Tuesday, May 24, 2016

But God Was Not In The Wind...

This is the fourth day since General Conference 2016 adjourned. Many reflections have been offered since. I would like to add my voice to the mix. 

After the sudden turn of events at the beginning of the second week of General Conference, this scripture came to me:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV)

Elijah was on the run. He had just defeated 450 prophets of Baal in a showdown to prove whose God was more powerful, Baal or the God of Israel (1 Kings 18). God had shown up mightily through fire in a way that Elijah had expected and the defeat cost the prophets of Baal their lives. Now King Ahab and Queen Jezebel's troops were after Elijah's.

Elijah was afraid. He fled and ran for 40 days into the wilderness and came to a mountain where he expected God to meet him and show him a way forward. As in the showdown of fire, Elijah had clear expectations as to how God would show up. Perhaps in a mighty way again- like fire, or wind, or earthquake.

But God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire...

Regardless of where in the human sexuality conversation one stood, I know that each person had a set preferred outcome in mind as they approached General Conference. I did. And I'm pretty sure you did, too, whether you were a delegate, an alternate, a volunteer, or one who was watching it from afar. We all had our preferred outcomes. We all had our expectations as to how God would show up and act at General Conference. We all had our winds, fires and earthquakes by which we expected God to surely act - schism, full-inclusion, keeping the original language, deleting the original language, ending trials, strengthening the case for trials... the list goes on.

Yet God did not appear in the "wind" as some people had hoped. Nor did God show up in the "earthquake" or "fire" as others had expected. God was not to be confined to one person's or group's agenda or preferred outcomes.

Instead, God came in the sound of sheer silence. God came in a way that we did not expect God to show up!

Surely, God showed up in the wonderful worship services, the powerful and challenging preaching, and the various moments of celebrating what we have done together as a denomination. If you have time, it is worth going back to the livestream video archives (click here) to watch and re-live those moments.

But God also showed up in completely unexpected ways!

God showed up through an overwhelming plea and call from the General Conference to the Council of Bishops to "please lead us." Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops said this is unprecedented. This was unexpected. Perhaps this was an act of God.

God showed up through the Council of Bishops who, even while acknowledging that they were not of one heart and mind on the issues concerning human sexuality, responded to the plea of the General Conference with a statement and recommendations for a way forward (read here). Again, Bishop Ough said that, to his knowledge, this has never been done before. Surely no one had this in their list of expected outcomes. Perhaps this was an act of God.

God showed up through the youth of the church who, while also acknowledging differences of opinion even among themselves across the connection, called for unity of heart through a statement (read here) that they read to the body. This was not in the program. Perhaps this was an act of God.

God showed up through the General Conference who, on a second attempt after going through a legislative and procedural quagmire, decided to accept the document from the Bishops and act on their recommendations. Totally unexpected! Perhaps this, too, was an act of God.

I know that there are feelings of betrayal, anger and disappointment from various standpoints about General Conference's action or inaction. I know how you feel. Like I said, I too had desired outcomes and was ready to work hard to make them happen. We all had preferred outcomes. Yet God chose to show up in an unexpected way.

I had shared in an earlier blogpost that my prayer as I headed for General Conference was, "Come, Holy Spirit, come!" My prayer was for the Holy Spirit to work and that I would be willing to be led where the Spirit moved or to get out of the way if I was a hindrance. I believe that the Spirit has moved in and through General Conference 2016 albeit in completely unexpected ways. The unexpected outcomes may very well be the answer to my prayer for the Spirit to move and lead. Perhaps it is time for me to get on board with the Spirit and trust in God. 

I continue to trust that God is still at work in the United Methodist Church and in each one of us. I firmly believe that God is not done with us yet. I will continue to put my hope in God and be open to how God will show up and lead us forward.

I offer this reflection to you, for whatever it is worth.

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church convenes in exactly a week from today. While it may be purely coincidence and totally unplanned, I think it is significant to note that the Sunday in the middle of the two weeks of General Conference is the Day of Pentecost.

So, just as the disciples gathered together behind locked doors prayerfully awaiting the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, so I approach General Conference with this prayer:

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Move in our General Conference. Move in our United Methodist Church. We acknowledge that we are not of one mind on many issues. Empower us to "speak in tongues" of love and grace, enabling us to transcend our many differences that we may come together around what truly matters, making disciples of Jesus Christ who will transform the world. May we be sensitive to where your wind is blowing and follow where you lead. May our hearts be ablaze with the passion that burns in yours. May we be ready to step aside when we find ourselves in the way of your will. By your Spirit, may your Kingdom truly come on earth... ON EARTH... through our church.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Looking Forward to Spring

I've lived in Alaska for almost 8 years now but the changing of the seasons still fascinate me. Until we moved up in 2008, I had lived all my life in the Philippines where the only seasons are wet (rainy) and dry (summer). We had none of the changing of the colors and the subsequent shedding of leaves in autumn. We didn't have snow and winter although the temperatures did get a relatively cooler. One could say that we lived in an eternal hybrid season of spring and summer. 

