Friday, February 25, 2005

The Prayer Path

The Prayer Path

Here's my workplace: Office for Religious and Spiritual Life(ORSL)

Office for Religious and Spiritual Life(ORSL)

Ongoing conversation between my co-worker and myself as we try to decide whether or not to support Jim Wallis and the Sojourner's movement

I think the Sojourner's movement is exciting and good for our "cultural debate," my co-worker is hesitant to jump onboard because Wallis is reticent to affirm gay rights. I see her point, and think its a good conversation, so here it is.....

Quoting Jim (and this is a quote I have heard from him before):
"It is "traditional" or "conservative" on issues of family values, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility while being very "progressive," "populist," or even "radical" on issues such as poverty and racial justice. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist - looking first to peacemaking and conflict-resolution when it comes to foreign policy questions. The people it appeals to (many religious, but others not) are very strong on issues such as marriage, raising kids, and individual ethics, but without being "right-wing," reactionary, or mean-spirited, or using any group of people - such as gays and lesbians - as scapegoats. It can be pro-life, pro-family, and pro-feminist all at the same time. It thinks issues of "moral character" are very important, both in a politician's personal life, and in his or her policy choices. Yet it is decidedly pro-poor, pro-racial reconciliation, pro-environment, and critical of purely military solutions. "
Here's the thing: I don't think you can be "traditional" on "family values" and "sexual integrity" (I believe we know what that's code for) and ALSO be a feminist or fight for gender equality, because those things are not traditional and in fact are often opposed to traditional family values. Being a pro-family feminist would mean supporting the rights to family, and the ability to support families, of poor women, single women, single men, gay, lesbian, transgender people, etc. I honestly do not believe that Jim will stand up for the family rights of those people. Being a pro-family feminist would mean supporting sexual responsibility among young people -- and I don't mean abstinence-only, though abstinence has its place, I mean solid education in sexual matters and access to birth control, so that young girls of any socioeconomic level can have some control over when and by whom they get pregnant aside from abortion. I doubt this is on Jim's radar. Being a pro-family feminist would mean working against global HIV in ways that work, such as education and condom access, and I doubt, again, that Jim's movement would put pressure on the Bush administration to rescind the "abstinence only" version of American foreign policy aid in this area. Therefore I think he's being quite disingenuous when he says he is feminist or will support gender equality. I think he will do so only within the context of "traditional family values," which is to say not very far at all.
I am glad that he is standing up for the environment, for racial reconciliation, and for a modicum of thoughtfulness in our military policy, but I feel that he is far less likely to create a movement around these things (since they involve issues of economic and personal-safety sacrifice and risk-taking) than he is to reassure his listeners that they are quite fine where they are on sexual and gender issues (since that involves no effort at all on their part). It's human nature to avoid the hard things and take the pretty present, and I think he's offering them a way to feel good about their version of Christianity without challenging them very much. Anti-militarism and economic justice will take (and has been taking among progressive American Christians) generations of work, so some lip-service will do; on the issues of gay and lesbian rights and feminism, generations of work are now starting to bear fruit, there is opportunity to make or break progress, and permitting evangelical Christians to continue to believe that their religious life depends on "traditional family values" actually does make a difference in the here and now.
I'm definitely arguing for a worst case scenario -- it's the kind of person I am -- but the general slide of the country to the right is very frightening, and it worries me that the "leader of the religious left" will not take a stand on the issue that, like slavery a century ago, actually and in real time is splitting the denominations and religious Americans. Refusing to take a stand on a controversial issue does not solve the problem; it is a strategem that favors the conservative in any situation. The best thing that can happen is that evangelicals start voting against militarism and economic exploitation, and that these things (as they usually do) come along with candidates who also actually are feminist and support gay and lesbian rights, and that the evangelicals won't notice because they've decided that militarism and economic exploitation are more important than keeping traditional sexual mores at the center of their religious lives and self-definitions. I am afraid that this is unlikely.

My Response
About your responses to Wallis. I agree that the words "traditional" and "conservative" are problematic in that they seem inherently opposed to notions of feminism in particular. The "tradition" is patriarchy, and therefore, upholding that word is upholding patriarchy. However, I want to give Wallis credit as far as "knowing" this paradox and look for a possible optimistic understanding of what he's saying. I think he thinks that placing a premium on the realm of "family values, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility" has the potential to recast these ideals in a form that has at its heart the more typically "progressive" values of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, etc. These values can be found in the tradition, and therefore a more lasting change on our society will incorporate our tradition into our vision for the future rather than dismissing the tradition outright in favor of realizing all our ideals. Though I don't affirm everything in tradition, I must recognize my rootedness in tradition if I am going to be able to grow toward what I want to achieve. Progressives are oriented toward the future. It is in the name "progressive." Conservatives are oriented toward the past--ideally, they hold on to the "best" of the past and thereby "conserve" it in their application of it toward the future as well. If Wallis is going to help usher in a dialogue between conservatives and liberals, he must find footing in tradition and vision.
As long as liberals are successfully labeled as "opposed to" family values, sexual integrity, personal responsibility, our movement will continue to remain on the fringes. "Down home" types can be won over to a platform that lifts up poverty, peace, and the environment, and perhaps even feminism and gay rights if we can re-frame the positive impacts of feminism and gay rights on family values. Now, I think you are right in saying Wallis avoids these hot button issues. But I think he is doing this very intentionally. --Probably one of the things you find disingenuous about him. However, He wants to expand the notion of "values" beyond sexuality and abortion rights: therefore he would be compromising his very agenda (at this point anyway) if he were to advocate one side or the other. I think he is personally "anti-abortion" and therefore would probably consider himself "pro-life--" but I think his adoption of this platform gives him the ability to speak to those who hold the same viewpoint and convince them that "pro-life" means something more than simply "anti-abortion." I find myself in this same camp. Though I don't know that I will ever say that a woman should never have an abortion, I think the ideal would be for our society to be able to have a real and nurturing alternative to simply terminating unwanted pregnancies. Though I'm not a woman and therefore am hesitant to weigh in on a woman's rights over her own body, I have to say that as someone who has watched a pregnancy develop, it is hard to deny the sacred quality of human life that exists within a woman's body for nine months. I recently read an article about the "pro-choice Lobby's" grip on the democratic party and how the Dem's allow less variation from the norm of "pro-choice" than the republicans allow with their platform on this issue. There should be a healthy debate on this greyest of grey issues in both parties instead of allowing our stances to calcify beyond reason. (For example, I think the Dem's holding out on 3rd term abortions is political suicide when doctors say there only very rare cases when 3rd term abortions are necessary, and for those very few circumstances where it might be necessary, a woman would have the choice to have an abortion if continued pregnancy would threaten her life even if the congress had passed the 3rd term pregnancy ban.) The problem with that issue is that we then begin to question, where do you draw the line on when pregnancy should be allowed, and then we really do start infringing on the rights of women. But---because that IS such a grey issue, why shouldn't we start lifting up other issues that have the potential to build a consensus? IF Christians are divided over the ethics of homosexuality, why shouldn't we try to unite those very diverse opinions on other issues that seem to be bridges rather than walls? IN doing so, perhaps many of those people who were previously "against gays" will have the person to person contact that will cause them to rethink their opinion? I don't know how many "small town Arkansans" I have come into contact with who were "against homosexuality" until they came into contact with a couple who were very much in love with each other and devoted to each other. Though it may seem degrading to have to "prove yourself" as a gay person, many who are against gay rights simply don't know any gay people (or don't know they know any). And their stance against is more a fear of the unknown. There's a new student at CST that quit going to Fuller b/c she was outed by another student. She could have stayed at Fuller if she agreed to go to the psychologist, but she obviously didn't want to submit to that, so she left. In doing so, she opened the eyes of many co-workers, students, and others who didn't know she was gay before, but since they found out she was gay they started challenging their own backwards ideas about gays. I guess I say all this to say, we'll never change the minds of religious right people unless we can frame our arguments in a way that really challenges theirs instead of just arguing around each other. By identifying the Bible as a cornerstone of social justice, the people on the other end of the political and theological spectrum have to take notice.
Though Jim Wallis is a challenging leader to rally around because he doesn't affirm every conviction that I affirm, he does understand that as long as we say "family values" with a bitter taste in our mouth, progressives will fail to be the majority political voice. I'm not satisfied to be part of a movement that is continually on the margins, I want to be able to find a way to articulate liberal values from the context of "mid-America."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

