Blogs and Updates

Before I Die…

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Jonathan Fain, Student Intern

I recently went to my first funeral. It was not anyone I knew, I was asked to handle the slide show by my pastor at the church where the funeral was being held. I was very reluctant at first. I took the majority of the day he asked me to answer the request because I was quite anxious to go to my first funeral, something I felt I had been lucky enough to avoid all of my life.

I expected funerals to be like in the movies; very melancholy, dark, gloomy, and maybe even a little ominous. I figured though that it would only be an hour of easy work, I would get paid and the church needed somebody to do it.

Even though it was a relatively small task to press the next button on a keyboard, I figured I could serve my church this way even if it was only a little bit of work.

I swallowed my fear the morning of the funeral, clad in a black shirt and pants as I thought would be the attire of such an event. Upon walking through the doors, I was quite surprised. There was much talking and even a little bit of laughter coming from the attendees of this funeral. People were not wearing black colors, excluding the two pastors and the funeral service director. Within ten minutes of the actual funeral proceeding the atmosphere robbed me of any anxiety I had at that moment. I read the obituary, and the individual (whom will remain unnamed) had written it themselves.

It was a beautiful story of this person reminiscing on their life lived the way they wanted to and the sights they had seen and the experiences they had gotten to enjoy in their long and fruitful time among us. In a single moment, when we were all singing Amazing Grace, one of my favorite religious songs, it dawned on me that while it was a time for mourning of this individuals passing, it was more importantly a celebration of life.

When I left the church and headed home I brought back a lesson with me. I was awarded by god through doing this small favor for my church and stepping out of my comfort zone. I brought back an enlightenment that has further evolved with this question, “before I die I want to what?”.

I still only have vague answers for it, but I know I want to do something suited for me in the same capacity that the individual whose funeral I had attended had done. To quote a small, laminated poster on my math teachers podium in the eighth grade, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’”. Through a quick google search, I found the individual who spoke this quote was Erma Bomback.

So, in the same theme as the boards now posted in Second Century Square, I have a lot of answers. They can all be encapsulated into this; before I die, I simply want to live my life to the fullest. To fulfill this insanely broad answer, I have to graduate college, travel overseas, fulfill my tenure in the army, start a family, and answer my call to serve God’s kingdom in whatever capacity God would have me, the same way unlikely candidates like Moses and Paul did.

I want to do a plethora of things before I die, many I know I want now and will want later. I am sure many of my peers and whoever is reading this feels the same way. I want to look back on my life with a big smile and justify its celebration to myself when I do die.

I can only imagine this is what God intends for us all.

Fighting Against Loneliness

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Brad Dame, Wesley Leadership Team

It’s fascinated me for a long time now that every major culture has or had a religion, or at least some sort of spiritual philosophy. Some kind of explanation for why we are here, why the world is the way it is, whether it’s explaining winter by way of the story of Persephone and Hades or that cows are gifts from Iat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of milk (the Egyptians sort of overdid it with the specificity of their pantheon, in this writer’s opinion).

However, it goes beyond the desire for knowing the way the world works.

We as humans have instilled in us a deep need for connection, not just to each other, but to something greater than ourselves. We are vessels, lightning rods of spirituality, if you will, and that is why loneliness can be such a cold weight in our lives. This is the bane of my generation, and it’s a great irony.

The world is more connected now than it has ever been here in the digital age, but as a result is so much smaller, and easier to only see unkindness and a lack of warmth. We are compelled to only present the best version of ourselves, both online and in person. Even myself, right now as I write this, can’t help but to consider this piece being shared on social media and am therefore spending long stretches of time considering every sentence, as to uphold any reputation I might have of being someone who can string together a coherent thought without sounding like a moron.

It is that fear that holds us back, that makes us lonely.

I encourage you to take a look at your life and see if you are allowing fear to get in the way of being who you are in God. I’ll start- I’m not even going to edit this piece, even though sometimes I think faster than I write and this ends with sentences that are long and rambling and hard to follow but that is okay.

Did this blog start like it was going to be a reflection on the consistent presence of spirituality in every culture but ended on a weird rant over individual loneliness?

