Prayer for Our Broken World

Another shooting at a middle school, bringing the total to one a week since January

And I think, “At least the summer will stop them for a few weeks.”

 

“Lost” immigrant children kept in detention camps that look like dog kennels while separated from family

And I think, “At least they have a safe place to sleep.”

 

Black men incarcerated at an alarming rate for non-offenses because of the color of their skin

And I think, “There’s always more to a story than what you read.”

 

Working families live in homes that have so much damage that I wouldn’t want to even go near

And I think, “Surely, they are spending their money on the wrong things.”

 

And then I was appalled at my reactions.

 

When did shootings in schools become about a short reprieve from the violence

Rather than about how unacceptable violence is in a place where our students should feel safe?

 

When did inhumane treatment of children as they yearn to play and learn in relative safety

Become an issue relegated to the back page of the news?

 

When did someone else’s fear of police for simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time

Stop moving me toward social justice for my fellow humans?

 

When did safe living conditions for all human beings

Become a privilege instead of a basic right?

 

When did I become so unfeeling and cold

While rationalizing what is happening to my brothers and sisters?

 

Lord, have mercy on our shrinking world,

Where we see up close and personal the cruelty of nations,

Including our own.

 

Christ, have mercy on our inability

To take in the hurts and feel the pain of our neighbors

For fear of drowning in their sorrows.

 

Lord, have mercy on our apathy

That causes us to respond with inaction

Because the brokenness has become so commonplace.

 

Forgive us, we pray, for our selfish response

To a world torn apart by fear and greed

 

Forgive us, we pray, for turning a blind eye

To the oppression of our leaders here and abroad

 

Forgive us, we pray, for being so comfortable with what we have

That we ignore the cries of the world around us.

 

Move us to see through your eyes our world.

Let us enter into equitable relationship with all people.

Teach us how to act with peace and justice rather than complacency.

Melt our frozen hearts to love you and our neighbors more than our own comfort.

Help us see

all people,

ALL people,

ALL PEOPLE,

as your beloved children.

Amen.

-Rev. Joanna Dietz

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Reflections on Lent

When I was younger I did the same thing most children do during lent. I thought long and hard about what I would give up until lent was over when I’d realize I hadn’t really given up anything. Even up until college I really didn’t do anything to participate in lent, I celebrated Good Friday (without really putting any thought into the whole Jesus dying part) and went to all the Easter Sunday services. I loved Easter. It was the day I got to play real horn parts in worship. Sometimes I got to play second trumpet in the brass quintet (my trumpet looked a lot like a saxophone oops…). It wasn’t until last year that I really dedicated myself for real during lent, and it was an amazing experience.

Last year I gave up fried food for lent. That shouldn’t have been very hard. I’m kinda ashamed about how hard it was. At the time my diet consisted of fried food and…. that’s about it. I know it’s disgusting but I eat comfort food when I’m stressed and I was really stressed. What I learned through the experience was that I needed to find healthier habits to take care of myself. I also learned that taking away a support system is no way to survive tough situations. So this year I decided to try something different.

I had heard about taking on a new habit during lent from a few clergy during my undergraduate years and I figured that would be the best idea for this year. As soon as I thought about it I knew exactly what I was going to take on for lent this year.

Over the past several years I have struggled to reconnect with my childhood joy of reading. As a kid I used to love reading, the biggest books I could find. I loved the exploration of new and fantastical worlds. My Aunt Marybeth used to love fueling my reading by giving me incredible books and going out of her way to read books I was reading so that we could talk about them. However as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve been assigned more readings for my schooling I have slowly lost my love of reading.

When my Aunt Marybeth pasted away earlier this year I found myself longing for the simpler times when I could not wait to spend time with her. I remembered her love of Madam Blueberry from Veggietales, and her insistence that Oh Where is my Hairbrush was the greatest Silly Song with Larry (I never could agree with her on that one). I remembered nights when she babysat for my brother and I, or the times riding on trips with her. I remembered the crafts, and the hugs, the love, and the unending support. But most of all I remembered our love of fantastical worlds. Thinking of that I knew what I had to do for lent. I had to rediscover my love for reading.