My responses to a bunch of doctrinal questions from the United Methodist Book of Discipline that I recently submitted to Arkansas

It never fails. Around the time stuff needs to be turned in to the BOM, I always get a lot of hits on this particular post with referrals from search engines with the questions word for word in the search bar. I posted this with the hopes of spurring on sluggish minds and sharing ideas and creating conversation about doctrine and theology. Every one of the answers is original. I hope your BOM answers are too. It is too easy to cut and paste. God wants more from you than that. Wade into your own Spirit and retrieve something you can be proud of and stand by--be honest about your convictions, your own BOM will see through anything else. 8/07

Well, here's my first blog--and its a doozy. I guess I'll find out how big a post this mamma jamma can handle.

a) Describe your personal experience of God and the understanding of God you derive from biblical, theological, and historical sources.
God is light, God is Breath, God is Love, God is an abundant spring, God is creative, God is redeeming, God pulls, God is visionary, God is the undercurrent of the universe, God is Living.
I begin with my experience of God partially because the question asks me first what my experience of God has been. I also begin with my experience of God because it is the understanding of God that is “written on my heart.” All of the truths I have learned from scripture and theological tradition are prisms that refract the Light of God that shines through the universe and the heart of humanity. To the eye unaided with these tools, the Light is still Light: pure, illuminating, warm, and inviting. When we hold up the prism of the tools of scripture and theological tradition, we see the infinite complexity of that light. The hues that spring forth from these prisms are instrumental to our livelihood. Scripture and theological tradition allow us to translate the pure light into the hues of word, songs, sacraments, stories, lessons, and truths.
One particular personal experience of God that has been enriched by scripture and theological tradition has been my participation in the sacrament of communion. The summer after my junior year in college I was a camp counselor for Tulsa District High School camp. During an especially powerful communion service, I noticed that the elements looked radiantly perfect. In that tabernacle at camp Egan, the communion elements stood out to me as a bridge between humanity and God. I had not yet studied the sacramental theology of Jeremy Taylor or the Wesley’s’ understanding of the Spirit’s involvement with Holy Communion. In fact, I had never put that much thought into the Eucharist. But at this time the Light of God was shining forth from the simplicity of the common loaf and cup. I was sitting beside the person I would eventually marry. She was looking down at the floor. I said to her “Lara, look at perfection!” When she lifted her eyes, she saw what I saw, and began to cry. I looked around and noticed the trees and the sounds of night (the chapel was an open tabernacle) and felt the uncanny sense that we were surrounded by all who have participated in this celebration throughout the history of our faith
A year later I had an opportunity to take a retreat with Brother Aidan, an Eastern Orthodox hermit monk who painted icons and re-forested the barren hills on the border of England and Wales. When I recounted the experience to him, he exclaimed that I had been involved in the communion of saints. The chapel he built and painted on the grounds of the hermitage conveyed this same theological principle. When I joined him for early morning prayers and readings, I saw that surrounding us on the walls of the chapel were the icons of saints. As we celebrated God’s Word together amidst the regal smell of incense candles and the sound of the language many early Christians spoke, the communion of saints were also present in a tangible way. When I stood in that chapel, I was reminded of sitting in that camp chapel in Northeast Oklahoma.
Through this experience, I fell in love with a spiritual world that engaged all the senses. While we Protestants are historically insistent on conveying the “Word” of God with our mouths, Christians throughout history have acknowledged the presence of Christ through the visual communion of the icon, the regal smell of incense, the tender touch of the kiss of a fellow worshipper, or the taste of the Eucharist ingested among the communion of saints who are visually represented on the walls surrounding the celebrants. My experience of Protestantism was enriched by my experience with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which through its worship conveys the deep truth of God found in the Psalms, “O Taste and see that God is good!” (Psalm 34:8)
In exchange for room and board at the hermitage, I helped cut up a tree that had fallen on a fence that separated sheep from a field of saplings that Brother Aidan had planted to reforest the hills. While I chopped wood with an axe, Brother Aidan used a chainsaw. As we both became lost in our work, the noise of our assault against the fallen tree became absorbed by the deafening silence of the falling snow. I don’t know if I realized it then, but I believe now that my encounter with the icons that Brother Aidan had painted was teaching me to hear what St. Ignatius meant when he said, “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.” The deep and living silence that marks a good icon is nothing less than the silence of Christ. It is the very opposite of the icy stillness of the tomb. It is the silence of Mary’s contemplative heart, the silence of the Transfiguration, the silence of the Resurrection--the silence of the Incarnate Word.
My experience with Brother Aidan inspired me to try my own hand at the discipline of iconography a few years later. The writing instructor at CST was an Eastern Orthodox priest whose wife, Bonnie Gillis, was an iconographer. With her help, I crafted an icon that amazed me. I had never thought of myself as “artistic,” but when I delved into the practice, I found a wellspring of creativity that was focused by the contemplation and prayer that accompanied the brushstrokes on wood. After working on the icon for four months, I was happily putting on the finishing border while posing for a picture. As I held the brush in place for the photo, it rolled out of my fingers and onto the face of Christ. Red paint splattered on Christ’s cheek as my mouth fell open in utter disbelief. In the half second that it took Bonnie to react and salvage the icon I had a vision of a beaten Christ with a bloody face. Though I was unhappy with my carelessness, I was overjoyed with what had happened. Like a Tibetan Buddhist monk who painstakingly creates a Mandala of sand over months in order to cast it into a river in a reverent celebration of impermanence, I had given this representation of my savior the very markings that relate the same message in our tradition. Christ’s victory over death came through death. This miserable death was experienced for the impermanence of all creation. Bonnie’s quick hand darted to pick up a clean brush, take some water and wash the paint from the face. In an instant, the blood was gone. We as Christians do not only celebrate Christ’s death, but Christ’s resurrection. Through grappling with impermanence, Christ became eternally permanent. As Bonnie washed the red paint from Christ’s face, Christ washes his blood from our hands. Through his permanence, we shake off our impermanence. Through the silence of the icon, we can hear the Hallelujah chorus. When I look into the eyes of Christ that I gave shape and form, I hear the sound of snow falling on snow.

