Monday, March 5, 2018

The Sacrifice of Jesus by Blair White

You have heard it said that the sacrifice of Jesus occurs at the cross. While one cannot deny that perspective, I wonder if his sacrificial acts don’t start long before the cross.  During the period of Lent we follow the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem; a journey that starts with baptism and ends with crucifixion.
I see the sacrifice of Jesus playing out in each step of this journey.  Immediately after baptism, and subsequently confirmation, Jesus is immediately driven to the wilderness where he is tempted.  Mark doesn’t go into detail about these temptations, however the term itself implies a desire to do something that will often result in an unwise consequence.  To turn our back on temptation is a sacrifice.  While not part of the Lenten readings, as Jesus begins his ministry he immediately becomes known as a healer, but quickly recognized healing, as important as that is in transforming lives, in itself is not going to accomplish his mission.  Jesus’ mission is not just to transform lives, it is to transform systems. 
Transforming lives happens more or less on an individual basis.  Sure it can have ripple effects to family and friends, but transforming systems affects each individual within the system.  These transformations change the way people think and interact with one another.   First century Palestine is occupied by the unjust, foreign forces of the Roman Empire.  In their territory it is being governed by a Jewish family who has forsaken their own people for the sake of personal gain.  While the religious leaders; i.e. Pharisees and Scribes, are not happy with the situation, in times of turmoil it is fairly common to think that if we can just get back to the way things used to be, the future will become the romanticized version of the past.  Add into that the Pharisees are rule bound by nature, the situation calls for overzealousness to the rules. 
In Jesus’ lifetime he has seen all this play out.  He has seen the Zealots and other Jewish militia type groups revolt against the Roman government, the Sampson taking on Goliath if you will, only to see that most revolts fair terribly for his tradition.  Jesus recognized he must create an alternative vision for his people; a vision that is going to call out injustice and seek reform in the political as well as faith realm.  Jesus is not ignorant of the Pax Roma, the Peace of Rome.  This is not the peace of shalom, this is the peace of coercion; either one stays in line or suffer the cross. The choice is yours.
Jesus is not blind to this situation, nor is he ignorant of the likelihood the religious leaders will unite with government if it appears it will be in their best interest; they succumb to their temptations.  As such the whole journey from Galilee, the place where ministry starts, to Jerusalem becomes a sacrifice.  It becomes the yielding of self; the knowing that speaking out against the religious and political powers of the day is not going to fair well for the one who does so in the end. It is releasing of personal safety and gain for the benefit of the greater, common good knowing that the cross will culminate the journey.
Often the journey of Lent for us means the giving up of something, however in many instances, including my own, rarely has it meant there would be a net increase to the common good.  What if my vision of discipleship in Christ is too small?  What are the religious, political or other systems I’m a part of that need reformed not just for my sake, but for the sake of others?
Gracious, Merciful God, in this season of Lent open my eyes and heart.  Help me to see and use the now unknown resources at my disposal to create change not only for me and mine, but for the greater part of your here and now kingdom.  In the name of The One who gave so others might live, Amen.

Monday, February 5, 2018

God Speaks Today He Speaks To Our Youth - An Experience Never To Be Forgotten. By Joachim Stephan