So for lent this year I decided that every day I would read at least a chapter of a book for pleasure. I chose the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, a series about a modern day wizard living in Chicago working as a private investigator. I read the first several books a while back and honestly I barely remembered most of the plots. So starting fresh felt like a good plan. I started lent out by reading one chapter a day, maybe two one a good day. I remember thinking to myself that I would probably get through two books during lent. Then I started the third book… and the fourth book… and as Holy Week started I started book five.

As you can probably guess I was no longer reading one chapter a day, I was reading at least 3 or 4 most days if not more. I found myself drawn into the magical world able to escape the stresses, frustrations, and anxiety of being a full time student and a church musician in the time leading up to Easter. What started as a simple dedication to my Aunt quickly turned into a rediscovery of my love for reading. By dedicating myself to an act of self care during lent I now find myself focusing on reading beyond lent. I have looked into getting a library card for the local library. On Monday, what would have been Aunt Marybeth’s 53rd birthday I started book 6 of the Dresden Files. And most importantly I have found a simple life-giving way to take care of myself as I continue this journey into ministry.

As we continue this Easter season I am grateful for the grace of God in my life. I am grateful for my family and friend’s love and support of my calling. I am grateful for my wife, who stands by my side even when I don’t feel like I can stand up. And I am beyond grateful for my Aunt Marybeth, who even in death has continued to inspire me, and pour her creativity and imagination into my heart, mind, and spirit.

Happy Easter everyone. Christ has risen, he has risen indeed.

A Hard Goodbye

1 week 3 days since I heard you were gone.

5 days since your funeral, and the hardest day of my life.

53 days since I last spoke to you, or found love in your hugs.

As I lay awake tonight and I began my prayers I quickly found myself talking to you instead. There is an emptiness in my heart I cannot even begin to fathom. Some days are okay, I’m able to stay out of that hole you left behind. Other days it’s all I can do to get up in the morning and walk through my day, more of a shadow of myself then an active participant.

 

 

But I know that isn’t what you’d want…

Continue reading

Exploring Exploration

This past weekend the United Methodist Church (UMC) held its Exploration event. Exploration is an event that happens every other year for people 18-26. The 3 day conference brings together young people from all over the country to explore their calls into ordained ministry. During the weekend the participants attend 4 worship services, meet in small groups, and attend sessions focused on different aspects of ordained ministry and ways to become ordained. The participants also get the opportunity to meet representatives from most of the UMC seminaries, and other organizations within the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the UMC. It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite things the UMC does.

I was first introduce to Exploration 4 years ago in my first semester of undergrad. At the time I was 18 and had been in college for about 2 months. I signed up for the event hoping to learn more about my call to youth ministry. Little did I know that by the time I went to Exploration I would be working as a youth director and that I would have realized that youth ministry was not God’s long term plan for me. At the time of Exploration 2013 I was young and naive, I thought I knew what my future held: I wanted to go to Wesley Theological Seminary, I might get ordained but who really knew that, and to be honest I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

That first year at Exploration I was introduced to ordination, and I had my mind opened to the idea of one day being ordained (as a deacon’s kid I really wasn’t thinking about ordination for myself before that). While it was an important first step on my journey I really did not get everything I needed to out of Exploration 2013, because I was not yet at the point that I knew myself, let alone my calling.

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The group I was with for Exploration 2013

 

Two years later things were different. In the fall of 2015 I petitioned (arguably I coerced) every person I knew to sign up for Exploration. I had been looking forward to going back for two years, and I wanted everyone else to get the same experiences I had out of the event. I am sad to say that may not have been the best move I ever took. Looking back I realize that not everyone I convinced to go was in a place where Exploration would be helpful to them. It was still an important trip for many of us, but I recognize now it was not what everyone else needed at the time.