b) What is your understanding of humanity, and the human need for divine grace?
Humanity is in constant state of change. We can change for the better, or we can change for the worse. I celebrate Wesley’s threefold understanding of grace—as prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. In my own words, I interpret prevenient grace as vitality, conscience, and creativity. These human faculties are expressions of God’s nature drawing us toward justification, which is that marked moment in our personal lives when we understand our need for God’s redeeming love and companionship. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are expressions of God’s compassion for humanity—for God’s willingness to experience life with us—pulling us out of self-absorption, self-denial, or whatever particular fog plagues us. I believe sanctification is the movement toward a perfect and unifying love of God and creation. So in this sense, God’s grace leads us to an understanding and experience of our true natures: as “sparks of the Divine.”
Humanity is and always has been in the midst of a struggle between our true purpose as created beings who reflect God’s love with “holiness and happiness of heart” and the misguided purposes that are influenced by our weakness in perceiving that Divine aim. This weakness influences and is influenced by ignorance, fear, exploitation and oppression. Paul pointed to the “powers and principalities” that are manifestations of these human frailties in forms that seem to have worldly power and dominion. Divine grace opens our eyes to our intended purpose. This grace is not achieved or deserved, but given freely. God’s heart is overflowing with it, because God desires to be known, and our knowledge of our own natures facilitates our understanding of God. This free grace is received only by an open heart to its presence, which is faith.
Divine grace is conveyed to humanity in a unique way through the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Worship facilitates the celebration of these sacraments as well as the songs, exhortations, and liturgies that are our verbal affirmations of the need for Divine Grace and the good news of God’s graceful nature.
I have experienced humanity very favorably. Whenever I have put my trust in another person, I have never had any serious disappointments. For this reason, I probably have a “rosier” conceptualization of humanity than others who have faced more human trauma, immorality, and forsakenness than I. Through my friendships with others who have had major struggles or disillusionment though, I have been privileged to share in the heartache that comes from rejection, betrayal, or oppression. Through these relationships, I have come to know the long journey that some go through to reach forgiveness. Far deeper than “philosophical” understanding of redemption is the relationship involved in betrayal, heartache, and forgiveness. I believe in God’s redemption for all of humanity—so even those (especially those) who consciously reject the norms of ethical conduct are susceptible to God’s grace. I say “susceptible” because God’s grace is not always a pillow or a crutch, but sometimes a thorn in the side of a person who persecutes or betrays trust. God’s grace leads to repentance and redemption; it is not a security blanket of endless coddling. I believe that God’s grace in our personal lives is the mortar that keeps together the edifices of the Kingdom of God.

c) How do you interpret the statement Jesus Christ is Lord?
This understanding of Christ is laden with political meaning for the first practitioners of Christianity. To say Jesus Christ was “Lord” was to make a declaration of independence from the Empire that knew only one Lord, the Caesar. It was a statement of bravery and rebelliousness that one living in a democratic society such as my own cannot fully comprehend. Our system of government allows me to make the statement that “Christ is Lord” without any fear of arrest or torture. So to some extent, my affirmation that “Christ is Lord” does not have the same potency as the same words uttered by early martyrs of the Church. However, I understand the words “Christ is Lord” to still carry political and economic valance. When I say these words, I commit myself to Christ over and beyond my commitments to any particular form of government, dogma, or other “power or principality.” As the early Christians committed themselves to Christ as Lord and thus turned their attention to alleviating the woes of the powerless and dispossessed people of the Empire, I see the direction of Christ pointing me toward the same ends. The Lordship of Christ reigns in a Basileia where the world has been turned upside down, and the powers and principalities that dominate the earth have been shaken out—Christ directs his disciples to carry out the healing and preaching that will facilitate the unveiling of this reality “in our midst.”
I associate the term “Lord” with the spirit of God who liberated the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. I also celebrate Paul’s correlation between the Lord and freedom in 2nd Corinthians 3:17, which states, “The Lord is the Spirit; but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” If “Lord” is the name for the experience of liberation and for free life, then the name is misunderstood and brought into disrepute if it is interpreted in terms of masculine notions of rule. Instead of affirming a Lord who rules my life in a coercive manner, I celebrate Jesus Christ as the Lord who gives freedom. When I state that Jesus Christ is Lord, I am giving my loyalty to the Risen Christ. I am committing myself to be the best disciple I can be. This is the freedom that the Lordship of Christ inspires. Christ leads by example. I call Christ Lord because Christ goes first where he wants me to go. As I follow the Lord, Christ’s leadership becomes more and more clear to my eyes. As Paul says, “Though I now see through a foggy mirror, I hope for the day when I shall see face to face.”

