Monday, January 31, 2011

Traveling Light

I first traveled alone in 1963. I was 14 years old and my mother put me on the Greyhound Express from Cleveland, Ohio to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I went to visit my Aunt Lola, Uncle Jim and my cousins, Pat and Jaime, who my brother and I had grown up with. Many years have passed and the only one left in that part of the family now is my cousin Pat. On that trip, I am sure that I had a suitcase, but I don't remember much about it. What I remember is the time with my family as well as the transformative and healing experiences.

That past journey came to mind as I returned from some recent renewal time. I experienced a similar transformation. But this time I was very aware of my baggage. It was very heavy. I had to give a lot of attention to be sure it was where it was supposed to be. And I really questioned whether I could have had just as wonderful of an experience without it all.


In our scripture focus, we find Jesus' disciples being sent on a journey to renew, heal and bring to those they encountered a call to repentance and a demonstration of the presence of God. I was struck by Jesus' instruction to them to take as little as possible for the journey. No excess baggage. Not food nor money nor any extra clothes. They were to focus on the mission before them and trust God, working through people to provide their needs. Without baggage, they would be free to move around, to give their attention to the people around them instead of having to be concerned about their own stuff. And, we are told, they did indeed accomplish what they were sent out to do.


It occurred to me that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ today, still need to travel light. Not just in terms of the amount of physical baggage we take on our various mission journeys and ministries. I believe this command from Jesus to his disciples was about not only their physical -- but their spiritual baggage -- and ours, as well.

In order for the disciples to meet people where they were, they had to take only the essentials of the spirit with them. Essentials like the truth that Jesus loved each person they met and that love had the power to heal and transform. As simple as it is, I believe this is the essential truth of our faith. Jesus indicated that some people might not be ready to receive the word and witness of Jesus' disciples. But they were to travel light and go anyway.

I had an opportunity to hear the testimony of a young woman recently who teaches exercise. She wanted to do something to help children at risk. She received the opportunity to teach at a center for teenaged ex-prostitutes and drug addicts – mostly children of African American and Latino descent. She described the hour of her first class with these young people. They were full of disrespect and rebelliousness. She was afraid and angry. As she wrote them off on her way out of that first class, she judged that they were a lost cause until she had a revelation. She realized that she, as she described herself, "bouncy-haired white girl that she was," was just like them. Angry, disrespectful and rebellious. And that indeed, she and they were one in spirit. She was able to return to them with the essentials – respect, love and acceptance. She had taken some baggage into the class that affected her ability to do what God had called her to do. Once she released her internal spiritual baggage, she was able to teach and learn; and has now realized a gift for working with young people with the most need for love and respect.

So too, as we let go of our internal baggage and gain the ability to recognize within others the human thread that binds us, no matter how different from one another we may first appear, we can see the resulting miracles in the lives of others and in our own.

Jesus love us, this we know. Because the Bible tells us so.

Let us travel a little lighter this year as we go out for Christ.

---Peace and blessings, Bishop Linda Lee, WI Ann Conf
God Is Still In Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, January 24, 2011

Connectionalism in Flight

The United Methodist Church values diversity and celebrates each person’s contribution to the common good. We’re certainly not perfect, but we striving for it! I have heard of too many churches where the opposite is true. The wounded are shot and people major on the minuses. These churches have failed to be Fishers of People, as Christ has called us, and have instead become keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium.

Take the Columbia District and its laity and clergy. As your District Superintendent I am glad to tell you how wonderful you are. In a state where unemployment in some regions has topped 20%, we’ve been blessed by a semi-stable local economy, and we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. As a Connectional church we pool our resources for the common good of the Kingdom. As of this writing the Columbia District giving to Connectional causes is nearly 97%! Your faithfulness is helping those who aren’t as able to help themselves right now. I thank you!

I hope, without thinking me insane, that you’ll agree that our District is thriving because you have mastered the art of emulating geese. Next fall watch the geese heading south for the winter and you’ll understand. Watch their “V” formation. It’s a wonder of nature that we can all benefit from. Science has discovered why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. No wonder then that Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier. Shared thrust will make a church really “fly!”