I on the other hand really need Exploration 2015. To be honest I treated it as my own personal seminary fair to begin with. I went in knowing I wanted to continue my education, but not planning on pursuing ordination. This was solely a trip for my education… at least that’s what I thought. I went to most of my sessions (Also I did skip one to talk to representatives from some of the most interesting seminaries), but I wasn’t fully invested in them. I also found myself struggling with my small group. As someone with absolutely no call to be an elder I found my group of early 20 year old future elders to be immensely unhelpful. The thing is though that it was finally during the third worship service that God did a 180 on me.

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My friends I persuaded to join me at Exploration 2015.

During the Saturday night worship I found myself drawn to the back of the room. We had been invited, if we felt called, to go find a leader in the back of the room and ask them to pray for us. For the first time in my life I heeded a call without resistance and asked one of them to pray for me. To this day I don’t remember a word of that prayer. Almost as soon as the young man laid his hands on my shoulder I found myself overwhelmed by a vision.

I saw myself standing in a valley leading a crowd of people wearing the stole of a deacon. All at once I knew what God was calling me to: I was called to be ordained as a deacon in the UMC. My chaperone from the trip can attest that I spent the next 5 minutes sobbing into my hands in my seat, so overwhelmed by the experience… Honestly this is one of the first times I’ve told the full story because it is one of my most treasured memories…

Jump forward to 2017. Guess what: I was at Exploration last weekend too (Are you sensing a pattern?) But this time I was no longer a participant. Over the summer this year I reached out to the Admissions department at the seminary that I had committed to, but had not yet started at: Drew Theological School and asked to represent them at Exploration. Which sounds a little desperate, but I felt a tugging on my soul to return, so I emailed the associate dean and told him how important Exploration was to my decision to come to Drew (I honestly wouldn’t have even known to look into it without Exploration) and come September I was invited to represent the school.

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The Drew Theological School Admissions Team at Exploration 2017

I wasn’t necessarily sure what to expect, being on the other side of the curtain this year but I was not disappointed. This past weekend I was amazed to be a part of several 19-21 year olds journeys as they began to explore their own callings. Despite the minimal age difference I saw reflections of 18 and 20 year old me in the participants as they tried to understand what ordination could look like, and why they should try to be ordained in a church on the verge of collapse. Like a younger me my small group ended up leaving Exploration with more questions then answers, but they had also created relations with peers trying to understand the same journey.

I didn’t write all of this to talk just about myself. Like I said in the beginning I truly believe that Exploration is one of the most important events we do as United Methodists. This event is about so much more then just Exploring a calling. This is a chance for young people from all over the country to come together and meet people who are both immensely different from them, and yet of the same substance. This is an event where we fully invest in the future of our church, where we treat our future generations as if they matter in every way. Exploration is an event that opens doors for young leaders to explore how God is calling them in their lives, and equip them to go forward prepared with questions, and support. Over the years I have made connections at Exploration that have supported me, and helped me grow closer to the man God is calling me to be, and these are connections I never would have made otherwise. I cannot advocate for Exploration enough.

If you are currently struggling with a call into ordained ministry, or know someone who is I hope that you will remember Exploration in 2019. If you would like more information I invite you to go to http://www.explorecalling.org/ and learn as much as you can. As our church teeters on the potential verge of schism it is more important then ever that we invest into the young leaders in our churches. It is more important then ever that we take a step for our future and recognize these young people are no longer tomorrow’s leaders. Tomorrow has come.

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Exploration’s Logo

 

A Bucket full of Hope

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Tarping roofs and marking the holes with large X’s: notice tree to right that had fallen on house

It started out like any other day, watching the news and moving through my work routine. But as Harvey hit and people began calling from around the Winchester District to see what we were doing in response, I felt that tug. You know, the one that says, “You need to do something radically different here and step out in faith.” Things quickly took shape and I found myself with four other people in two cars headed down to Texas with our ERT (Early Response Team) badges, which allow us into locations that have experienced disasters.