I shared in previous stories my personal need for experiencing the presence of God in what we refer to as a “Spiritual Encounter”.  By that I mean a mental state in which we feel close to the presence of God.  We feel exhilarated, mentally enhanced and strangely detached from experiencing the world around us. We feel at peace. We feel happy. We may receive information on an enhanced plane.   And best of all we experience an indescribable feeling of love toward others - even toward those that we consider in a “normal” or “usual” state of awareness with indifference, dislike, even loathing.
I have learned to hunger for those kinds of experiences since I was a young adult.  I have found that I can experience them in the peaceful settings of nature, or gatherings that we refer to as “Reunions” or “Retreats”.  I have also found those experiences on sparsely inhabited Alaskan islands where I would not encounter another human being for long periods of time.
But I have also experienced that wonderful state of being in such locations as the Auditorium where I would worship, pray and sing in the company of some 6,000 other brothers and sisters in the faith.
And then there also were times when I experienced a “spiritual” experience when I was not even aware of it occurring.  I learned from those experiences that they were not necessarily meant for me – and that I was being used by the Holy Spirit to minister to someone else.  In such an experience God wanted to touch someone else – to provide direction to someone else, to physically or spiritually heal a life through a life altering event that the individual needed and would never forget or even deny.
The event I am recalling (how could I ever forget it?) in Columbus, Ohio where my family and I resided, worked and worshipped for some twenty years. We had been invited to an event at the Ohio State University where a young man whom we knew as “Teddy” was giving an organ presentation at Music School Auditorium on a Sunday afternoon.  You may have observed the same young man (we did during World Conference) exercising his masterful skills on the Temple Organ in Independence, MO. Teddy was giving what we essentially known to be his Master’s Degree Thesis by performing on the organ at the Music Auditorium. Because many of us knew the young man most of his young life, and had worshipped with him and his parents on a regular basis, we had been invited to attend this important occasion – an invitation that we eagerly accepted. I should note that a wonderful lady organist at North Church in Columbus had been his teacher and mentor for several years – my friend Elsie Zellers.
His parents were of course also present and so it was after Teddy’s performance we congratulated the parents on the professional skills displayed by their young son.  During our conversation we also happen to speak with a brother, who had been our pastor for several years.  He curiously asked me if I had been aware of an unusual event that his young son of 14 named “Paul” (not his real name) had witnessed or experienced that morning during the communion service.  I confessed that I was not aware of anything out of the ordinary. It had been an uneventful communion service for me, we had a big crowd and I had given the communion message, which I hoped had ministered to those attending the service.
Then my pastor began to tell me a story that fairly sent the chills through me:  I remember the young man and his mother sitting in the front row and moving around somewhat agitated.  His father told me that he had whispered to his mother – as I was giving the communion message: “Mom – do you see that arm”.  She looked at him and replied “What arm?” To which he replied: “The arm on Joe’s shoulder!”
Being a longtime member in the Community of Christ his mother was familiar with the kind of spiritual experiences that she and others had previously experienced in their worship services during their lifetime.  So, she responded in a positive way by asking her son: “What does the arm look like – describe it to me?”  To which the 14-year-old youngster replied: “There is a large hand resting on Joe’s shoulder and it is disappearing at the elbow in a mist!”
That is essentially what the young boy’s father related to me that Sunday afternoon and then, asked me if I had been aware of anything unusual happening.  I was astounded but I had to confess that I had experienced nothing unusual.
I think we both departed somewhat disappointed, not really being able to tie his son’s experience to anything unusual.
But I could not dismiss the event that the young boy had witnessed.  Paul was not the kind of individual that to my knowledge pursued any spiritual encounters; he did not seem to be intend on “tuning” in to God on a spiritual wavelength.  It was several weeks later – approximately 6-8 weeks later that my wife and I visited our pastor and his family on a friendly basis. And while in their home, being still very curious about what he had shared with me at the organ recital – I asked if he could ask his son Paul to share it with us his experience.  My pastor agreed and called to his son who was riding his Cushman motor scooter in the backyard.  Paul came in, flushed from his activities and looked at us – impatient to return to his outside activities. I should tell the reader that Paul was “all boy” on his way to become “all man” it seemed to me. There was nothing soft or sissy about him. And – he really did not seem to be interested in anything “religious” I soon found out how I had misjudged him.
His father inquired of him if he could relate to us the experience of some weeks before.  To our surprise, Paul instantly broke into tears whereupon his father asked him, “Paul, why do you think you had that experience?”  Paul replied between sobs: “Because I had my doubts about the church that morning, I also had my doubts about the ministry of the church really being called by God.”
It became obvious to me that sunny afternoon that the experience that Paul had was mostly for him. He felt the effect of it to a degree that none of us had. He had doubts about the church and her priesthood was really based on God’s calling.  But the vision that he had erased that doubt for him – probably for a lifetime. The experience he had been meant for him, and not for any of us.  And I realized in that moment, that for as long as Paul lived – he would never deny what he had experienced. God in that vision had revealed to him that he loved him and impressed on him not to doubt the message that had come to him through the church that he had been baptized in.  And that He – his Heavenly Father – was as close to him as his next breath.

We lost track of most of the church members when we moved West but we have never forgotten the many wonderful experiences we shared with so many of the brothers and sisters there. And I will never forget “Paul’s” spiritual encounter – so long ago!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Some events in life bring sadness to your heart by Denise White

Let me step back a little, in 2006 I became the pastor of the Wheeling, WV Community of Christ congregation.  I served in that role until my husband, Blair, and I knew in early 2016 that we would be moving to the Salt Lake City area.  We realized since the Wheeling congregation was very small when the two of us left the congregation, more than likely, it would close.
Even after we moved and we went back home for Christmas we volunteered to plan, preside and speak at the Christmas Eve service (my favorite service of the year!)
By the summer of 2017 the congregation had dwindled to 6 to 8 people.  The decision was made to close the congregation and sell the building.  A Methodist denomination purchased the building. It was one of the denominations that we worked with to provide an Ecumenical Vacation Bible School in the community.
The decision to close and sell the building made me sad, but because I was over 1,800 miles away I was able to put it out of my mind, until this past Christmas Eve. Blair & I was able to “go home” for Christmas so we decided to go and join the Methodist group in “our” building for their Christmas Eve service.
It was very difficult to see the building that we had lovingly built, cared for and worshiped in for so many years “belong” to someone else.  But as we sat and heard the familiar story of the birth of our Lord and Savior the scripture came to mind from Doctrine and Covenants Section 161 verse 5 “ Be respectful of tradition. Do not fail to listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story, for the story of scripture and of faith empowers and illuminates. But neither be captive to time-bound formulas and procedures.”
In the telling of sacred story, we became bound together. In two different groups coming together to listen attentively as one body, we were united as one. We may not believe exactly the same but we came together and listened attentively to the telling of the sacred story in the scriptures. 

Even though my heart was sad at the selling of a building and with the recognition that some of the old traditions will never be the same, I do not want my heart to be captive.  I want to be open to new possibilities.  Change is not easy but neither do I want to be closed off to new possibilities.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christ: The Ultimate Comfort Food by Tyler Marz

The other day I made Chicken and Noodles, or Chicken and dumplings as some like to call it. This is one of my comfort foods. Homemade broth, slowly poached chicken, rustic hand-rolled egg noodles, thickened slightly to form a creamy comforting concoction that warms the heart, body and soul.
This is a newer comfort food, something I didn’t grow up with. I actually had it for the first time while working as a Baker in Arizona, near the north rim of the Grand Canyon at Jacob Lake Inn. A homey little catch-all, hotel, delicious home cooked food, kind people, and natural beauty. You see, Jacob Lake (which is really a misnomer, as it is a dry mountain with a pond of collected rainwater) is 30 miles from the closest town which doesn’t even have a grocery store. The next closest town with a store is another 10 miles. The “Big City” closest to us is St. George, Utah… 2 hours away (ok it depends on how fast you are driving). So if you didn’t get the picture Jacob Lake is literally in the middle of the most beautiful nowhere.  Surrounded by luscious ponderosa pine and abundant wildlife, you really are in nature. Just a few miles up the road is some of the most beautiful natural meadows I have ever seen. Surrounded by pine and birch trees that turn a glorious golden hue, purple, blue and yellow spots of wild flowers growing in the idilic grassy meadows truly is a sight to behold.
Sundays were treated as special days for employee’s at Jacob Lake. Comfort food and clover leaf rolls, or as they were cleverly called, “three headed rolls” were always on the menu! It was one of these sundays, after a days work (because tourists don’t stop coming on sunday) that I had Chicken and Noodles for the first time. Pure, silky, warm, indulgent comfort. It feeds the sprit too.
You see, Christ knows us individually. For some that might be a hard concept to grasp and I think in reality, all of us who know it, are still learning more about it. Every time we rejoice in triumph, dip our head in sadness, dance for joy, Christ is right there with us. Even in our most beautiful nowhere… He is now here.
Christ is present during the ruckus of little ones during communion, in the silence right before answering a question, in the chilly fall gloom of a doldrum-like day speckled with autumn colors of changing leaves. He is there in a child’s laughter, and music that makes us smile and relieves a tinge of stress. He is there as we lay in bed, looking at the ceiling and wondering what am I doing in life? He is there when our car makes that funny noise for the first time and you wonder, how much is that going to cost? He is there when you think back to how did I get here?, and am I making the right choices?… but then you think back to if life had gone that other way, would you be here now?
I know most certainly I wouldn’t. I can start at multiple points in my life and see how, looking back, had I not been lead down that path I would have taken a completely different fork in the road and gone a different way. While I was attending univer, I was prayerfully figuring our which career path to pursue. I had two that would have been great. After weeks of fasting, prayer and council, I received direct and simple words from God (while in class, in the middle of a conversation with a classmate) that spoke to my heart. And so I pursued that degree. Yet toward the end of my senior year, I realized (after some failure as well) that maybe this wasn’t the path for me. I knew that I wasn’t meant to do this for forever. But I asked God again, if this is my path, I will keep going, If not, I will pursue something else. He told me my second option of a career was ok too. My first thought was, what was the point of me going through all of this then, for me to switch? Well that answer became apparent a year later in my graduation, moving to a new city, pursuing a career that definitely has its challenges, loving myself more, using those things that I learned from my first degree path in my second degree’s field literally every day, and in growing closer to God than I ever had before. In finding a church that gives me room to ponder and grow. That lacks judgment and critique. That allows me to blossom truly into a Son of Him.  That He loves ALL OF ME. And, that He was there on the journey with me, and at every closed door…which He then opened a window. Better yet, He still is there with me.
Christ’s love has no bounds. Neither does His grace.
Christ is there, even in our bowl of Chicken and Noodles. He is the ultimate comfort food.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

God is Ever Present by Carla Long

Even though I’ve been a World Church minister for twelve years, there are still many moments when I’m offering ministry that I feel “less than” and not up to the task.  This past Women’s Retreat in Red Cliffe, Utah was no exception.

Charmaine Chvala-Smith was the guest minister and she is so talented and wise and kind and just the person that I always wanted to be, and she and I were helping to plan out our time together with the other women.  We decided that we wanted to explore all kinds of ways of tapping into the divine—through art, scripture, and song.

Charmaine was in charge of the art and scripture part.  We took big sheets of butcher paper, had a friend draw around our bodies, and then we could decorate our bodies in any way that we felt called to, I have NEVER, in my life, been in a room full of women where it was so quiet! Everyone was working diligently and peacefully on their body creation! It was certainly a spiritual moment. 

For the next session, we explored scripture in ways that, perhaps, many of us had never experienced before.  We stepped into a Bible story and found ourselves looking around us for new insights, new smells, new sounds, new ways of “feeling” what the characters in the story were feeling.  It was an awesome experience!

And then…it was my session!  Remember how I said I felt “not up to the task”? Well, my part was all about song, and going deeper with God through song.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy singing.  In fact, when I lived in Australia, I tried out for Australian Idol, made it through the first round, and then was disqualified because I’m an American!  So, I can sing.  But, I’m not (in any WAY, SHAPE, or FORM) an excellent and trained singer.  But, I should have relied on the spirit, because whatever you offer (just like in the parable of the talents), God takes and makes beautiful and bigger than you might have thought.  We talked about the Taize community in France and what song means to them, and then we practiced it.  We sang a few songs out of the hymnal and while the unfamiliar words and notes were hard at first, soon, I could feel that we truly leaned into them, and allowed the music to take us where sometimes we are vulnerable enough to go.  We sang, we lifted our voices, and we were carried away.  What an AWESOME experience.

I’m so grateful for a God who takes what we have to give and multiplies it.  I’m grateful for the reminders that God is ever present.