One of the things that I continue to marvel about, because I've never seen it before coming to Alaska, is the budding of the trees. After "dying" in the fall and remaining "dead" all winter, the trees are beginning to show signs of new life, of resurrection, if you may. So fascinated am I with this cycle of death and new life that I have probably written an article or preached a sermon about it every year for the past 8 years! It is such a great metaphor for our lives as Christian disciples, individually and corporately as communities of faith.


Science tells us that the shedding of leaves is necessary for a tree's continued existence, to survive the cold and dark winter and thrive again in the future spring and summer. As the temperatures drop and the sunlight decreases, the trees adapt by cutting off "food supply" to the leaves. The stems and trunks would likely survive the freezing temperatures but not the leaves. The shedding of leaves is a survival mechanism. Winter, to a tree, is a season of survival that precedes a season of growth and new life.


This past weekend East Anchorage United Methodist Church celebrated their 50th anniversary. 50 years of life and ministry! I was honored to be invited to preach at their anniversary service on Sunday and join them in celebrating the myriad of ways in the past 50 years that they have lived out their mission: "In the name of Jesus Christ, Carry the light!"

On June 5th, East Anchorage UMC will be celebrating their final worship service as a congregation. Early this year, seeing the "temperatures drop and the sunlight decreasing" in their life as a congregation, they voted to discontinue. This action of discontinuance will be formalized by a vote at Annual Conference. In some ways, it is a necessary shedding of leaves, a necessary winter, a necessary dying, so that new life might emerge.


Last week, on the days leading to EAUMC's anniversary celebration, I spent time with key people, "walking the neighborhood" and looking at demographics and maps. It was a great time of deep conversation, dreaming and discerning what God is calling us to birth in this neighborhood in East Anchorage. And the dreaming and discerning goes on...


I look forward to the day when buds will again emerge. I look forward to the new thing that God is going birth in this space and place. And I am excited and look forward to the ways that the Spirit of God may be calling you and me to be part of that!


Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keeping Sabbath

Sunday, April 10th was an exceptionally busy and stressful day for me. It was emotionally charged, mentally draining and spiritually challenging. I will not go into details...

In the midst of the busyness, my iPhone chimed. Wanting a break from the craziness, I took a look. It was Facebook reminding me of a memory from a year ago. For non-Facebook users, they have a new feature where they remind you of "memories" - posts that you made on the exact, same date in the past. Facebook was telling me that on that very day a year ago, I had posted this picture with the following caption:

"Lord, on this day-off, deliver me from the guilt that comes from doing nothing. Thank you for a day that I can 'simply be' and be away from the pressure to 'always do'. Amen."

It was a great reminder to pause, to breathe, to be still and know that God is God! This Facebook memory got me through the day, allowing me to respond to its most trying moments with grace.

How important it is for us to be reminded often that God is God and we are not! And it is in moments of Sabbath, of pause and being still that this takes root in us.

Our theme for this year's Annual Conference session is Keeping Sabbath. It is in recognition of our constant need for times of pause and reflection. Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People's Ministries of the PNW Conference, writes about this beautifully in this article:

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We live in a busy, fast-paced world. Our days are often scheduled from the moment we wake till the time we collapse in our beds with too few breaks along the way. Work, commitments to our family, the overlapping lives of friends, and the church compete for our time. It’s easy to lose ourselves in this swiftly moving river of modern life.

This isn’t what God intends for us.

As Christians we inherit a story of creation where God rests after six long days bringing what is into being. The Sabbath, this seventh day of rest and remembrance comes to us not just as an example, or a suggestion; it is a command to mark how truly important it is (Exodus 20:8-11). 

We need Sabbath.

Our theme for Annual Conference 2016 is Keeping Sabbath: Resting, Rejoicing, Returning. The order of these three “R” words is important. 
  • In the resting we stop, mark a break, take a stand against a world that keeps saying “go faster,” and find an opportunity to let go of what we don’t truly need. In the cessation of our activity we create space for reflection on what we have just experienced, integration of these things into the memories we carry with us, and listening for what God is calling us toward tomorrow.
  • Well-rested like birds in the shade of a large mustard tree (Mark 4:31-32), we find ourselves rejoicing in song and prayer acknowledging the many gifts we have received. Where we previously saw only scarcity, and were sometimes laden with anxiety, we can now begin to see that God has provided all we need for the work that is truly before us.
  • After Sabbath, we make the choice again of returning to the mission fields God has called us to. Where we entered our Sabbath time going through the motions, we now find ourselves renewed and ready to continue the work of calling people together to transform our communities and the world with the love Jesus Christ incarnated for us.
The 2016 Annual Conference Sessions draw to a close a busy quadrennium. As it is in any other year, we will have work that we will need to do together when we gather. But we are working to incorporate moments where we can keep Sabbath together: resting, rejoicing and returning as disciples on the path together.