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Following the trailer hauling the bobcat from Virginia to Texas

Our first impressions were of piles of possessions on the road, hay bales that had floated across roads, and business signs ripped from their posts and scattered across parking lots and sidewalks. Some areas had remained virtually untouched beyond the occasional blue tarp on the roof, but down by the river in the poorer section of town, flooding had done severe damage to many of the homes. This is where we spent our time in Victoria, TX.

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Hay bales pushed to the side of the road after floating away from the fields during the storm

As we approached our first neighborhood, a man came running out to our vehicle begging for our help. He was living in a small home with six others, including several children. Their roof had been pealed back from the home and rain had poured into the front section, creating terrible black mold. His need was compelling and one of the assessors spent all day working to remove them from their home as work began. This first impression was a lasting one and I’m happy to report that with the help of a nephew, we removed the mold and sprayed it down to stop the growth. We bought them a tent so they could stay outside until the work was done, and we made some new friends.

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Necessity is the mother of invention: tent with air conditioner built in

By the afternoon of the first day, we had joined forces with seven from Austin, TX. God truly brought this team together to do amazing work. In five days, we tarped five roofs, removed debris from nine homes, worked to remove black mold from three homes, and removed a tree from the roof of a home. In all, we cared for ten homes.

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Tree several hundred years old fell across this home, damaging inside and out

But the blessings came in the interactions with not just those living in the homes, but their neighbors, as well. Many of them had been working tirelessly for a week or two to remove the damage. Their spirits were determined, but beginning to feel hopeless. Fresh hands and renewed energy gave them a boost to keep moving forward. We worked side by side with these individuals, learning about them, growing in faith, lending support with words, gestures, and prayers. Kathy Kraiza, the former Executive Director at UMCOR’s Sager Brown, used to say about the flood buckets we send, “a flood bucket can’t fix what’s wrong with these homes. But they are a bucket full of hope when life seems hopeless.” I never fully understood that until this trip to Texas. We were a moment of hope to renew spirits. And I am grateful for that opportunity to participate.

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We worked tirelessly with this home owner and our new friends from Austin, TX

All of this was only possible because of the United Methodist Churches in Victoria, TX, who stepped up and out in faith to become the hub of support in their community. First United Methodist Church opened their doors for the community to come receive flood buckets and personal hygiene items. They closed down their youth rooms to provide space for volunteers to stay. Their UMW made casseroles and their preschool children made notes of encouragement for the volunteers. The wear and tear on this building with two showers and a large gym is going to be overwhelming. But this is what United Methodist Churches do. They open up their doors when others remain closed to be a place of transformation in their communities and beyond.

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First UMC of Victoria, TX, with supplies including water, flood buckets, and hygiene items

This crisis is far from over. The rebuild will continue for years to come in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and all the islands of the Atlantic and Gulf. I implore you to not forget. Send money to UMCOR, or, if you feel moved, talk to your local church or District or the Conference about putting together a team for next spring to begin the rebuilding. I am so proud to be United Methodist because we truly are the very first ones in and the very last ones out. That only happens because we get trained to respond early and we don’t forget in the years ahead.

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Black mold removal: tear out drywall and spray the mold to stop the growth. Hard, hot work

I Left My Heart – reflections on Haiti

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I left my heart in Haiti

Or at least a piece of it

I didn’t expect that

I thought I had enough distance to remain intact

But the heart doesn’t work that way

Instead we leave littered fragments

All around us

Like leaves scattered behind the wind

And so a piece of my heart

Attempting to leap after our plane at takeoff

Remained behind

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And I long for the day to go back

To be reunited with great joy

For just a time

With my heart

That I left in Haiti.

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Does Size Matter? -reflections on Haiti

I came home from Haiti last night

I was exhausted, but processing so intensely, I couldn’t sleep

I thought about my huge house

I thought about the number of families that could fit in every room.

And I was overwhelmed by what I had

What I take for granted every day.

So my dreams became a jumble of

Chaos

Pain

Grief

Acceptance

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I woke up

Confused

Disoriented

Exhausted

But unable to continue to sleep.

Does size matter?

Do material possessions matter?

