras and Guatemala. These trips were very different and yet they both humbled me. While on Honduras our team worked at a children’s home with orphans and helped with projects and a medical clinic on the property. We participated in a feeding program alongside a highway where children and families live in shanties. We were blessed to play with children, feed them, and show them love through our smiles and our presence.

In Guatemala, we stayed in host homes and were engaged in on going outreach programs I the community. This trip was extra special because I was able to have my husband and 10-year old son join me. This trip was focused on relationships and authentically engaging the community we were in along side the long term missionaries and local leaders. I learned to sew from the women who were learning the trade in hopes of making money for their families. My husband and son engaged the children of various communities in a new start up sports ministry visiting schools and local officials. We ate around the table with our host family every morning and night. Watching my son experience this cultural awakening and realize that the world is bigger and looks much different than his day to day life was the most humbling part of the entire summer. Watching him play soccer along side children who could not afford to go to school despite the language barrier and to learn enough Spanish to find out their name and age was a privilege I will never forget.

So often we in ministry and in our churches find it hard to find a place for children in our work and outreaches. They belong in their Sunday school classes, in the youth activities, in the children’s worship service, but having them in the larger church body seems like a burden. This could not be farther from the truth. Children have so many truths to remind us and to show us. Even Jesus said in Luke 18:16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. We wait until youth to engage children in mission trips and we divide families up by ages. This is not how we build up the mission of God, for even children have gifts that God can use. Family mission trips are a wonderful way to expose our children to missions while also modeling the importance of serving along side them. It doesn’t have to be an international trip but our children are not too young to start. Studies show that children in the pre teen years are making decisions for Christ and about the church. Waiting until youth or adulthood to engage them in missions is missing a critical time when their hearts are open.

I encourage families and churches alike to consider what it would look like to engage children of all ages in the mission of God that we are all called to be a part of regardless of age.

 


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Sara Lattimore is Serving as Director of Missions and Outreach at First United Methodist Church in Lubbock Texas. She has served in full-time ministry for the last 10 years in Children’s and Family Ministry, Camping Ministry, and now Missions and Outreach. She is currently also attending seminary at Iliff to obtain her MDiv. Sara is following her calling in full-time ministry building relationships and emphasizing the importance of family, but she also has another calling, her family. Sara has been married to Aaron for 12 years and together they have 2 children Carson 10 and Kennedy Grace who is 4.

Blogging

When Books Pick You

     Have you ever had a book pick you? Recently, my family traveled to stay at Lake Erie. We were doing some shopping as a family. My seven year old asked to go into the bookstore. So I journeyed with her to the children’s section. While I was waiting, I thought I will peruse the religious section beside the children’s section.  My eyes rolled across book after book. There was one book that I noticed, but I was not in a book buying mood.

     I walked back to my daughter and discussed her selection.  As I walked to the front, I picked up the book that had caught my eye. I actually thought to myself, you don’t need another book. I didn’t even know what the book was about. Waiting for the cashier, I glanced at the back of the book. I noticed that two of the people making comments were football people, Tony Dungy and Chris Carter. I was still not excited by this book, but I could not convince myself to put it down. I purchased the books, one for my daughter and one for myself. As I exited the store, I chastised myself in my head to myself about all the books I own that are not read or not fully read. “All I need is another book.”

    The next day I started reading the book. I was finished reading in 3 days. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to make my purchase of the book that day. I am very thankful for the promptings of the Spirit.  That book was exactly what my heart needed. It very much prepared me for the journey I would take in the next couple of weeks.

    In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born of water and the Spirit. Uncertain of Jesus’ words, Nicodemus questions the meaning of this birth. In today’s world, I fear, we have lost our understanding of what it means to be born of the Spirit. When we accept Christ we become a vessel of the Spirit. That means we are transformed by the Spirit of the Living God. Wow! Impressive! Overwhelming! How amazing is it that we can be filled with, transformed and guided by the Holy Spirit!

    In the world today we need the Holy Spirit so desperately as we encounter issues such as addiction, diseases, financial crisis, and relationships (just to name a few). I am drawn to the words of Francesca Battistelli’s song, “Holy Spirit, You are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what my heart longs for to be overcome by your presence Lord.”


 kara

 

Kara Rowe is an ordained Elder in the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She currently serves Newell and First Chester United Methodist Churches. She lives in New Cumberland, West Virginia with her husband, Michael and her three children: Caleb, Abigail, and Jakoba. In Kara’s free time she is a crime fighting ninja, but don’t blow her cover!