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation, to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. If church members have as much sense as a goose we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way that we are going. When the lead goose gets tired, the goose rotates back in the “V” and another goose flies point. It pays to take turns doing hard jobs – with people at church or with geese flying south.

The geese near the rear honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. We all know how much an encouraging word helps us when we’re tired. When a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow the lame goose down to help and protect him or her. They stay with the hurt goose until he or she is either able to fly, or until the goose’s death, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. Maybe if people knew that we would stand by them like that in the church, they would push down the church walls to get in.

You see, all we have to do in order to keep attracting those who are missing to the church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese. That seems little enough price to pay to bring people to Christ and minister to one another. Even geese know that it works every time. Goose-life and United Methodism’s Connectionalism go hand in hand, and I celebrate it. Let’s keep up the good work. Let good honking abound!

--adapted from "A Potters View" blog by Rev. McClendon
God Is Still In Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer
United Methodist Communications

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bishop's Column: A Star and a Gift

This is the season of Epiphany.

It is a time marked by our remembrance that wise ones of old left home to follow a star and to honor a king.

I’ll not retell the story; you likely know it well.

It is enough, I think, to remember that these learned astrologers caught a vision that changed their lives. It inspired them to set out on a journey that took them far from home, far from their “comfort zone.” It was a journey that may well have cost them as much as four or more years out of their lives.

All because they believed that God was doing something special in history and they needed to respond, to “pay homage.”

They brought gifts – precious gifts – and gave them as a witness that God’s sign had been seen and responded to.

People are still seeing signs of God’s activity in our time, signs of God’s saving grace at work in our world. And wise ones are still responding with gifts – gifts that are precious to them – as a witness in our day and time.

Gifts like time and treasure and even their very lives, all because they have been captured by a vision that will not leave them in their comfortable places. A vision that summons them to leave home and even safety to go and tell others what they have seen.

To be captured by a vision of Jesus, and Jesus’ great commission to all who call themselves disciples, is to be invited – even compelled – to leave the places where we have become comfortable in order to give our witness to what God is doing now and in the New Year.

One of the things that has captured our Bishop, and I have come to discover as well, is the vision of what we can do together as the people of The United Methodist Church we cannot do separately.

We see needs, like stars on the horizon, and we are able to respond in life-changing ways. These needs do not always have dramatic names or eye-catching videos, but they are making a difference.

They are the things we do connectionally to multiply our “loaves and fish” into bread for the world and answers to prayers.

Things like The World Service Fund, which helps build new churches and pay the salaries of missionaries and provides leadership for youth ministries and more; The Black College Fund which helps the 11 historically Black United Methodist-related colleges and universities maintain solid, challenging academic programs, strong faculties and well-equipped facilities; The Ministerial Education Fund, which enables our church to continue its commitment to recruit and educate quality pastoral leadership by helping defray the steep costs of getting a seminary education as well as equipping our annual conferences with continuing education for local pastors; and The Episcopal Fund, which pays the salaries and office and travel expenses for 50 active U.S. bishops and 19 active international bishops, as well as pension and health benefit coverage.

They are all ways that our pennies can become hundreds and even thousands of dollars that are changing lives.

We have all seen what six million United Methodists in the United States can do when disaster strikes, whether it is New Orleans and the Gulf Coast or in Haiti. What you may not have seen or heard as clearly is the difference you are making in the lives of people everyday through our shared ministries as a connectional church.

We join hands around the Connectional Table and literally hundreds of ministries are underwritten and scores of people are employed here, in the United States, and to the far corners of the world. We are transforming the world. Forgive us for not saying so often enough.

But what you are doing is “a light on a hill” or a “star in the sky” and it is time we said so, loud and clear!