d) What is your conception of the activity of the Holy Spirit in personal faith, in the community of believers, and in responsible living in the world?
During the fall term of my last year of seminary, I had the opportunity to take a course called Pneumatology: The Quest for the Spirit in the Modern Age. This course, instructed by Dr. Philip Clayton, quickly became my favorite at CST. As the subtitle to the course indicates, our class explored various conceptualizations of Spirit that have been developed in Christianity and in other world religions. I was attracted to the Biblical witness of Spirit as the Breath/Wind of God and as the Wellspring of Life. I appreciate these particular metaphors for the Holy Spirit, or Ruach, because they celebrate God’s activity in the natural world in ways that we may at times overlook in our “search for God.” When I feel the breeze against my face or when I sit in front of a waterfall and take in the sound and sight of it, God’s Spirit is there!
The Breath of God imbues every created thing. We all have a deep, bodily relationship with our breath—it is so natural to us that our brain is wired to “relate” to our breath even when we lose consciousness. The Breath of God is inhaled and then it enters our lungs and into our bloodstream—it literally gives us life! Even as we are often not conscious of breathing, we always do, and though we’re not always conscious of God’s presence, God is always there.
In the John 3, Jesus speaks of the need to be “born of the Spirit” in order to “see what he is pointing to,” (The Message translation) which is the Reign of God. During my seminary career, the members of a group that I founded called “Community of Faith for Healing the Earth” dedicated a plaque that we placed at the foot of a cedar of Lebanon that existed on our campus. A retired faculty member that was instrumental in the landscape design of our campus had shared with our group that the tree was planted to remind future ministers that part of our task as ministers is to plant new possibilities in the world. As Solomon stripped the hills of Lebanon to build the Temple, our group wished to proclaim our duty to reforest the hills to build the sanctuary for God. On the plaque is a statement that “we believe ecological justice is a foundational element of the Basileia.” Peterson says that Jesus reiterates what he means by saying, “Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into new life—it is not possible to enter the kingdom.” Unless we open our eyes to the breath of God in the creation, we won’t fully wake up to the Breath of God in us. This is the Holy Spirit’s presence that leads to “responsible living in the world.”
The Holy Breath not only gives us life, it connects all of life together! Many of us have had “ah-hah” moments that many people describe as a great sense of interconnectedness. We circulate the Holy breath among us and in this circulation we share in God’s presence. The reign of God begins with the acknowledgement of this circulation and our common destiny. We are tied to creation in a very real and beautiful way. This same breath that “gives shape to the person within us” is connected to the breath within another person—it’s connected to the breath that stirs the trees and ocean—the same Breath within howling coyotes and singing nightingales. The time when we all know the Breath of God in us and are able to see that this breath of God is interwoven in the whole cosmos—I believe that living in this awareness is the Basileia—all the justice and peace in the world that comes with the Kingdom of God is rooted in this concept.
This interconnection is what I witnessed and then captured in this photograph. It was symbolized for me in the unification of earth and sky to create the completion of something we might expect—but there is a slight twist. This wind-swept tree’s foliage is the very cloud itself in the picture. I was walking through the mountains in central Wyoming, along some string of pearl glacial lakes, when I felt an intuitive tap on my shoulder. When I turned around—this is what I saw—and the world was crystal clear to me for a few brief moments.
There is a story about St. Francis coming upon a tree in the winter and shouting up to it, “Tell me of God!” According to legend, the tree immediately burst into bloom. Perhaps the miracle is not the actual bending of the laws of nature, but instead the recognition that Francis had that indeed that tree was in bloom—it was participating in the Breath of God and was on fire with the Shekinah of God’s presence. I was blessed to receive this vision and doubly blessed to have my camera around my neck so that I could preserve this encounter and be able to witness to its truth.
A recognition of the unity of the Divine Breath is also recognition of the violence that we are doing to God by our insistent and selfish pillaging of the natural world for our own gain. In many cultures past and present, a person who took from the natural world first thanked the Spirit that dwelled within that part of Creation. Whether it was a buffalo or a redwood tree that was about to be felled, a recognition of the deep connection that existed between “us” and “them” was first acknowledged.
It is idealistic to affirm our utter connection with this world without acknowledging that we have a lot of pain and suffering in this world as well as a great tingly sense of euphoric “connection.” I believe one reason the Holy Spirit is called “Paraclete,” or the “Comforter” by Jesus, is because the Spirit of God goes with us and experiences life’s cruelties with us. The Shekinah in Hebrew literature (which is a manifestation of the “Spirit of God”) is said to be God in transit with the Hebrew people. The Shekinah accompanies the Hebrews into exile in Babylon, and the Shekinah suffers with the people. We are never alone in this world! Even in the midst of our suffering, when we do not feel the utter excitement and vitality of a deep and profound connection with creation and our brothers and sisters. Even then, God is as close to us as our breath.
In our personal Bible study, my wife and I are in the middle of reading the book of Acts. In this book, the Holy Spirit is the guiding principle of the direction of the church. The apostles are people in the church who observe the stirrings of the Holy Spirit and decide how the body of believers should respond. Through Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, the church broadens its scope and mission to include the Gentiles because Peter observes the Holy Spirit’s activity among them. The Holy Spirit is the vivifying presence of God in the world. As Ezekiel witnessed the Breath of God entering into the valley of dry bones and resuscitating the lifeless into life, I believe the Holy Breath continually gives life where we might never imagine. As a witness to the fantastic pulse of life given by the Holy Spirit, I am excited to explore God as “Pure Spirit” who is manifest to my senses in the Living Christ and in the Holy Breath of God.

e) What is your understanding of the kingdom of God; the Resurrection; eternal life?
In my understanding, the Kingdom of God is a vision that God has for creation. This reality is hoped for by the people of God, and is also achieved in the lives of the people who strive to make the Kingdom of God a present reality. The Kingdom of God is present reality in the Living Christ, who inspires the church to act with the compassion and holiness.
I believe God is desperately pulling us toward the Kingdom of God, but it takes creation’s fulfillment of the persuasive vision and dream of God to make the Kingdom of God a reality. This belief is rooted in the Wesleyan notion of free will. Georgia Harkness wrote that the Kingdom of God is “both present and future. The Kingdom means both acceptance and action, a gift and a task. We work for it and we wait for it."
I give my heart to the idea that this Kingdom is both possible and present. It is possible in the sense of world salvation or the reign of God over political systems of selfishness. It is present in the reign of God in the salvation of individual hearts. These saints in whom the reign of God is expressed exhibit the possibility for the whole world and actively work for the realization of God’s creativity.
The Resurrection is an event in history through which God proclaims a radical new covenant with Creation. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s incarnation is fully complete. Christ suffered and died a torturous death that exemplified God’s intimate involvement with the experience of creation. Christ was glorified in the Resurrection from death so that Creation might witness its potential.
The disciples experienced mysterious encounters with the Risen Christ. Sometimes, Jesus came to them as they had known him, showing his wounds to those who doubted they were seeing a bodily resurrection of their teacher and friend. In some cases, such as in the last chapters of John, Jesus appeared unrecognizable to his disciples. After a certain exchange though, the disciples would see Christ clearly through the “disguise.” The Gospel witness of both of these experiences of the Risen Christ is an amazing testimony to the depth and breadth of the Resurrection of Christ. The Risen Christ was both a bodily incarnation of our Master for a period of time before ascension, a sign of God’s redeeming grace and power beyond death. The Risen Christ is also an expansion of the Christ consciousness into all Creation and time. As the hymn goes, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” Christ comes to us with different faces in the day-to-day interactions of our normal lives. If our eyes are opened, like the disciples in Luke’s account of the walk to Emmaus, we will see that we are accompanied by the Risen Christ in the encounters we might otherwise ignore.
Eternal life is a facet of Christ’s resurrection. Through our participation in the “Body of Christ” we are made to live beyond our death in mysterious and beautiful ways. Our participation in Christ’s love for creation is a participation in an everlasting experience of God. There are many conceptualizations of eternal life, and the scriptures don’t seem to be in agreement on them. I am aware that as a pastor to those facing the final stage of bodily life, a theology lesson on the diversity of scriptural accounts of eternal life will not be the appropriate way to respond to a person’s questions about what lies before them. Instead, I hope to allow God to use me as a comforting presence. Therefore, my ideas of eternal life aren’t as important as my ability to listen and assure people who have diverse ideas about our continued journey after death. Life itself presents most of us with enough challenges and as it were, “little endings” that life is itself a preparation for death, if we are sufficiently attentive to its ceaseless passing nature. Two Pauline cornerstones of religiosity, faith and hope, are inherently expressive of this incompleteness. Faith is not sight, and hope is not arrival at the condition hoped for. Both Pauline virtues beg for a completeness they themselves lack. Our temporality is reflected in our very ideals—but these ideals are all that is within our grasp. Though our current popular conceptualizations of eternal life as subjective immortality do not quite jive with the New Testament concept of bodily resurrection, I believe it is not a pastoral priority to speculate on the “correct doctrine” of eternal life. It is important to my personal spirituality to focus attention instead on the Kingdom “in our midst.” Though this is perhaps a luxury of my youth, I believe a Christian response to the eternal present moment is the utmost glorification of God.
In Matt. 22:22-33, Christ responds to the questions of the Pharisees about the afterlife with a witness to the “God of the Living.” Though our minds are somewhat unable to conceive of God’s possibilities for us in the afterlife, we are invited to respond to the God of the Living in our lives. My experience with the God of the Living is that God has a deep love for Creation. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is a witness to God’s presence with us after our earthly life.

f) What are the theological tasks of a probationary member and commissioned minister with special reference to Part II of the Book Of Discipline?
The book of Discipline states powerfully that our theological task is a “two way street”—we are to be interpreters of the world’s needs to the church and to be ambassadors of the good news to the world. As a probationary minister of the UMC, one aspect of the theological task that is particularly compelling to me is that I am asked to “identify the needs both of individuals and of society and to address those needs out of the resources of Christian faith in a way that is clear, convincing, and effective.” (¶104) This gives me a tremendous amount of confidence because I am convinced of the power of the resources of the Christian faith. I feel propelled by the Holy Breath of God to proclaim a hopeful message in the midst of much tribulation in our society. I am emboldened by the presence of Christ in the world to speak up for those in whom Christ shines forth: those who are trampled by the effects of selfishness, callousness, and ignorance. As I “seek to give expression to the mysterious reality of God’s presence, peace and power in the world,” I am reminded that a primary distinction of Wesleyan doctrine is “practicality.” The amazing simplicity of God’s immanence has given me an incredible calling to share with others this deepening insight: God is with us. God experiences our joys and fears. This fact compels me to “participate in God’s work in the world” because I hope to facilitate joy for God’s experience, and to help abolish fear. God desires to be known. As a commissioned minister, as a person who has glimpsed God’s profound Light, I am called to help God be known. Because I see Christ as the “Light of the World,” as testified by John, I follow Christ in this endeavor.
At the end of ¶102, the BOD states, “The UMC stands continually in need of doctrinal reinvigoration for the sake of authentic renewal, fruitful evangelism, and ecumenical dialogue. In this light, the recovery and updating of our distinctive doctrinal heritage—catholic, evangelical, and reformed—is essential.” As a commissioned minister and a recent seminary graduate, part of my task as a probationary member and commissioned minister is to uphold this ideal of the church by articulating fresh theological perspectives that will invigorate the life and mission of the Church. Though I understand the delicateness of this endeavor, I am also aware of the need of upcoming generations to find a viable theological framework in which they might have a fruitful and evangelical faith journey. Through undergraduate school and seminary, I have experienced Process Theology as a fresh articulation on some of the doctrines of Wesleyan theology. The foundation of this theological perspective is that God operates through persuasion, not coercion. In my understanding, this doctrine is consistent with, and perhaps an elaboration upon, the Wesleyan commitment to “free will.” I believe this is a compelling message for today’s Church. It has the potential to open our eyes to the stirrings of God’s persuasion from in front of us rather than waiting for God to take action in our lives as a “push from behind.”
Another characteristic of our theological task is that it is involved in a larger body of believers through our commitment to ecumenism. I have been fortunate to participate in a fellowship program in the National Council of Churches (NCC) called the “Faith and Ecological Justice Fellowship.” In this group, I have experienced the excitement and possibilities that probably guided the Methodists who were integral in developing the NCC, World Council of Churches (WCC), and other agencies that are dedicated to maintaining conversation and action propelled by a the ecumenical spirit. Because of our involvement in ecumenism, our polity meets a larger audience as we interact with other denominations and religions. To return to the roots metaphor (mentioned in the previous paragraph), a year ago at Sequoia National Park, my wife and I camped among the lodge pole pines that surround the “Giant Forest” of Sequoias at 6500 feet. As we walked among these trees, which have a magnificence and gentleness that are unparalleled in creation, we learned several things about God’s intentions for creation that I envision as a model for the interactions of religious communities. Though the Sequoias sometimes grow too tall and massive to be supported by their own roots in a shallow few feet of soil on top of solid granite, the trees interlock their roots to support each other. This example in nature shows that God’s purpose for creation is for us to welcome our interdependence and not abandon the relationships that support us all.
The context of theology and ministry is a world that is seemingly off balance. Our task is to locate the imbalance through our capacities for knowing: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, and then articulate what it might take to put the world back into balance. Like the Sequoia trees, God intends us to bring about this balance through the careful and nurturing interlacing of our roots. Though we have sharp lines of contrast between our cultures, we are one world—increasingly one community. As we come together in the “shallow soil,” culture of consumerism and disregard for the well being of all creation, it is important for our great Sequoia-like faith traditions to affirm the linked roots which bind us together. Only this will keep our tradition from crashing down to the ground and turning into mulch for future generations.

g) The United Methodist Church holds that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?
This balanced approach to discern the living core of the Christian Faith is one of the chief reasons I have decided to give my life in ministry as a United Methodist. In ¶104 of the Book of Discipline, this description of the affirmed sources with which we address our theological task is elaborated upon in rich language. Throughout my life, I have thought of the Wesleyan quadrilateral as the legs of a chair. Each leg needs to the same length in order for the chair to sit without that annoying “wobble.” In my seminary education, I have learned that it would probably be more accurate to envision the scriptural source of our Christian faith as the hub of a wheel. The other three elements of tradition, experience, and reason are the spokes out to the wheel. Although all of the elements of the wheel are needed to keep the wheel spinning, there would be no wheel at all without the hub. The Holy Scriptures should be at the hub of the wheel because they are the stories of humanity. They speak about our core virtues: love, kindness, honor, and liberation. They also speak about our core struggles: vanity, idolatry, and greed. Other cultures identify their corresponding core ethics and struggles in their scriptures. Therefore, to be in a constructive relationship with another culture, we must know their scriptures. Increasingly, we are defining ourselves as a global culture. We are progressing to a world in one community of distinct communities. To be a part of this world we must seek to understand the currents of other cultures, as well as seek to understand our own cultural ebbs and flows. A minister to the world, a professional in the art of viewing and engaging these religious and cultural currents, must also be attuned to the Scriptures of other cultures. Our horizons are expanding, and we have a larger frame of reference than our forebears. I take on this task with reverence and pride in my own scriptural tradition.
The Bible points to everything necessary for our salvation. Scripture is our primary encounter with Jesus Christ, and in many cases it is a foundational aspect of our faith journey. Before I could read, I had memorized the Zacheus story in My First Bible word for word thanks to my parent’s ritual of reading to me before going to bed. As a child in Sunday school I learned about the stories of Jesus and his encounters with his people. This formation shapes my encounter with the living Christ, who meets us in our everyday lives, and with the Holy Spirit, whom we encounter with every breath we take.
Our engagement with scripture is shaped by our tradition. The Book of Discipline sees tradition as the “passing on and receiving of the gospel among persons, regions, and generations [that] constitutes a dynamic element of Christian history” (79). The Christian faith is illuminated by tradition in the way that a Biblical illumination gives color and expression to the verses that are written. As an undergraduate student, it was the study of Christian history and tradition that gave me deeper appreciation of my own faith. The accounts of Scripture are only the first chapters of the story of Christianity. Listening to the voices of the past and celebrating the customs that were shaped by them is an enriching element of practicing faith. Religious movements without the wellsprings of tradition oftentimes fall into the trap of over-indulging the sentiments of the present. Though our faith teaches us to be forward looking, filled with hope and expectations for the coming of God’s Reign, it is well served by understanding and celebrating our own roots. The critical study of our tradition also imparts humility in the expression of our Christian faith. If we are able to be reflective and penitent in the observation of tradition, we will be good witnesses to the grace of God.
Experience vivifies the core of the Christian faith and according to the Book of Discipline is much akin to tradition in that it is our own “personal tradition.” I think the Book of Discipline states well: “Our experience interacts with Scripture. We read Scripture in light of the conditions and events that help shape who we are, and we interpret our experience in terms of Scripture” (81). As the truth of the Scriptures interacts with our experience of life, the core of the Christian faith becomes a “living faith.” In the community of believers, this element of Christian faith is shared and strengthened. We give testimony to the truth of Christian faith when we share our experience with others. By giving this testimony, our experience literally feeds and forms the experiences of others. My understanding of the Christian faith is not only built on my own experiences, but on the experiences of those with whom I have shared my life.
Though Christian faith is confirmed by reason, it is not exhausted by it. God gives us all our faculties to use in our faith quest. It delights me that our denomination affirms the use of reason to approach truth. The Book of Discipline states, “We seek nothing less than a total view of reality that is decisively informed by the promises and imperatives of the Christian gospel” (82). Though our faculties of rational thought are sometimes not enough to comprehend the depth of God’s love, we endeavor to shine the light of our minds onto the expanses of God’s nature. As Job was instructed to consider the expansiveness of God’s wonderful creation in response to his questioning of his suffering, God intends for us to search out God’s ways in the world around us. God’s grace is confirmed by reason if we approach a scientific engagement with the world with humility.
God is a living God. Therefore, our methods of approach toward God are manifold. Everywhere we turn, we are given an opportunity to know our loving God in a new way. Our church is wise to uplift diverse paths to the realization of Christian faith.

h) Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?
In the “Wesleyan Vision” document on the GBHEM website, there is a great description of what the church has been and should be. The authors write that the ecclesia should:
Support one another in the shared journey of realizing God’s love, taking on the mind of Christ, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. While the possibility of such transformation is grounded solely in God’s grace, Wesley recognized that God has chosen to involve humanity cooperatively in the process of salvation. We must put to work what God is working in us (Phil. 2:12-13) (4).
I have heard it said that the task of the church is to be “created co-creators” in the world. The creativity of the church helps to define our primary of the realization of the Kingdom of God. Christ gave us the “great commission” to make disciples who will help to achieve this goal.
As Paul understands it, the nature of the church is literally the body of Christ, and the manifestation of the Risen Christ in the world. Our nature is also our mission—because it is both a description and a potential. Though the church is the body of Christ, it must be dynamic just as Jesus was dynamic. The Gospels show that Jesus was on the move—he was tireless in his efforts to reveal God to the people. Likewise, the church as the body of Christ has this same mission today. Christ talked about his presence in the poor, the widowed, and orphaned. If we are the body of Christ, we must reach out to those in our community in whom Christ has told us he calls out to us.
When I was a youth minister, I took a group of youth to Kansas City from Bartlesville in our new church bus. On our return, the weather through Kansas was getting quite nasty. There were tornados touching down west of us, but I knew we could get out of the path of the tornados if we only could get to our southern road. There were no safe places to stop in rural Kansas, so I barged on ahead with the hope that I would be able to keep the kids out of harm’s way. The shell on the van was catching the wind, and from time to time I was concerned that I would not be able to retain control of the van. In the midst of it all, the kids were laughing and carrying on in the back, oblivious to the pit that I had in my stomach. “These are your children, God, and I’m all you’ve got to keep them safe,” I prayed, “So guide my hands and stay at my side because I’m afraid!” It wasn’t so much a petition of a prayer as it was a demand of God. I needed a sign from God that I wasn’t alone in such a daunting task. Within minutes of asking God to open my eyes to His presence, a lighting bolt struck a tree that was about 50 yards outside my driver’s window just as I passed it. The tree burst into flames, and the kids screamed in fear and delight. From that point on during our journey home, my hands were steady despite continuing wind and storm. The reason I relate this story here is because I believe the people of God are being whipped around by the storms of our time. War, pandemics, oppression, social upheaval, and environmental crises: all of these things put God’s people in the midst of great danger. A contemporary challenge for the church is to call on God’s guidance and then face the storm that bears down upon us with the faith that God is by our side. When God’s presence is manifest for our confidence and inspiration during these crises, it is our task to point “through the window” and witness to humanity that we are not alone.
We have the opportunity to invoke God’s presence and then witness to God’s activity through worship. I believe one aspect of the church’s mission in this day is to provide a worship experience that inspires creativity, reverence, and which empowers participants to build the Kingdom of God. I have been excited to see the developments of “alternative worship” and the “emergent church,” which build on the technological and creative gifts of people of faith to design worship experiences that resonate with people of the “media generations.” In my youth ministry and college ministry, I have experimented with forms of “movement centered” worship that engage all of the senses—encouraging us to “taste and see that God is good.” Among these experiences have been “stations of the cross” type services where youth interacted with several themes that were presented through different forms set up in several rooms. As the youth moved from theme to theme, they were encouraged to utilize different modes of knowing—through smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste. I incorporated this idea into a “Still life meditation” series that I set up in the foyer to the chapel at Occidental college. Students dropped in, and took part in a short experiential devotional on their own time. If a church accesses the wellsprings of creativity in its own pews, these “alternative” forms of worship may provide the inspiration that the younger generations who aren’t involved in church seek in a meaningful worship life. The unveiling of the kingdom of God is best carried out by a group of people who are inspired. Though the traditional models of worship have served the church well for many generations, we face new challenges in a world that is flooded with images. We as a church must adapt to a population that is increasingly engaging the world in a multi-sensory fashion. By providing worship that is engaging and impressive to these kinds of people, the church will be able to convey the power and meaning of our own symbols and facilitate an experience where worshippers might open their eyes to the hollowness of the images of materialism that dominate our current landscape. As Jesus says, “The Sabbath is made for humanity.” The Sabbath is linked to God’s creativity, and God calls the church to observe the Sabbath in order to instill in us reverence and inspiration that leads us to renew our efforts to show God’s light to the world.

i) Discuss your understanding of the primary characteristics of United Methodist polity?
This past year, I had the opportunity to take a course on the General Conference and travel to Pittsburgh to observe the proceedings in the first week of exploring the petitions. This experience gave me insight into the political process within the church. In the UMC, I see a denomination that attempts to circulate authority among the whole body of “people called Methodist.” Our denomination opens doors that are closed with hierarchical proceedings found in other denominations, and I appreciate the ability for any person in our church to be heard at the highest level of authority in our church. I would mark “a democratic spirit” as a primary characteristic of United Methodist polity.
Though the abuses of this democratic spirit (such as bull-rushing proceedings on the floor of the General conference in order to stifle disagreement) are sometimes a consequence of such an open denomination, I believe that most people who are involved in the decision-making processes view their work as a conduit for the Holy Spirit and thus attempt to honor the openness of our denomination with an open heart and mind of their own.
One of the chief components of our denomination’s identity is the “connection.” The polity of our church has a rich tradition of the individual church contributing to and receiving from the church as a whole. District Superintendents and Bishops oversee the general well being of the entire connection in a conference, and Bishops and General Conferences oversee the general well being of the Church as a whole. Local pastors have a connection between them in the orders of elder and deacon, and utilize the connection of the whole church to further the advancement of the Kingdom of God in their local parish. Through this connection, apportionments are given by each local church to make possible ministries that would not otherwise be viable. The connection of the church is the circulatory system of the Body of Christ. When the local congregations, as the lungs of the Body of Christ, take in the Holy Breath of God—it is the connection that delivers that needed Breath to other vital muscles and organs of the Body.
A unique characteristic of our polity is that it is a product of a global body. This characteristic gives our denomination much strength because we abide by a Discipline that is influenced by the voices of people who have concerns that may not be an issue in our own backyard. Because of the connection of our denomination, we have better vision as “Kingdom makers” in the world. Instead of being consumed with matters in our immediate surroundings, our denomination’s polity becomes a “world ethic.” With the aid of the Spirit of Truth, the result of crafting a polity with so many roots is a well-nourished and grounded “tree” that can weather any storm.

j) How do you perceive yourself, your gifts, your motives, your role, and your commitment as a probationary member and commissioned minister in the United Methodist Church?
As a commissioned minister of the Arkansas Conference of the UMC, my motivation is to nurture and express my gifts for ministry so that they will bear fruit so that I might glorify God and prove to be a beneficial addition to the family of Methodists in this conference. As a probationary member of the conference, I plan to hone my gifts with the valuable experience of those laypeople and ordained ministers who have been in active ministry in the church. To some extent, my role during the probationary period is to further enhance the education that I began in seminary.
Over the past few years, I have discovered a gift that strengthens the calling I initially felt into ministry with young people. I have sought to follow this call during my years in seminary and develop my gifts as a minister at the UCLA Wesley foundation, where I assisted with programming and further developed a tutoring program between UCLA and a school in South Central Los Angeles. In my second and third years of seminary, I worked in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Occidental College, where I also developed programs and ministered to students of diverse faith traditions.
Through my experience working with young adults, I discovered a gift of discerning the interests of college students and forming programs that would be fulfilling to them. After a couple of months at Occidental College, I observed the culture of the school and decided to offer a discussion group on “Spirituality in the Age of Consumerism.” I knew that the grip of the consumer culture was particularly strong among this “target” age group, and that many students could see the hollowness of this aspect of our culture and were looking for something more. The discussion group built a group of students from a variety of faith perspectives who are now the core community in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. The conversations that took place around that subject helped build the trust of the students toward our office. The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life was new, and the director and I had started working at the same time. Add to this that the prevailing culture among college students on the west coast is to be somewhat suspicious of religious groups, and one can see why I count the development of this program as expressive of a gift of discernment.
In college, I took many classes in the world’s religions, and I discovered a gift for comprehending the various tenants of belief and practices of other traditions. In my experience working on university campuses, I have put this gift to use as I participated in inter-religious dialogues. Fortunately, Los Angeles is one of the most religiously diverse cities in the world, so my exposure to other faith traditions through such groups as the Interfaith Alliance and the National Committee for Community and Justice has been well nourished during my time in seminary. I plan to continue activity in these constructive relationships in my ministry in the Arkansas conference. As the world gets smaller, our faith traditions are becoming more aware of the need for a shared understanding between religions. I believe my experience with the scriptures and traditions of other faiths is of value to the ministry of the UMC in Arkansas. I submitted my name for consideration this past year for the Christian Unity and Inter-religious concerns committee of the United Methodist church, and look forward to continuing to be a an active participant of the general United Methodist Church.
I have also nurtured an interest in ecology and theology into a gift of being able to articulate the idea of “creation stewardship” in a compelling way. After exploring settings of religiously motivated care for the environment with a grant from the Fund for Theological Education, I returned to found a discussion and activity group at CST called “Community of Faith For Healing the Earth” (COFFHE). This group has gained members who are interested in proclaiming a theological defense of the natural world and humanity’s loving participation as a nurturing aspect of God’s creation. I am heartened by the foresight of some of my colleagues in the Oklahoma conference who have encouraged churches to switch energy providers to wind energy, and look forward to being a voice for creation stewardship in our conference.
I have received good grades throughout seminary, and believe my training has given me other gifts for counseling, listening, and preaching. I recall a Native American woman in Bartlesville, Oklahoma once mentioning in a meeting that I attended, “Before we can be the mouthpiece of God, we must first be the ears of God.” God has given me, and through my seminary training I have further developed, the ability to truly listen to people.
Though I didn’t feel a natural ability toward preaching when I first had a call into the ministry, I believe that God has also gifted me, and helped me hone this gift during seminary. Through two preaching classes, I have experimented with different styles and methods for proclaiming the Good News of God. I have also had several opportunities for preaching in the community. Through these experiences, I have found a voice that is compelling for many congregations. I am excited to continue shaping the gift an honor of speaking from the pulpit to God’s people. Though God’s Good News breaks out in many forms, the art of the sermon is great tradition of conveying God’s grace.
I am committed to further develop these gifts and to bring my full potential in service to the UMC as a probationary member and commissioned minister. I have often told seminary friends that I feel a “happy obligation” to serve the Arkansas conference because it is my faith home. I feel committed to the Arkansas conference of the UMC much like I feel committed to my family. I am committed and willing to being a light for Christ in the world. There are many challenges to being a Christian leader. I understand and accept those challenges and commit myself to serving God amidst a time of great change in our society and in our denomination. I am committed to preserving my calling through the use of time management and self care. I have known pastors who experienced “burn-out,” and have studied the predicament in my pastoral care classes. I feel prepared to seek the support of other clergy as anchors and to find a consistent pace of ministry that will facilitate my own health and spiritual life, and that of my family. I raise this as a commitment because I think it is an important facet of ministry to recognize and nourish if we are to be vibrant ministers for the duration of a life long calling.

k) Describe your understanding of diakonia, the servant ministry of the church, and the servant ministry of the probationary member & commissioned member.
I understand the diakonia as a calling to all Christians to the ministry of servant hood. Jesus charged his disciples with diakonia in John 21, when he asks Peter if he loved him three times, then appointed him to “feed my sheep.” Jesus exhibited diakonia when he got on his knees and washed his disciple’s feet. The celebration of this ministry in the life of the church through the ritual of foot washing is a good reminder that we are all called to be “God’s hands” in serving our communities and the world.
In Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus says "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." One way that I understand this passage is that Christ is referring to the yoke of servant ministry. When we approach the labor of diakonia with a joyful heart, we find that the “burden” of servant ministry is truly light.
When we give up the burdens we only think we must carry, the weighty burdens of pride, self-centeredness, materialism, and prejudice—those things that pull us away from our destination, this is when we hear our intended burden. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” We are to help other people carry their burdens. We are called to encourage them, to assist them, and to offer them backs to carry their labors. When we leave the waters of baptism and look out upon the world, we are indeed carrying a new burden, but this is why Jesus, with the heaviest burden of all, exclaims that it is light and easy. When we leave the water in search for those who are weary, we are propelled by God. Now we have a purpose to our burden we carry, and this burden is weightless. There is a rabbinical saying that, "my burden is become my song." It is not that the burden is easy to carry, but it is laid on us in love. It is meant to be carried in love: and love makes even the heaviest burden light. When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love God and to love creation, then the burden becomes a song. When we take up the yoke of the Savior, our hearts are full, and I believe this lightens the weight of what we must do in the world. I think Jesus describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light not because they are free of challenge, but because they generate justice and cultivate community. A yoke, after all, is still a yoke, and a burden, however light, is still a burden. The followers of Jesus are called to carry a load that makes life better, a load that heals brokenness and restores relationship. The yoke we are asked to put around our necks is a yoke of forgiveness, of grace, and of mercy. The burden we are asked to carry is the burden of justice building and peace-forging. I wouldn’t call working for peace and justice a light burden, but it does lighten the weight of oppression and violence on the backs of the marginalized and victimized. Through servant ministry, Jesus calls us to practice disciplines of joy – to take seriously the regular discipline of generating the deep joy that comes from knowing God and from struggling along God’s side for justice. Taking up this burden is a joy for those of us who know and experience God’s love. Wearing this yoke is a joy for those of us who believe in a just God, whose desire is for us all to live together in peaceful community. As Christians, our call is to be vigorous in our happiness, and to model for others, through our own unending love for each other, the love of God found in Jesus Christ. The easy yoke around our neck is joy. The light burden we carry is love. Through taking on the yoke of Christ, I commit myself to a ministry of service—furthermore I am called to a ministry of joyful service.