Yeah, I guess that’s what happened, but here I am.

And here you are, at the end of it.

Look at us, connecting.

Perhaps my point is in need of some summarizing: We’re all messes in some way.

It’s fine.

Don’t be afraid of your perceived flaws, learn from then. You’re far from alone. If you want Biblical proof to back that up, trust me, God makes it quite clear that He is always with you (though if you super want specific verses, try Deuteronomy 31:6 and Matthew 28:20, to name a couple).

All right, I’m coming up on 500 words, so I’ll duck out.

Thanks for reading.

You’re great.

A Call to Action

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Cody C. Robinson, Director of Leadership Development

When we commit ourselves to draw closer to the Light, the Darkness within us becomes more and more apparent. We are asked to not become overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.

How can we live radiated by Hope and Love when we have also cloaked the world in shadow?

A selfless, altruistic life is a difficult one because it contradicts our natural tendency to put ourselves above others. We cannot possibly travel the road alone. We must forge communities that empower one another to face the darkness together.

Have mercy on your enemies, have mercy on yourself; in remembrance of the countless times when God and fate conspired to have mercy on you.

The Light dwells within us all. No one can stray so far that the flame can be snuffed out. Every second is an opportunity to turn toward loving your neighbor as yourself. But, please, learn what loving yourself looks like first.

Our human systems and structures tell us to look out for #1, that those who matter are the ones who we can benefit from. Be not conformed to those paradigms. Care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

We are raised with the notion that this world works with us, and leads us to prosperity. This concept is false. We are raised as lambs to the slaughter. Only the most prestigious, wealthy, and educated have the power to rule. We must take control of our fates, one with another.

We find ourselves widowed, in mourning, for the promise of a life that is fair and just. We have the power to see justice served in this blighted world. But we can’t do it alone, and we cannot do it unless we work toward dismantling those systems that bind and snare us.

We find ourselves orphaned, without opportunities to rise, and clamor to stomp on the heads of those who also try in vain to climb the ladder of material wealth and ‘worldly’ success. We must lift one another up, even if that is so very hard to do. Even if we die trying.

We have become strangers to our neighbor, our families, and even foreign to ourselves. We are suspicious of those different than us- who sing hymns of life different than our own. We are called to sing in one accord, a symphony that drowns out the booming sirens of oppression.

Even in the roaring tempest, the Light shines. Even in the pits of darkness, a candle leads us out. Reclaim your glory. Reclaim your worth. Drink not of the poison of what those in power tell you to drink, but from the cup of Living Water, and pour yourself into empty vessels.

Prophecy among your people. Speak those Truths that have the power to dispel the cacophony of those lies you took to heart as a child. Lies that made you feel unworthy. Not good enough. Draw out the Light so that we may burn a path for others to follow.

We are filled with fear, anxiety, and doubt of a bright future. We must rally around hope- a belief that the changes to come bloom out of a desire to see seats are made for everyone who desires to sit at the table.

We must pray earnestly that all the Children of God- not just some, come to desire peace and harmony, and not subjugate the “other”- we pray those shackles of –phobia break, so we may courageously love those who are not like us.

We are called to mend the world, and stitch up the wounds we have caused with our thoughts, words, and actions. All are of sacred worth. All are worthy of mercy, grace, justice, and love.

Not some.

Not many.

All.

He said: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do”.

We are forgiven.

We now know what we have done.

It is on us to right our wrongs.

To heal.

To protect who have no ability to defend themselves.

These are not suggestions.

This is our charge.

This is our command.

God Is With Us

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Cody C. Robinson, Director of Leadership Development

I want to remind you that while when two or more are gathered, God is amongst them, our great Creator dwells in the most unlikely places.

In the past months, I’ve struggled to find my place and rhythm in the new phases of my life. From beginning my second year of seminary, to serving my first congregation, to becoming more involved in the spiritual lives of people around me.

It’s easy for me to recognize the Spirit of that living god when I am on the summits of life’s mountains, but it is extremely difficult to find God in the valleys; and I must admit- I’ve had some very deep valleys.