--excerpt from a blog by Bill Dobbs,
Clergy Asst. to the Bishop of MI area

God Is Still In Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Short on Epiphanies

As we celebrate Epiphany I have whirling dervishes of church stuff more taxing than usual; and I can’t get my daughter Narcie and her brain tumor off my mind. The doctor said things haven’t changed since the last MRI but he seemed more ominous this time. His line is on a continual loop in my mind, “It’s not a matter of if the tumor will come back, but when.” That is so scary.

I confess a personal need for God to “show up.” I am well aware that throughout Epiphany season our worship focuses on God’s power and miracles. We need epiphanies in this dark world. By definition, an epiphany is a sudden burst of clarity, a sign from God that He is real. What a difference this can make in our deep winter despair.

Epiphany begins with a heavenly sign, a star that clearly led the Magi to the Christ Child. After that sign we find many other convincing epiphanies declaring Jesus as Christ. At His baptism, a dove descends on Jesus and a voice declares Him as “God’s beloved child.” With miracle after miracle, we witness countless epiphanies in the blind regaining their sight, the paralyzed able to walk, the dead raised, the sea calmed, the 5000 fed, and the triumphant trio on the Mt. of Transfiguration.

We wonder how the people alive in Jesus’ day could have missed who He really was. We might even say to ourselves that if we had been there we surely wouldn’t have missed it. Yet, I wonder. Like Dr. Watson, we miss the obvious presence of God while we stare off into space. The stranger at our doorstep just might be an angel unawares. The person who is poor in spirit next door just might be God’s final test of our faith before we are called home. What if we miss these epiphanies? Heaven knows what might happen.

I am going to live by faith and hang in there, focusing on the presence and power of God. I will not succumb to the nay saying hopelessness that is anti-Gospel. I’m looking forward to a 2011 that has me perched on the edge of my seat anticipating God’s epiphanies!

--an excerpt from A Potter's View Blog

God Is Still In Control

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer
United Methodist Communications

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"This Love"

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ! By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…..” (I Peter 1: 3)

We walk now in the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Day of Pentecost. Fifty days to absorb the reality and the miracle of resurrection. Fifty days to adjust to being born new again in Christ. Fifty days until the power to live as a new being in Christ Jesus is poured out upon us again -- for this day and this time. We are born into a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And all of this is because God loves us and believes in us and won’t give up on the human race; it seems, no matter what we do.


Not that we are free from the consequences of our bad choices and willful refusal to do what we know is right. Rather, we are loved by a God whose love and grace are previenent – waiting for us to receive them so that we can give these same gifts to others.

What is this kind of love that God revealed to us in Christ Jesus? What does it look like?


I believe it looks like the kind of love described at a conference I attended recently, which I share as I remember it here:

At the end of Apartheid in South Africa, new President Nelson Mandela called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to begin a process of healing and reconciliation for the people of South Africa. One black South African woman who had seen her husband and son murdered in front of her was asked what would it take for her to be reconciled with the white man who perpetrated the crime. In the presence of the man who had done these things, after some time deep in silent thought, she named three things. Facing her adversary, she asked that he become her son. She asked that he would come to visit her each month in her home where the black Africans lived. And she asked that he be the recipient of all the love she still had in her heart for her husband and her son. It was reported that the perpetrator passed out in response to this request. Fainted dead away.

The presenter of the story and many of us in the audience were completely amazed at the depth of the love expressed by this woman. And in our awe, some of us even admitted that as hard as we’re working to do so, we just aren’t quite there yet.


God’s love is even deeper than this. So I invite us during this Easter Season to risk receiving and giving this love. This love that comes up against our worst nightmares and moves through it to the other side--born into hope and new life. If we live long enough, we will know loss and pain. Some will even know trauma and devastation. Christ’s resurrection reveals to us that even death is not the end.

Volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, flood, fire, global warming and war -- the human condition with its greed and resulting injustice and poverty make the concept of love seem impotent and childish. But I have become convinced again that love is the greatest power we have. Not a Pollyannaish denial of reality, but a bold oneness with it. Let us reclaim the power of this love that creates new life out of death so that the world might live.

“Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1: 8-9)

--In Christ, Bishop Linda Lee, WI AC

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer
United Methodsit Communications