Monday, October 2, 2017

SPEC by Brittany Mangelson

I delight in any opportunity to get out of my congregation and meet the larger body of Community of Christ. So, when I was asked to attend Spectacular in 2017, I jumped at the chance! Originally my husband and I were asked to be SPEC Today facilitators, but we couldn’t juggle both of us going, so I went and helped with a class, participated in a Q&A and spoke during the Communion service.
Because of childcare, I arrived a few days late when the activities of the week were in full swing. I was hesitant and nervous, feeling like the new kid on campus in more ways than one. A friendly face picked me up from the airport and I was reminded for the millionth time that Community of Christ is my home and my community. Being at Graceland was exciting. I’ve heard countless stories of love and faith found on those grounds. So much history has happened in those dorms without air-conditioning and with those ice cream cones dripping on the sidewalks in the Iowa humidity. I was finally getting to experience it for myself!! Thankfully, I too found faith, love and ice cream at SPEC.
Because I attended as SPEC staff and not delegation staff, I was able to take a bird’s eye view of the week and spend my time getting to know campers and leaders from all over the place. It was wonderful, but a little overwhelming for a new convert to the church like myself. Sometimes, I let the smallness of our church get to me. I wonder if our message is really something that will stick with younger generations. I wonder what my place in Christ’s mission really is. However, that week I was able to let go of all my questions, take a step back and be overwhelmed by the love and potential of this community. As I walked the sidewalk between Walker Hall, the Shaw Center and the football field, I kept thinking of my own three kids and what kind of church they will have in 10-20 years. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for those who have come before me and of those who are paving the way for them. During SPEC, I was able to see the Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives being lived out among teenagers as they planned and put on daily worship services (sometimes two in a day!) As they worked together to put on an entire play in a week, participated in group activities, and asked hard questions about the relationship between politics and faith. These kids WANT Community of Christ’s identity to be their own. They want to lead. They want to participate. They want an active place at the table.
Coming from Salt Lake, I’ve been lucky to see the church in an area that is growing and thriving. Still, the energy and life at SPEC was unlike anything I could have imagined. The depth of understanding, faith, and leadership potential of the campers fired me up for the future of our church. In the Q&A I participated in with President Veazey, the campers asked questions about our unique identity, our history, why I find my home in Community of Christ, the process of receiving revelation, how they can get involved on a local and global level, and how they can take the spirit of SPEC back into their congregations. I was struck at how deeply they loved what we stand for, but were hesitant to know how they can live those things out in their local congregations. Over and over again I told them things like, “If you have a ministry you want to start, start it! Get a class on the Enduring Principles going. Start a Wednesday night service and sing your way through the hymnal. Contact local shelters or after school programs and see how your congregation can help. Just DIVE in!” It is one of my deepest hopes that they do just that.
I don’t want to downplay the troubled times we are finding ourselves in as a church, but I also don’t want to let the bright, beaming hope of the future go unnoticed. If you have youth in your congregation, use them in every way you possibly can. If you don’t have youth in your congregation, get to know the ones in your neighborhood and invite them to activities. We can do this! The message of Community of Christ is more relevant today than ever before. I saw that as I shared Communion with 1,000 on the lawn of Graceland. I heard that in the songs, the prayers, and the conversations that were happening all around me. The talent we have budding up in our youth is breathtaking. I even joked with the campers who were in the worship class that they should come to Salt Lake and teach the adults in my congregation how to plan a worship service. Except I wasn’t really joking!
As I was waiting to catch my flight home, I opened my kindle and highlighted before me was this verse from Doctrine and Covenants 162,
“Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.”
This sums up my experience with Spectacular. Community of Christ was divinely called into being and that divine call isn’t over. I think there’s something particularly special about the physical old, old path being in Lamoni where SPEC takes place. As disciples, we take that path into wholeness with ourselves, God, and community and then go out into the world in mission. We must seek out and open the doors for those disciples, young and old, who want to witness essential truths in their own language and form. We have something special to share with the world, and as I told the campers, it’s time to DIVE IN!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Crossroads by John Chatburn

When you stand at a crossroads in life, knowing that a step in any direction will lead down paths not previously travel, it can be scary.  Two years ago I found myself at such a crossroads.  I made the decision to ask for a leave of absence from church employment and go back to school to study urban planning. It wasn’t a decision that I came to quickly, but one that I discerned over a number of months.
            It was terrifying because all I had ever really wanted to do was to work for the church.  Going back to school was the first step in a journey that led me down a path that led away from my life long desire to work for the church.  It may seem weird that I wanted to step away from the thing that I had desired most of my life.  Life decisions aren’t always rational, because they are made with the heart and the head, but I knew that even if I stayed in my role with the church, life would not be the same. 
            The past two years I have met people that have made my life fuller, richer, and better.  I can’t imagine life without them just as I can’t imagine life without the people whom I am so richly blessed because of my connection in the church.  The God that traveled with me as I traveled across large chunks of the Western United States for the church also traveled with me into graduate school and into a new profession. 
We are each in charge of our own happiness.  There are a lot of voices in our world that attempt to articulate what will make us happy.  I think that is really only a question that can be answered when you examine your life and figure out what points towards more joy, more love, not just for you, but for your community as well. 
I found happiness working for a group that develops affordable housing for vulnerable populations across the state of Washington.  That doesn’t mean that each day I leave work with a smile on my face, but I do know the work that I do points towards a better world and brings me fulfillment.  It is also work that is consistent with my priesthood calling to the office of Bishop to be a minister of economic justice for the marginalized in our communities. 
            There are no easy answers when you find yourself at a crossroads.  Sometimes when we want so desperately for God to tell us which way to go it can seem like God is silent.  Perhaps God is waiting for us to take a step so God can walk with us.