Blogging, Contributor Blogs

Friendly Church Bingo!

Welcoming Guests at Church – 4 Tips

Last weekend, I attended worship somewhere new and I played a game I like to call Friendly Church Bingo. Every time your church shows me how absolutely, fabulously welcoming you are, I give you 5 points. If your church gets 5 points 5 times in a row, you are officially friendly. Let’s play. I’ll be me. You be the church I went to on Sunday.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThings started off well at your church. People smiled at me in the parking lot. I am giving your church 5 points for smiling people in the parking lot. I love seeing happy faces headed to worship.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThere were no signs telling me where to go to find your sanctuary (or anything else by the way). I am afraid that’s going to cost you 5 points.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nI found your sanctuary without any helpful signs and I was pretty proud of myself for accomplishing that feat, especially since I wound up in the right place before worship started in your beautiful, 13th century inspired building. I will remember people hated signs in the 13th Another game I will have to tell you about later is Mystery Church Treasure Hunt, but I will do that on a different day. As I entered your sanctuary, the nice man standing at your door gave me a bulletin. He did not say hello. He did smile, however. I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am doing so begrudgingly.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWhen I sat down, the lady behind me smiled. Y’all sure do know how to smile. She did not talk to me. In fact, no one in your beautiful building did, even though I arrived early and I smiled back at all your smiling faces. Consequently, I busied myself by looking at the majesty of your architecture. Then I noticed someone else decided to sit down in the same pew. Things were about to get exciting; I could feel it and they did…for him. He sat as far away from me as he could and he engaged in a delightful conversation with other people he knew. Your church loses 5 points.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWorship begins. You have excellent liturgy, good preaching, meaningful prayers, and heartfelt music. During Pass the Peace people come to talk to me. They quickly say, “Peace be with you.” You think I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am not. If your church members are only going to talk to me when someone, who is standing on a 13th century inspired box in the front of the room, tells them to do so, it doesn’t count. That shows me your church members follow the rules; they are obedient. It does not show me they are friendly. I give you 0 points…Wait, I take that back. Since your Pass the Peace lasted ten minutes and all your church people moved to the front to say peace to one another, leaving the new people in the back standing around wondering what is happening, you lose another 5 points. This is not going well for you.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nChurch is over now. I am getting up to leave. No one speaks to me. The man who sat as far away from me as possible, unfortunately, is blocking the only exit out of this pew. He is talking to one of his friends. They kept talking. I am clearly standing behind him. They kept talking anyway. No one speaks to me. I sat down. His conversation ended after 6 minutes and 11 seconds. I had the chance to time that conversation, you know since no one was talking to me and I was trapped in the pew. It was lovely. Your church loses ALL the points. Oh, but you didn’t have any more. Just subtract 5 points then. You are now at -10 points.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nAs I leave, your nice pastor talks to me. She is warm and caring. It is too late. You lose Friendly Church Bingo. You do not pass go. You do not collect $200. Thank you for playing. Yes, I know that last bit is from Monopoly.

 

I really wish this example was not true. It is funny to read about, but it is not funny to experience. Last Sunday was one Sunday out of way too many I have spent in a church where no one except the pastor spoke to me. Church family, I love you and I say this with love. If you get everything in your service right, but you are only welcoming to the people who are already part of your congregation, you missed the mark. You are not showing God’s grace to those God has beckoned to you. If you believe the church belongs to God and not to you, you absolutely must embrace the people God sends to your doorstep with a welcome reflective of God’s love.

Why? Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing to experience unfriendly churches as often as I am. Years earlier, a dear friend of mine went to the same church I just described and had a similar experience. She is not going back. More importantly, this church is one of a handful of unfriendly churches she visited when she was seeking and she gave up entirely. She is not seeking you out anymore. She is not seeking God anymore, either. When we are so unfriendly seekers stop seeking the Creator of the universe, we must not only repent of this sin but we must also change behavior. We must embrace the beloved children God sends our way.

How?

  • Clear Information – People start to decide if you are friendly before they get to your sanctuary. Does your website have helpful information, like worship times and location? Do you have signs clearly posted to help people find Sunday school rooms, the fellowship hall, bathrooms, the sanctuary, etc.? If you do not, this is an important place to start.

 

  • Trained Greeters – Volunteers who serve in these roles can be the first contact for guests. They need to be prepared to give a warm welcome and even engage in a brief conversation with people they do not know, in addition to handing out bulletins.