l) What is the meaning of ordination in the context of the general ministry of the Church?
According to the Biblical witness, theological tradition, and the Book of Discipline ¶303, the meaning of ordination is to “set apart” those who are called to the orders of deacon and elder to provide for the needs of the church and the world. The book of Discipline states “ordination is fulfilled in leadership of the people of God through ministries of Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order” (183). In the context of the general ministry of the Church, ordination “provides for the continuation of Christ’s ministry, which has been committed to the church as a whole” (183). As “gift from God to the Church” ordination conveys God’s grace and love for the world. As a recipient and a conduit of this gift for the church, my role as an ordained person would be to give inspiration, education, and opportunities to the people of God. Ordination also calls me to reach out to those who aren’t familiar with the good news of God’s love and grace for the world. Though lay people and ordained clergy are both called by God to lead the church, ordination is the recognition by the church that God calls a person to a particular function within the life of the Church.
As a minister within a particular context, ordination calls me to utilize the tools of my location to re-frame the Good News to appeal to a given body of people. Ordination requires creativity, sensitivity, openness, humility, and bravery to meet all these needs. Because the nature of ministry is so diverse, it is difficult to say that Ordination means a particular set of things. Some may be ordained to the role of a parish priest. Some may be ordained to the role of social prophet. Some may be ordained to help teens cope with the pressures of inner-city life. I believe I am called to ordination to the roles of the elder: service, order, word, and sacrament. As the “general ministry of the church,” I believe ordination is the call to listen constantly to God’s whisperings. Ordination is the human response to make God’s direction our livelihood. We are “set apart” in a community to draw attention to God’s vision for our individual and corporate lives.

m) Describe your understanding of an inclusive church and ministry.
I believe that God’s vision for the world is for us to know the Spirit that dwells within us and between us—the Divine Breath that connects all things together. I believe that this is a foundational component of the Realm of God. An outgrowth of this recognition in the church is a burgeoning inclusiveness in ministry. As we see in the birth of the church in Acts 2, the Wind of God stirs us into inclusiveness. The Holy Spirit’s gift to that original church was the astonishing ability to speak in tongues that were understood by people from all over the world. The news of “God’s deeds and power” can be communicated in our context with this same beauty and openness, but we must be prepared for the Spirit’s inclusiveness to extend beyond our own ideas of where it should go. As Jesus says in John 3, the Spirit of God is like the Wind. No one sees where it comes from or where it is going—and all who are born of the Spirit have this same quality. In Luke’s gospel, the disciples of Jesus were consistently bewildered by Christ’s actions toward those they felt were unworthy of grace and Divine light. These disciples must have been perplexed that the Spirit led them to attract foreigners from every corner of the known world to the message of God’s love. The contention about God’s openness is played out as early as the church’s first generation, when Paul and Peter argue with James and the Jerusalem church that the inclusiveness of God extends beyond their own cultural stipulations of God’s grace in the form of circumcision.
The doctrinal trials of the early church inspire me to think about how we are being challenged to make the church more inclusive. I believe that churches that embrace the challenge of inclusiveness will be attractive to members of my generation, who typically view a church’s refusal to be truly open to all people to be hypocritical to Christ’s message. If we are to be the representatives of the early church, we must learn to live with the inclusive power of the Spirit—even though it may sometimes make us uncomfortable. Inclusiveness is a nice concept that may, for some, conjure up images of smiles and fluffiness. However, inclusiveness is a challenge. It has the potential to make people angry because we like the “status quo.” Merely “accepting” or “tolerating” people who are different than I am is only the first step of inclusiveness. Radical inclusiveness, the kind of inclusiveness that sparked the tremendous growth of the early church, is celebrating God’s creation in all its diversity. It means recognizing the stirring of the Spirit in people, and in species, who are very different from me. In Acts 10 and 11, Peter witnesses the activity of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles and is astounded: “Who are we to withhold the waters of Baptism, when God has poured out the Spirit upon them,” he testifies. If we open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to the movement to the Holy Spirit, we will see that the Spirit works in people and in places that astound us as well. Unless we plan on “hindering God,” we can be like the early church in the breaking down of cultural walls that separate us.
I believe that the mission of the Church to be inclusive in our celebration of God’s grace also leads us towards a recognition of the value of non-human creation and the reconciliation toward Creation. This inclusiveness leads me to strive to make choices that are less impacting on the environment in which I live. As a body of believers in the holiness of life, we are called to witness to the activity of the Holy Spirit among the plants and animals that we share the gift of life with. Throughout Scripture, God’s concern with non-human Creation is evident. We are aware that one manifestation of our sin is our reckless pursuit of wealth and substance without regard to our impact on our neighbors and our future. Though the church typically stresses the impact of our human neighbors and future, the Spirit of inclusiveness leads me to also remind our Church of the interconnectedness of our human future with the future of the environment. Our disregard of the environment has direct consequences for the poor neighbors that the church has vigorously defended. In order for our church to truly witness to the Kingdom of God, we must lead our culture of waste and consumerism toward joyful social and environmental responsibility.
The church does not have the choice whether or not it is going to be “inclusive.” Simply put, the church has nothing to do with Christ if it is not a reflection of his unequivocal inclusiveness. Comfort, fellowship, and good tidings can come in a church that never bothers to look outside itself. The Breath of God lives in movement. Though inclusiveness may not always be “comfortable,” it is the cross that we must bear.

n) You have make a complete dedication to the highest ideals of the Christian life, and to this end agree to exercise responsible self-control.... What is your understanding of this agreement?
I understand the agreement I make outlined in ¶304.2 to be to make myself a “clean window” for God’s light to shine through my life. Wesley believed, and I believe, that personal holiness is the foundation of social holiness. Therefore, I have the ability to further unveil God’s kingdom in this world by my commitment to live in a way that celebrates the “authentic life.” Living as a member of a community who dedicates himself to “bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God,” gives others the opportunity to see firsthand the joy that such a lifestyle brings. In this way, my life itself is a witness to the Gospel and evangelism for the benefits that it brings to our lives. As I “grow in grace” and come closer to the redemptive heart of Christ, the Spirit will flow out of my heart, as Christ proclaims in John 7: 37-8: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” The River of Life has the potential to refresh, inspire, and create. By living and loving holistically and joyfully, I give my life to this purpose.
The Book of Discipline states, “we proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners” (49). The social witness that I perceive to be the goal of the church begins in the hearts and lives of its believers. The honesty of “faithful living” is the most compelling form of evangelism. Though Christ is with every person, regardless of their good or bad choices in life, I believe Christ leads us toward a richer life in the ways outlined in question (n). The Biblical witness shows that God builds a relationship with us through covenants. When we live in a way that celebrates trust, honesty, integrity, and maturity, these values are multiplied in our culture. John Wesley’s vision of social holiness is kindled in our personal lives.