I’m reminded of when I surrendered myself to the call to ministry- I placed on that altar of my mind the notion that I have to accept the grace, mercy, and love of those people who have supported me in the valleys.

Again, I have yet to fully embrace the notion of not being alone in my journey, though I am grateful to those who take their time to constantly remind me what I believe at times is not the case.

One name we give to Christ through the scriptures is “Emmanuel”- “God is with us”.

And I wholeheartedly believe that if God was not with me in my valleys, I would never have made it out of them.

Friends, loved ones, we are all among the children of our Creator and are all of sacred worth and purpose. God is with us on our mountaintops, where the light shines all around us and that divine radiance is warm and inviting- where God’s Holy Spirit nourishes us and allows us to grow and produce good fruit that can be shared by all.

I want to remind you today that we are not alone in the valleys. When we find ourselves in despair- in solitude- in that great dark expanse- remind yourself of Emmanuel; God is With Us.

God is with you in your trials.
God is with you in your withdrawals.
God is with you in those thorns and those seasons of life where you may believe Light cannot pierce through.

We are called to mend this broken world- even if we are broken people who cling so hard to those things that have broken us.

Grace. Mercy. Love. These are the balms that cover a multitude of sins- a salve made of living water that heals, and stitches, and binds together our wounded and broken souls. That we may be better able to reconcile ourselves one with another, and in turn forgive and love ourselves when we do not treat ourselves as we deserve to be.

The Church is for Sinners

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Jonathan Fain, Wesley Leadership Team

There is a certain stigma that plagues the church that has been conveyed by the emerging generation. Many would say that this stigma is well-earned and deserved.

Many in my generation have used a plethora of familiar words to describe the church: judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, racist, hateful, and critical among many other words. Many in my generation have been shunned and ostracized for not having a strong enough faith and being full of sin to the point in which they have turned their back on the church altogether.

I was in that same boat.

I was always a believer in Christ, but not always a follower. I was spiritual, but not religious. I believed but had no one to believe with because I was angry at how my home church had treated people outside of their close-mindedness. I held onto that grudge until it became a crutch to me and my relationship with God. I still remained a believer, but my mind was broken from being told I was not good enough, and I was a sinner.

However, I grew older and went through many spiritual crisis’s, that lead me to try again with myself and God and experiment with different denominations which were most of the time hit or miss. It was not until I went to college that I found United Methodism. I am not saying that it is the answer for everyone, I just learned the doctrine and it spoke to me more than anything else has before.

I tell this story to let everyone know that turning your back on the church is not the answer, and that it is OKAY to be a sinner. A church is out there waiting for you with open arms eager to transform your life. I wore the guilt that I allowed my home church to put on me as I know so many others do, and it took a lot of courage for me to let go and try again.

It payed off however and I know in my heart that it can for you, whoever you may be, as you are caught between the pain of being guilted by your neighbors and the love of God. To all of you feeling that way, I am sorry the church has failed you.

I am sorry that you are feeling this way, but please seek out redemption from guilt.

Be found again.

If nothing else, know this: you are loved, not only by God but by me and the many others who have embraced me as the sinner I am at my own church.

Know that the church is for everyone, not just the saints, it is specifically for the sinners just like Jesus had surrounded himself with so many years ago. It is for sinners just like you and me.

Do not think you are not good enough; do not sell yourself short.

There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom, you just have to let yourself be found again.

Whatever Things

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Brad Dame, Wesley Leadership Team

When I was in middle school, specifically 7th grade, my group of lunchtime friends included a girl named Kelsey Tennant. We weren’t particularly close, but her bright eyes and sharp wit made her a welcome addition to the sass masters I sat with at the lunch table. After 7th grade, Kelsey and I did not keep in touch in any meaningful capacity.

In March 2017, I found out over social media that Kelsey had been strangled to death in her apartment by a man who had broken in. She was nineteen. The thing that stuck in my mind the most was how physically small Kelsey was. Her aggressor could have easily been twice her size. He could have easily gotten away without resorting to murder. It all seemed needless.