 

  • Harness the Power of Extroverts – There are folks in your church who genuinely enjoy talking to new people. Ask them to serve your church. Place them in strategic locations, where guests typically sit, and ask them to strike up conversations. They can speak to guests before worship, during Pass the Peace, and after worship. They are free to talk about jobs, children, school, absolutely anything…

 

  • Make a Plan – Have a plan in place that your leadership takes seriously concerning welcoming guests. This plan should include: (a) evaluating your web presence and signage, updating them as necessary and keeping them up-to-date (b) recruiting volunteers tasked with welcoming new guests, job descriptions for those volunteers, and defining expectations for what welcoming looks like in your context (c) train your volunteers and congregation to be mindful of welcoming new people (d) have mystery worshippers give you feedback or invite guests to give you feedback and (e) evaluate your welcoming plan at least once annually.

Not sure this is enough to get you started? Head over to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and learn 50 ways to welcome guests! https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-welcome-new-people/

 

….And hurry. Y’all are terrible at Friendly Church Bingo.


leiawilliams

My name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. I served The United Methodist Church for 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications. Currently, I am working as a consultant, but in November I will return to my work with The United Methodist Church.

 

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Silence Is Not An Option

As I sit and reflect upon the hateful and fearful actions that took place in Charlottesville this weekend I can’t help but be heartbroken. As more and more video surfaces littered with hate, racist slurs, and violence my heart breaks more for my brothers and sisters who live in fear because of the backward belief that one human life is more important or special than another human’s life. I have to hold back the urging of my privilege that says “You are geographically far away from this, it does not affect you.” That is a lie from the pit of hell. This does affect me. It affects my children. It affects my community. This affects you. Regardless of where you are in this country and across the world violence and hate affects us. I can no longer hide behind excuses of any kind. I can no longer hide behind the color of my skin, gender, religion, education, money, geography, and I will not continue to hide behind my silence.

Many have made statements on Facebook, produced videos, preached sermons from the pulpit and used whatever microphone they have to speak out against this evil. The statement that caught my attention was one I’m sure you have seen it by now. Jimmy Fallon made a statement yesterday and he talked about our responsibility as human beings to stand up against racism, hate, and evil. Not only did he encourage ALL of us to take a stand against it but he made a call to action of just that, action.

Silence is not an option, it has never been, and it never can be. When we are silent we take a giant step backward in history and humanity. People are being killed because of silence. Because of apathy and fear. Because we are scared that we might offend someone or lose a friend or actually have to have a real conversation with someone. I confess that I am guilty of silence. I CAN NOT LONGER REMAIN SILENT. YOU CAN NO LONGER REMAIN SILENT. No more. The church cannot remain silent due to apathy. White people, you cannot remain silent out of fear or whatever holds you back from saying something. Our brothers and sisters are out there dying and we are sitting back watching.

If silence is no longer an option where does that leave us? Do we speak up today and become silent again tomorrow? I pray we don’t. I pray that we continue to speak up against those who use hate, fear, and violence to belittle and degrade our fellow humans. In many instances using our voices will not be enough, with breaking silence we must act as well. Not using the same fear, hate, and violence that we are against, but the actions of love, compassion, and justice. Those are not just words. They cannot be rhetoric that we say from behind keyboards and pulpits, they must be actions that we model day in and day out as we break the silence. We break the silence by actually living into love, compassion, and justice. It means we act before asking questions of why or if it is deserved. We do not qualify our actions, that is exactly what leads us to silence. We act because we can’t help it, because love, compassion, and justice are what changes the world around us, not hate, fear, and racism. Those are actions of the selfish. Those are actions of evil. Those are the actions someone who is so deeply broken they need what we have to offer. Those people marching against and harming another human being because of their skin color, sexuality, gender, or any of the other garbage reasons people have prejudice, are the actions of someone who is deeply broken and hurt. Just as our brothers and sisters that are on the receiving end, these broken humans love, compassion, and justice too.

Stand up, speak out, and act against hate, fear, violence, and evil especially when it is most inconvenient for you because there will be a day when you are praying and hopeful someone with stand up, speak out, and act for you and with you.

Do no harm! Do good! Stay in love with God! Love your fellow human! Silence is NOT an option!


15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach Bechtold is the Co-Founder of Bearded Theologians and Pastor of Choteau, Brady, and Dutton United Methodist Churches in the Northern Plains of Montana.

Blogging, Contributor Blogs

Do all the good you can, every day, in every way that you are able.

As you all know, I’ve been sewing pillowcases for charities for a while.  So far since Jan. 1 of 2016, my mother and I have made 400 pillowcases for charities such as the El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo and Albuquerque Ronald McDonald Houses, St. Andrew’s Hospitality House and more recently I made them for Veterans in local nursing homes.  I still have some to deliver, but more than half of them have been distributed to their intended locations.   The more of these I make, the more ideas I have of who these pillowcases can serve.

I have learned several things about this simple, repetitive, project.  One thing is that repetitive action, if productive, is very relaxing, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  Spending my time producing something useful is very gratifying.  The other thing I learned is that, small things mean a lot especially to the two ends of the life experience.  Very small kids and older people in nursing homes respond the same way, with delight, when receiving even the smallest gift when it is given personally.  Most institutions will take your donations, have you sign a donor list and send you on your way.  When you get the opportunity to personally give your small gift to individuals, it makes you more connected to the recipient and more likely to want to continue to give more of yourself in the future.  If you are one of those people that like to give anonymously there are lots of opportunities to do that.  But if you want to share the light Jesus put in you and spark that light in someone else, find the thing that lets you make human, one on one contact with someone.   

I had two of the best experiences happen in the past month.  I had been praying for a personal experience of connection with someone who would receive one of my pillowcases.  The first was delivering red, white and blue pillowcases to Veteran’s in nursing homes on Veteran’s Day.  Responses of nursing home residents were as varied as their physical and medical situations.  Some didn’t know I was in the room, most didn’t know what to say and were surprised that a stranger came to give them something.  But the ones that sat up and started telling you stories of their military adventures were really enjoyable.  I knew I sparked a memory in them that was important, and it was important to them that someone heard it.  I was glad to be that person.    

Then on Thanksgiving week, I got to deliver to Ronald McDonald House in Amarillo, Texas.  The coordinator there, Mrs. Jan Plequette, has been my contact person there for 4 years.  She arranged for me to meet the Child Life Specialist at North West Texas Children’s Hospital.  When I got there, the staff picked out a pillowcase that they thought would perfectly fit a particular patient they wanted me to meet.  Her name was Mila.  She was 4 and receiving infusions that day.   I was not allowed to know her illness because of HIPAA regulations, but they put me in a disposable isolation gown and gloves and let me give her this specially chosen pillowcase myself.  This little girl was the brightest piece of sunshine I have ever met.   The nurses there at the hospital said that this little girl keeps them all cheered up.  And she was so sweet I had the best time talking to her.  I wish I could have taken her home with me and kept her for a sister.  I would love to have someone like this in my life on a daily basis.  Her mother was so sweet too.  She said she was happy and grateful that a complete stranger would give her daughter a little gift that made the time they spent there at the hospital more comfortable and a less bland and boring experience.  

That experience was my ideal, the dream I had in my mind all along, coming true.  On Veteran’s Day, after delivering pillowcases all day, we went to the VFW for their fundraiser dinner in Cloudcroft, NM.  There I saw the man I knew as Santa Claus my whole life.  He was the man that worked at our local mall and posed for Christmas pictures.  He has been Santa for every Toys for Tots event, every charitable Christmas project and event in Alamogordo for my entire life.  He was there, eating dinner and had a Vietnam Veteran jacket on.  I had never spoken to him outside of his role as Santa.  As he left, I went to our car, and picked out an extra red, white and blue pillowcase and gave it to him.  I thanked him for his service to our country, as I had with all the veterans in the nursing homes I met that day.  And he thanked me and said he knew I made a lot of old people happy that day, and that’s what is so great about being Santa – so we had a little something in common.  I guess if I had to choose a title, I’d choose “The Pillowcase Fairy”.   I really can’t pull off Santa Jr.   

The marketing director at North West Texas Children’s Hospital said she hoped that my doing this would spark interest in others to do something and hopefully encourage kids to do things that were small random acts of kindness.  That is what I hoped to do with this article.  To tell kids that they are an important part of the world and that their outlook on life, if carried with them through adulthood, can affect the world around them.  At the least, an attitude of giving can affect their own life, and at the most, it can affect all those that have received from them.  It may spark others to pay it forward in their own way.  And every different way you can think of to pay it forward is necessary in some way to someone.  

To all the kids who dream of affecting the world in a big way, do it in a way that you know makes Jesus proud, have him as your partner, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.


100_3566   Madeleine Fazenbaker is 14 years old and is a wonderfully gifted young lady that lives in New Mexico.  She is very active in her church and her community and truly is a young woman after God’s own heart.  Why pillowcases?  Because when you lay your head on a pillow to rest you can remember this:  “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 One of her favorite scriptures for small acts of kindness:  Hebrews 6:10 –  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

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