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May we be intentional about making and keeping Sabbath a part of of our lives. In doing so, may we be liberated and empowered by the truth that God is God and we are not.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What is our Faithful Response?

When the disciples brought the dilemma of having a hungry crowd of more than 5,000 people to Jesus, he said: "You give them something to eat." They had hoped that Jesus would agree with their proposal to "send them away and let them look for food". Yet instead, Jesus said, "Feed them." And they did.

This was not the case for hungry farmers in the town of Kidapawan in Southern Philippines this past weekend. Last Saturday, April 1, 2016, more than 6,000 farmers and their families took to the streets to ask government for food support. The El Nino phenomenon has brought about a severe drought to the country, so bad that even farmers are asking for food assistance. Sources say they tried to request food through the "proper" channels prescribed by government. Their pleas were unheard, dismissed for technicalities. So they took to the streets.

Instead of giving them food, they were violently dispersed and "sent away". Instead of feeding them, the farmers were shot at, killing three among their ranks and injuring many.

Through this ordeal, United Methodists in the town of Kidapawan and surrounding areas stood by the embattled farmers and their families. They opened up Spottswood Methodist Center, where the UMC Davao Episcopal Area office and residence are located, as a sanctuary for the peasants to find shelter, to rest and to be fed. Sadly, this act by our fellow United Methodists has been misconstrued by the government as an act of supporting "rebels". Our UMC Bishop in the area has received threats of lawsuits and legal action as a result of this ministry of justice and compassion. Spottswood Methodist Center is now under surveillance by the Philippine National Police and the military and entry to the center is being closely regulated, even for our own United Methodist constituents. Access to food supplies is still being denied.

To speak to this, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the UMC Davao Episcopal Area has issued the following pastoral statement:

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PASTORAL STATEMENT
“Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD.” (Psalm 130:1b)
Nights are neither quiet nor peaceful for hungry and poor ones. When they cry out for food, this is also a cry for justice. The poor in our midst remind us that God’s abundant life is still a promise to be fulfilled—when farmers are left without adequate sustenance and pushed toward the brink of starvation, injustice has prevailed.
It is never a sin when poor farmers demand for food, but it is a sin to deny them food. And when  the might of bullets and guns are used against the poor in their rightful demand for their basic  needs, a monstrous violation of what is decent, upright, and just has been committed. Three  people’s lives have been snuffed off the face of this earth in their simple plea for “bread;” entire communities of men, women and children ache in hunger, mourning and desolation, as their cries for food were answered through the barrel of a gun. As bullets rained upon them and pierced their bodies, the gathered crowd sought only the fulfilment of a simple prayer: rice for their families.
The flagrant and vicious use of live munitions to disperse the poor farmers on April 1, 2016 is abominable. No justification exists for this murderous and terror-inducing act by the Philippine National Police.
The shooting of the poor farmers that claimed the lives of three people on April 1 during their protest is condemnable. There is no justification for this murderous act of some concerned members of the PNP.
Likewise, the church asserts not only its right to protect the vulnerable ones, it is an imperative of our faith to are for the weak and the poor specially during the crucial moments when they are being beleaguered by the powerful and the mighty.
By offering our sanctuary, we are not just being hospitable to our farmers and hungry ones, but we are making them as one amongst us. When we welcome them in our “home”, our sanctuary, we do not only give our best, but we share with them our deep kinship. By offering them our sanctuaries, we recognize their suffering and hopes, their struggles and aspirations.
I am humbled by the capacity of the poor to claim their rights and defend their dignity. They are without “connections” to the corridors of power, but has never given up their HOPE.
I am thankful to the people’s organizations, institutions and ecumenical community here and abroad who expressed their solidarity. My prayer is that you will keep us in your thoughts and that you will stand with the poor farmers until they have seen the fulfillment of their aspirations. The church can only fulfill its mission as long as it stands with the poor and side with Justice.
I call on our church members. Let this response of our church to give sanctuary to the poor strengthen our unity. We must not let the enemies of life divide us, but let the peace that is built on compassion and understanding lead us to where our hearts should be- Justice, Peace and Truth. In the Service of Christ,
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco
Resident Bishop, Davao Episcopal Area
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My heart is broken for what is happening in Kidapawan. I am proud of our United Methodist sisters and brothers in the Philippines and I stand in prayer and solidarity with them and their faithful response to go beyond hospitality to being Christ's incarnate presence among the poor and the marginalized. I pray for peace with justice.