As I rest secure in my big house

Warm

Comfortable

Safe

Abundant

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I remember those with no

Bed

Amenities

Security

Excess

They survive day after day, night after night

On the streets with nothing but family and an indomitable human spirit and a sense of survival

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While we sleep in our big homes in isolation from one another wrapped in comforts unimaginable to most

I thank God, but I also beg forgiveness for my waste. I pray for those who matter just as I matter, but who are forgotten in the slums of Haiti and in my own home town.

 

Rainstorm

I’m sitting on my front porch after a very hot, humid day

Enjoying the cool breeze

Whipping my hair as a storm comes up.

 

The rain just dumped for a second and is going to be a gusher.

I haven’t sat outside for a good storm in a long time.

I think we’ve forgotten simple life and the goodness of it

The smell of fresh, wet earth,

The sound of wind in the trees,

The call of the birds suddenly hushed in the downpour,

The shout of children caught in the deluge,

And as it ends for a moment,

The hardy birds still rejoicing.

 

I hear it coming across our neighborhood –

HARDER this time.

 

I hadn’t ever listened to the sound it makes on our

Burning bushes with distinct plinking.

And oh! That glorious breeze!

The wind is blowing on my hot, sweaty body

                                    Cooling me

                                    Refreshing me

As sheets fall to the ground.

 

What a fun rain coming in waves!

Hard for a moment……………then gone.

And as I listen, I hear the next wave approach.

 

It’s like my own ocean ebbing and flowing

As faithful as the sea always has been and always will be.

 

Now the thunder rolling as from a distance,

Warning of more consistency to come.

 

The road darkens in color,

Steam blows across its surface,

Testimony to the torturous heat from just moments ago in the day.

 

There! The thunder sounds again – a distant warning

Of the depth of God’s power on earth.

 

Will you be caught unaware?

Frolicking in the sunshine until an abrupt storm overtakes you?

Or will you heed the roiling clouds and swift rain,

Finding shelter from the darkest storms,

Prepared for whatever lies ahead?

 

I remember as a child:

Sitting outside under my grandparent’s tin roofed patio,

While lightening flashed and rain poured down.

I did not fear.

I wondered at the awesomeness of the storm,

Safe with my grandpa by my side.

I remember as a child:

Driving to Texas across the plains to see my other grandparents.

The dry ground and incredible lightning storms

Rending the dark sky

With streaks of brilliant color –

Far better than any fireworks display could every boast!

 

And again, that awe in God,

Who is very much greater than myself.

God, who could crush me,

But who instead gently and carefully holds me and the

Sacred life and relationship I present.

My God is one to fear,

But only because of how intensely BIG and GREAT God is!

Even in that fear,

I am not some nameless thing that happened to come along.

NO!!

I am beloved, precious, adored, sacred, claimed.

No matter what happens, God, the GREAT I AM,

Will never ever leave my side.

God will simply abide with me.

 

What an awesome word – abide!

Not one we use much,

But filled with something profound.

What other word measures up?

Why do we not use it more?

Is it because we have become so oriented around a throw-away society that we no longer even value the depth of abiding with someone?

Does our world move so quickly that we don’t know how to abide?

How can we know God if we don’t understand the depth of abiding?

 

It’s not to stay or about constancy

(Although it is both)

It’s not the same as forever

(But still holds tinges of this, as well.)

And even thinking on it makes me want to

Flee

                      Back

                                                            To Technology

                                                                                                      And Connection

                                                                                                                                                   To my Devises.

 

Why is that?

Are we afraid to abide?

Afraid of silence?

Afraid to just be?

 

Still, reality DOES seep back in, as I am called to make dinner.

So after we sit for another moment,

We come inside –

The temperature outside now more closely matching the

coolness of the air conditioned inside.

 

Still, as I begin to enter this world again,

I open the back door to hear the rain

In the backyard falling.

 

Funny how it sounds completely different

On the other side of the house!

 

 

So, my Majestic God,

Thank You for a Moment Apart

To ABIDE with You and

To Remember just how GREAT You are.

Whose “Side” Are You On?

Are you a liberal or a conservative? What are you fighting for? Where do you fall on the lines that is the issues?

I’ve seen a lot of comments on twitter, on signs, and coming from people about the issue of human rights. The hard part is seeing the people who continue to bash the decision to speak on the topic in a special commission, or those who get angry with the worship committee for supporting a “side” with veiled messages.

I’m not quite sure having a “side” is the point.

Where do you think God is in all this? Does God have a political platform? Is God stagnant and stuck in the book that we decided to close, or does God extend out of the Bible as God did when Jesus died and the curtain was split?

I don’t think that God is as caught up in interpreting 2000 year old rules correctly as we are.

Imagine a trail in the woods. Poison Ivy all along the sides, and a spiderweb strung up in the way. Your friend has somehow gotten past the spiderweb and is now standing on the other side, calling you to follow them. How do you respond? “Sorry I can’t, this spiderweb is in the way. I’ll just stay here,” or do you just walk through the spiderweb, shake off the pieces and follow your friend?

This is essentially what we are doing when we discuss being on a “side”. Each issue that we take a side on is another spine in the web, a spine that we cling to with everything we have. As we take on more sides we find ourselves getting stuck in a thicker and thicker spiderweb that is keeping us away from God and the plan that God has for the rest of our hike.

If we split over these issues we are splitting our body and sending one half on either side, through the poison ivy. Some people may choose to leave the UMC. People leave churches all the time; but if we decide to split on “good terms” we claim that we do not respect each other or the God who is calling us forward together. We are the United Methodist Church; it’s about time we started acting unified.

I understand that these issues need to be discussed and we need to vote and set the UMC’s policies. I am not asking the denomination to change its structure (today). I am asking the denomination to loosen our stances (yes both sides) and try to follow the path that God is calling us to. I am calling for us to step through the issues and see what God truly desires, not what we desire of God.

I guess you could say I hope to be on God’s side.

Let go of the spiderweb… follow God.

A Call for Unity

As many of you saw from my last post I am at the UMC General Conference. Yesterday I wrote what could be called an emotional post on the possibilities of a divide. Today I am not in fear. Today I am hopeful. Yesterday the Bishops brought forward a “plan” to move our denomination forward in unity and it passed… by 23 votes. Below is the bishop’s proposal in it’s entirety.

There are people on both sides of the human sexuality discussion that hate this plan. Some people are calling this a “kicking of the can,” pushing the issue to the future as we did in 2012. Others are saying it is a liberal agenda for a schism. As someone who is here and cares for the United Methodist Church (unlike the Washington Post), I want to give you my attempt at a diplomatic understanding.

I think this is the best plan the United Methodist Church could take for all sides. This commission will be a group that is diverse, small (compared to the General Conference size), and actually dedicated to attempting to find a path that leads the Church to unity. The space is supposed to be a place of true Holy Conversation, which will be solely dedicated to the single conversation, instead of a group that has other things to discuss and is just thinking of their own views on the Church.

This is not a space intended to split the Church; it is a space to find the best path towards unity. It is not a “liberal” agenda, because the liberals had no say in the wording, it came directly from the Bishops after we asked them to give us their guidance. It is not a “kicking of the can” because instead of “pushing it under the rug” we are setting human sexuality to the side and dedicating ourselves to the discussion in a way we never have before, without other discussions. And as those speaking for the motion said yesterday: We asked the Bishops to lead us, and they did. They brought this concept to us and claimed it was, what they consider, the best way forward.

We have been having this discussion for decades. Clearly what we have been trying is not solving the issue of human sexuality. We have been offered from the Bishop’s language a new path that may help lead our Church into a place of true unity. The least we can do is give it a chance and truly commit to the discussion once. A schism may be coming this way, but it is much more likely if we do not try something new. I pray the commission can join in true Holy Conversation, I pray this movement can reunify the Church I love, and I pray you give it a chance as well.

Searching for God’s will,

Andrew

 

Photo Credit Zach Hubbard