I have not been a stranger to death throughout my life. I have lost several family members and friends to sickness, addiction, murder, and accidents. It can loom over me. I often think of the people outside of my personal social circle who have been lost, such as the five NSU students who died in a car crash and the innocent people gunned down on the streets of Vegas. It is a lot to live on this earth, and it is easy to feel powerless to be a force for good.

And yet. And yet.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

In my profile on the Wesley’s website, I list the simple phrase “choose joy” as advice I would pass on to fellow students. I feel like this phrase is not always popular, in the implication that choosing joy is as simple as choosing joy, that those who suffer depression cannot flip a switch on their mental health and “get better”. I agree with that sentiment.

But that is also not what I mean when I say “choose joy”, because I believe that joy is different from happiness, not unlike how depression is not sadness, but rather the lack of feeling. Happiness and sadness, they are emotions; they come and go and change with the seasons. But joy is something that is in you. And it is in me. When I am feeling it, I feel it course through my veins and swell in my chest and fill my lungs with laughter. That is the idea behind Philippians 4:8. If God is in you, then joy is in you, because God is joy (I think they call that the transitive property in math).

Joy, like so many spiritual concepts, is a muscle. If you do not take care of it, do not exercise it and do not take in the proper things, it becomes weak. I encourage you to find whatever things that are beautiful. Submerge yourself, and your joy will be strong as iron.

Dusk and Dawn

13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke.[a] We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:13-18, Common English Bible (CEB), The United Methodist Lectionary

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Cody C. Robinson, Director of Leadership Development

 

In this epistle, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, a Greek city-state between Athens and Sparta. Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities in Greece, with a population consisting primarily of Greeks, Romans, and Jews. This rich mixing of cultures meant that the city-state was a hotbed for spiritual activity.

What we see in Paul’s letter throughout the chapter is a theme of encouragement and endurance. During this time, Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. Paul calls the followers of the Christ in Corinth to not become discouraged because they received the privilege to spread the story of Jesus’s ministry in the same way they received God’s mercy and grace.

In so many words, Paul wants his people to speak of Christ’s sacrifice and love that’s both genuine and frank. It’s inferred from the text that some of the Christians in Corinth were trying to convert others by means of ‘deception, secrecy, and “shameful actions”‘, but Paul wanted them to be open and honest about God’s transforming love.

He tells them that if the story of Christ’s love for us is veiled, it’s veiled to those who have hardened their hearts. It is veiled by those who can’t see God working within them and others because of all of the darkness in their lives.

Darkness, perhaps, that obscures their paths not because of their own volition, but because circumstances and events have dimmed the light that not only illuminates the path ahead, but also radiates from within.

In verse 6 of the 4th chapter, Paul explains that God’s light shines out of the darkness, and the God he describes is no doubt the same one that shines in our hearts to this day.

It’s written that ‘as grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory’.

But what is grace? Grace is a form of God’s mercy- God’s forgiveness. Often in my talks with my friends and students, I discover that many carry feelings of guilt and shame, often for situations or events in their lives that were beyond their control.

This causes a separation from themselves and others, separation within themselves, and, naturally, a separation between themselves and God.

Something that took me a long time to realize is that God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in our weakness. For God’s love covers a multitude of sins.

If sin is something that separates us from God, separates us from others, and separates us from ourselves, then when we acknowledge the love, grace, and mercy God has for us, we are made anew. We are no longer defined by those mistakes and misgivings that haunt us.

We then must learn to forgive, and love, ourselves. In this letter, Paul explains that the person that we are on the inside is being renewed each day. In our journeys, there is a continuous cycles of dusk and dawn, hills and valleys. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we petition to God to not only forgive our trespasses, but also those sins committed against us by others. Therefore, I challenge you to try and forgive yourself for all those times you let yourself or others down, for God has forgiven you.

I want to remind you that God has always loved you, and God has loved you before you’ve learned to love yourself.

And if you haven’t learned to love yourself yet, that’s okay too.

Know that you are worthy of grace.

Know that you are worthy of forgiveness.

You are worthy of love.

Peace be with you,

Cody.

June Reflections from Shana Dry

22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.
1 Corinthians 12:22-25, Common English Bible (CEB)

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Shana Dry, Director of Campus Ministry

Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less presentable are all very important. Paul rejected the Corinthians criteria for evaluating which gifts were most honorable.

The only purpose of the gifts was to build up the body of Christ; the true measure for the greatness of any gift would be its usefulness to the body of Christ. By now you’re reading this thinking Shana what does this have to do with our church?

Every church has people who are out in the forefront and love the public spotlight. But what is really essential to the ongoing life of the church is the people behind the scenes—those who serve faithfully and quietly (and often are the ones who make the leaders look good).

We tend to forget that many of the strengths we so admire in one person are often incompatible with the strengths we admire in another.

The grace of a figure skater is useless to a Sumo wrestler.

The hard-working research and study of my favorite theologian doesn’t leave much time for the world traveling compassion of my favorite missionary.

If you are interested in finding out what your strengths and gifts are, come talk to me. I would love to be in conversation with you about where you are being called to serve in the life of our church.
Peace & Love Always,
Shana

 

Our Political Responsibility

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Cody C. Robinson, Director of Leadership Development

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

Upon reviewing the Social Principles for my United Methodist Doctrine class, I was surprised that the Church challenges us to not only be concerned for, but also involved with the application of public policy and ideological discourse.

This idea is at odds with the way I developed my concept of what role the institution of religion (or the Church) takes. While growing up, I constantly heard the maxim: “Don’t talk about religion, money, or politics; especially at the dinner table.”

It’s fascinating, however, that the United Methodist Church (UMC) encourages us to become invested in local, state, regional, and global politics despite the growing of trend of people leaving Christian denominations by the droves.

More fascinating than this call to action is recent studies show that, while the reasons why younger generations are leaving the greater Church are many, political ideology is not a leading cause of this exodus by far.

By no means do I believe this section of the UMC Social Principles asks the United Methodist to use these social paradigms as tools to oppress, control, or harm non-Christians (other faith traditions are doing a good job of that already).

No, I believe the Church calls us to use our social capital/resources/privilege to give voices to those who do not have them.

An example of this would be providing platforms for discourse and understanding for those have been wrongly targeted, vilified, or oppressed by unlawful legislation that blooms out of the poisonous roots of fabricated dichotomies, racial prejudice, and the overarching culture of fear of the Stranger.

What does this mean in practice? When the Oscars aired in March, rapper Common and singer Andra Day performed a song from the 2017 movie Marshall. During the performance, the two musicians invited activists on the state. Among them was 14 year old Alice Brownotter, one of many Standing Rock reservation leaders. Common and Day used their privilege and social capital to bring Brownotter’s cause to the spotlight.

Do most Christians have access to this amount of clout, money, and resources? No. However, in this age of information, many of us do have access to our social media platforms, organizational websites, and offline social networks (i.e. our friends and family).

The United Methodist Church’s founder, John Wesley, had an understanding of God’s grace, love, and justice that calls us to action- actions in which our daily discourse and discussions must extend into those ‘taboo areas’- from the dining room conversation to the front steps of the capitol.

Protest unethical laws.

Hold your leaders accountable.

Develop healthy theology.

Use your voice and space so that others may have a chance to use their own.

For while God is not partisan, God is political.

No one ideology holds the monopoly on the Christian faith, regardless of what narratives are being constructed. Our obligation as those who are called to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” is to “learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead the for the widow.”

Not taking those three concepts at face value, I believe inspiring action and strengthening the spirits of those who are at the margins of our society.

Those who have been made to feel less than should be our priority as not only as political leaders and/or Christians, but fellow human beings to protect, provide, and invigorate our neighbors with the Divine’s unconditional and everlasting love and passion.

Furthermore, what about caring for those around you? Who among you is in need of justice?

Who in your life is in need of grace, love, or mercy? Among those who you interact with daily, do any of them feel abandoned? Depressed? Alone?

How would you know if you do not take the courage to ask?

I encourage and challenge you to attune yourself to the pain of the world. To look into the eyes of your loved ones and treasured friends and find vulnerability.

Seek opportunities to use your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to help mend this broken world.

We must do better, and demand that those who hold the power in our world to do the same.

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