What is our faithful response to the evil and injustice that is happening in our communities and societies? What are similar issues in our own towns, cities and communities where God calls us to provide faithful witness on behalf of those on the edges. Will our action or inaction be part of the movement that further oppresses those in the margins? Or will we take part in the movement of grace that welcomes everyone?

I know what Jesus would have done and what he did.

What about us? What is our faithful response?

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Necessary Dying

We are now in the third week of the season of Lent which is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter where we as Christians intentionally reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us in our walks of discipleship.

More than mere commemoration of Jesus' sacrifice, though, I believe the season of Lent reminds us of a necessary process that we as followers of Jesus need to undergo on a regular basis.

We need Lent because it reminds us of a necessary dying that needs to happen in our lives on a regular basis. We need to constantly die to ourselves that Christ may live in us. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20a, CEB).

The practice of fasting, not just from food but from other creature comforts, is synonymous with the season of Lent. However, this practice of giving things up only works when we do it as a way of clearing our cluttered and busy lives to make room for Christ. And this practice only works when it continues all throughout the year and not just during Lent. Lent is meant to jumpstart us on this habit of dying to ourselves daily so that Christ may live in us.

Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Galatians 2:20 helps sum it up: "Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not 'mine,' but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that." (The Message).

What is it in our lives that needs to die so that Christ may live in us?

Bishop Grant Hagiya, in a sermon during a Clergy Retreat a couple of years ago said, "In order for Easter, for new life to happen, some things have to die." Richard Rohr echoes that when he wrote, "We need to deeply trust and allow both our own dyings and our own certain resurrections, just as Jesus did! This is the full pattern of transformation."

What is it in the way we do things as churches, as families, as organizations and as a conference that need to die, in order for new life to happen?

What are the systems and structures that God is calling us to put an end to, in order for transformation and resurrection to occur?

May this season of Lent be a meaningful time of reflection for all of us, intentionally confronting the serious question: In what areas of our individual and corporate lives do we need to die in order for Christ to fully live in us?

May this Lent truly be a season of necessary dying.

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Prayer Run: #miles4gc2016

Photo by Steve Charles shared on the
Willow Running Company Facebook page
I'd like to continue on the theme of praying for General Conference, which I wrote on last week: #pray4gc2016.

Prayer Runs
As I've posted on many occasions on this blog already, running for me has evolved into a spiritual discipline. It is a practice that allows me to be centered in my relationship with God. It is an activity where I am able to prayerfully process thoughts, ideas and deep concerns. In the past three years, I have ran some marathons as "prayer runs", dedicating the miles to different prayer concerns. I've ran in prayer for our Alaska churches. I've dedicated miles in prayer for those in unfortunate life situations.  This month, I am excited for another opportunity to run in prayer run.

#miles4gc2016
As I posted last week, February 13th is the day assigned to us in the Alaska United Methodist Conference to join the denomination's prayer vigil: 131 days of continual prayer for General Conference. For 24 hours on that day, our fellow United Methodists from around the world are counting on us to continue the chain of prayer. If you haven't signed-up for your 15 minute timeslot, click here: AK Prayer Vigil.

Photo from susitna100.com
Now February 13th is also the day I am slated to run the Little Su 50K race in the Mat-Su Valley. I did not know of the prayer vigil yet when I signed-up for this race back in November. But I was pleasantly surprised that the assigned date for the Alaska Conference coincides with my race. Whether you call it coincidence or divine providence, I am elated at the opportunity of doing another prayer run! Moreover, I welcome the thought that many will be praying with me, albeit in 15 minute segments. I won't be praying (running) alone!

So, on February 13, 2016, I will be joining the chain of prayer, dedicating those long, snowy 50 kilometers (31.06856 miles) as prayer miles for General Conference. The race start is at 11 am in Big Lake and so I have signed-up for the 11:00-11:15 am slot (although the race will definitely take way longer that that!)

Call to Prayer
I cannot underscore enough the importance of praying for the highest policy making body of our United Methodist Church! We need a powerful moving of the Holy Spirit at General Conference and for us to be sensitive and responsive to the direction in which the Spirit of God leads us.

Will you join the global prayer chain? Will join me and others in praying, "Come, Holy Spirit, come! Fall afresh on our United Methodist Church. Melt us. Mold us. Fill us. Use us."?

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo