The Use and Misuse of the Bible 

            “Most folks use the bible the way a drunk uses a lamppost:
            more for support than for illumination.” 

                                                                        – William Sloan Coffin

The late, great Methodist mystic, philosopher and Civil Rights leader, Howard Thurman, who as a boy read the bible to his illiterate grandmother, once asked her why she wouldn’t let him read from Paul’s letters. “What she told me I shall never forget,” he writes. Grandma Nancy said the master’s minister would conduct services for the slaves and invariably quote from Ephesians: “Slaves be obedient to them that are your masters . . . as unto Christ.” She continued,

Then he would go on to show how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would bless us. I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would never read that part of the bible.

The master’s minister was preaching from the bible, yes? But Grandma Nancy wasn’t having any of it. Born into slavery, Nancy Ambrose had a hunch that the God of love who created all human beings equal wouldn’t stand for it either. Parts of the bible simply are wrong. The bible has been used as a tool to enslave Africans and sanction witch-hunts (where literally thousands of innocent women were slaughtered in the name of God). The bible is at the root of apartheid, anti-Semitism, the oppression of women and LGBTQ+ persons, and divine sanction of the exploitation of the natural world.       

Written by many individuals over many centuries, the bible is bound by cultural norms. So it must be read with caution and care. Yet the bible also transcends the times and places in which it was written. It is the bedrock of our faith tradition and the primary way of learning about Jesus Christ.

Author Frederick Buechner uses the metaphor of a window to illustrate how we can maintain the importance of scripture along with our ability to read it carefully and critically. The bible is like a window through which we can glimpse the Divine. Buechner notes that we look through the window, we don’t worship the window. And just because there are smudges, swatted flies, and hairline cracks obstructing our view, we don’t throw out the window! We learn to distinguish between the window with its flaws and what lies beyond. Although a flawed and imperfect window, the bible is a source of inspired (not dictated) guidance and wisdom, fashioned by people of faith who have helped generations of seekers catch a glimpse of the mystery beyond. 

On Sunday, September 15th, we will be presenting our third-graders with bibles. May we recommit ourselves to read this very human book that has revealed the Divine to countless generations with care and prayer, recognizing how it can be used and abused.

                                                                                Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Parables of the Kingdom

Parables of the Kingdom

What do you suppose the following have in common: a 9-volt battery, an onion, a life vest, newspaper, copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, candle, bubbles, sun block, children’s video game, laxative, telephone, map, hammer, microwave popcorn, baseball bat &
glove, coffee grinder, and a garage door opener?

These were items I placed on the Communion table when I began a sermon series on the Parables of Jesus at a previous church. “Jesus’ parables were drawn from everyday life,” I explained, before inviting worshippers to pick an item, ponder and share how it might serve as a parable of the kingdom of God for today. Needless to say, it made for an interesting worship
experience!

We’ve been considering the parables of Jesus this summer at Dayspring. I have found that folks are quite interested in learning how the historical and
cultural contexts inform their meaning. Did leaven have negative connotations in that world? What would it mean to leave 99 sheep to fend for themselves? What characteristics make mustard stand out in the botanical world? Are there other parables of Jesus found outside the Bible?

My mind has been blown reviewing some of the scholarship around Jesus’ parables; I hope serious reflection on them have helped us all recognize
what a provocative figure Jesus was and the challenge he presents to our lives.

New Testament scholar Brandon Scott has served as a guide for this series. He says that in his parables, Jesus re-imagines the world. “The reimagined
world, called the kingdom of God, presents his followers with a new option for living, one that contrasts with the default world of the everyday. The new world is both terrifying and liberating.” If you’ve been in and out of town this summer, feel free to catch up on our Livestream archive page here.

I hope to see you this Sunday as we continue the adventure …

– Aug. 4 The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13.44)
– Aug. 11 The Prodigals (Luke 15.11-32)
– Aug. 18 The Samaritan (Luke 10.30-35)
– Aug. 25 Pastor Michael’s last Sunday / Choir Celebration
– Sept. 1 The Unforgiving Slave (Matthew 18.23-34)
– Sept. 8 The Dinner Party (Luke 14.16-24)

In the meantime, here’s a little homework: “The kingdom of God is like a garage door opener that stopped functioning ….”

Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff


The United Methodist Church is in disarray.

In February, a special session of the General Conference (the legislative branch of the UMC) was convened in St. Louis to determine the role of LGBTQ people in the church. By a narrow margin, over 800 delegates from around the world voted for the so-called “Traditional Plan,” which disallows LGBTQ clergy and includes punitive measures for pastors who conduct same-gender weddings. That vote prompted this pastor to drape black cloth over the “United Methodist Church” portion of our sign, mourning the decision and grieving the continued harm perpetrated by the church on LGBTQ folk. Yet I had remained hopeful. Many of us believed the Judicial Council (kind of the Supreme Court of the UMC) would find the plan unconstitutional. Last Friday, the Judicial Council largely upheld the Traditional Plan, as well as a plan for churches to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. The petitions that were ruled constitutional – including no LGBTQ clergy and no samegender weddings – will go into effect in the U.S. on January 1, 2020. The petition on a “gracious exit” goes into effect immediately. You may review the Judicial Council’s decisions at http://bit.ly/JCR1378 and at http://bit.ly/JCR1379. An explanation of both rulings is at http://bit.ly/UMNSApr26.

Our bishop, Bob Hoshibata, writes:
This news is being received with joy by some and with deep despair by others. Clearly, we remain a deeply divided church about matters related to the inclusion of our LGBTQIA siblings in the church, the community, and the world. We are conflicted about how we hold each other accountable and how we move into the future, perhaps united and together or perhaps divided and apart…. I am also seeing and feeling the excitement and perhaps the inevitability of something new and exciting emerging from the rubble of The United Methodist Church.

We don’t know what the future holds. We are presently in a holding pattern. But rest assured your pastors (along with many others), your bishop (and many others), this annual conference (and many others), as well as the Western Jurisdiction, pledge to resist what we believe to be harmful and discriminatory language and practices. We journey in faith with these supportive words from our bishop:

So as we travel together into an uncertain future, I pray that we will not lose hope or faith in God. We are, you will remember, a people of resurrection faith! We hold fast in our trust that in all things, God will be with us.

So, let’s keep engaging our congregation and our community in mission to touch hearts and souls and transform lives

Let’s share the love of Christ with all people

Let’s love one another even when we disagree

Let’s pray for each other as we discern what our future will be

And in the Wesleyan spirit, let’s do no harm, do good, and last but not least, let us stay in love with God.

~Bishop Robert Hoshibata

I remain convinced that a bolder, more inclusive, grace-filled expression of the faith will emerge — the kind that Dayspring already strives to embody. May we continue to be a church for all people

Pastor Jeff


Dayspring Arcadia

2020 VISION

Dayspring UMC is a church that aspires to live into God’s dream for the world. Through inspiring worship and social justice advocacy and action, we are a healthy church that seeks to fulfill our mission of creating disciples of Jesus Christ who touch and inspire people through an open and diverse community. In 2017, we celebrated 50 years of God’s work in our community and began to wonder what God might have in store for us for the next 50 years.

Dreaming Possibilities

Aldersgate UMC

At a staff meeting in March 2018, Pastor Joel shared a prayer concern that some of our United Methodist Churches were struggling and their future was uncertain. We prayed and asked for God’s direction and wisdom, especially for the pastors of these churches. Last April, staff members began to wonder how Dayspring might possibly adopt and revitalize an existing congregation in Phoenix. Many conversations with church leaders and conference staff ensued, and Dayspring leaders were excited to explore possibilities. Pastor Jeff shared the vision with our district superintendent, Rev. Susan Brims, who mentioned that Rev. Tom Kiracofe would be ending his part-time appointment at Aldersgate UMC in Phoenix and that they would need pastoral support. Pastor Jeff began to wonder if Aldersgate might serve as a satellite for Dayspring’s mission and message. Pastor Tom invited Pastors Jeff and Joel, along with SPRC chair David Barnhouse, to dream possibilities. Pastor Tom shared the story of Aldersgate and its current situation. We learned that the people of Aldersgate are a small but committed group of primarily 70-90 year-olds who desire to leave a legacy and want to be part of a greater vision.

Rev. Brims convened an “Elijah Team” with members from both churches to begin visioning in earnest. Dayspring Covenant Council chair Ed Johnson, along with outgoing lay leader Amy Notbohm and incoming lay leader Regina Walker, as well as David Barnhouse and Pastors Joel and Jeff have been meeting regularly (sometimes weekly) this year with leaders from Aldersgate and Rev. Brims. Like John Wesley’s Aldersgate  experience, our hearts have been strangely warmed and we are excited to share this vision with our congregations.

VISION: Dayspring Arcadia

To create a vibrant United Methodist presence in the Arcadia area by extending Dayspring’s ministry of radical hospitality, inspired worship and justice work to the Aldersgate campus.

LOGISTICS 

Multi-sites vary in pastoral and staffing strategies. We recognize that an existing faith community is present at Aldersgate and celebrate their willingness to welcome a new strategy for vitality. We would embrace this community using their gifts and talents and explore with them what this would be like in this new model of ministry. In this model, Dayspring clergy will be sharing the vision and mission in various ways, and the Dayspring clergy and lay leadership will have complete worship/missional/programming oversight. 

Aldersgate would retain trusteeship and responsibility of the Aldersgate campus and foundation for a transitional period (TBD) with Dayspring representation, and existing Aldersgate members would be welcome to serve on Dayspring’s administrative teams. The annual conference would provide significant financial support to ensure a smooth transition.

In order to be successful in this journey there will need to be a dedicated staff person who has the leadership skills to assist the clergy in “listening” to the Aldersgate community and the Arcadia neighborhood – and to develop a process that will help build relationships within the church and broader community. Moreover, we believe we have identified a person well suited for this role: Amy Notbohm. Amy has served as Dayspring’s lay leader for three years and co-chaired our last capital campaign. Before coming to Dayspring, she was part of the new church start in Chandler called Jacob’s Well. She brings a wealth of understanding and experience to this vision of ministry and will graduate from the Claremont School of Theology in May 2019 with an MDiv. Plus, she’s excited about the prospect!

We hope you will attend a congregational meeting to learn more. We have scheduled two informational meetings to take place on Sunday, March 31 at 11:45am in the fellowship hall and Monday at 6:30pm in the sanctuary. If you are unable to attend either of these meetings, Pastor Joel will be coordinating an additional informational meeting, please contact him at joel@dayspring-umc.org.

Pastors Jeff & Joel


Hope for a People Weary of Violence

“… they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;”
Micah 4:3

My daughter Claire, a high school senior, came home from school on Valentine’s Day deeply troubled. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” “During third period my friends and I realized today was the first anniversary of the Parkland shooting and that we were the same age as the students who were killed.” On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others. It was
the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

Claire was in the sixth grade when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut–the deadliest mass shooting at a grade school.

Claire’s middle and high school years have been framed–and marred–by horrific gun violence. A generation of students going to school in fear. Lockdowns commonplace across the land. Claire reports that the sudden opening of a classroom door (usually a youth returning from the bathroom) can elicit anxiety on the part of student and teacher alike. Especially following a mass shooting.

On March 24th we will observe Gun Violence Awareness Sunday at Dayspring. It is the first anniversary of “March for Our Lives,” the youth-led event that brought together hundreds of thousands of people of all ages at hundreds of sites across the U.S. Over fifty Dayspring members marched, led by a dozen of our youth. “My backpack IS NOT a bullseye,” read the sign Claire made and carried that day. This March 24th, Shane Claiborne will preach at both services and a 2:00pm event featuring Claiborne and Michael Martin, co-authors of Beating Guns: Hope for a People Who Are Weary of Violence. I’m looking for some hope. I know Claire is. How about you?

Pastor Jeff


A Generous Way of Being Christian


What might that look like? I think, for me, it starts with a renewed love of Jesus and a profound appreciation for his way of love. I am energized by New Testament scholarship of the past two decades that peels back layers of tradition, revealing the historical Jesus. Scholars like John Dominic Crossan, Brandon Scott, Amy-Jill Levine, and Marcus Borg help paint a compelling portrait of someone I have decided to follow and dedicate my life to. Some call that ‘discipleship’. Jesus said simply, “Come, follow me!” as he went about encouraging people to live into God’s Kingdom–God’s dream for the world. Discipleship reflects a passion for Jesus and a commitment to his mission. So it’s not simply what we believe, but how that finds expression in our lives. That’s why one of the questions we ask of new members is, “Will you seek to follow Jesus and live according to his teachings?”

“Progressive Christianity” is sometimes used to describe a thoughtful, open, contemporary Christianity. An expression of the faith that embraces critical biblical scholarship and welcomes metaphorical readings of Scripture, allowing for fresh, relevant understandings of the text. One that takes the Bible seriously without taking it literally. This helps us understand how tribalism, slavery, the subjugation of women, and heterosexism are but cultural byproducts from a distant time and place that need to be put to rest once and for all. Along with the Bible, as good Methodists, we are free to believe and practice our faith in ways that honor both tradition and our experience, as well as reason. Far from being frowned upon, critical thinking and questioning is encouraged. As the poet has suggested, “Live the questions.” Sound familiar?

Progressive Christianity honors other paths to the sacred. It recognizes that no faith tradition has a monopoly on God, and that we are not in competition with other religions. That’s why we’re offering a class this month called The Jesus Fatwah: Love Your Muslim Neighbor as Yourself. Another example: Rabbi Dean Shapiro of Temple Emanuel will be preaching at Dayspring on Feb. 17th and will remain for Q&A at 11:45am.

Progressive Christianity isn’t threatened by science or evidence-based discovery. Those images coming back from Hubble, for example, can be awe-inspiring. Science can deepen our appreciation and respect for the ongoing unfolding of Creation. Did you know that United Methodist Churches are encouraged to commemorate Evolution Sunday? It falls on the
Sunday closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday, which is Feb. 10th this year.

Recent studies have shown that alarming numbers of 18-35 year olds have not only left the Church but are passionately disinterested in it! The #1 turnoff: “the Church is anti-gay.” Hopefully you’re aware of the special General Conference of the UMC to be held Feb. 23 –26 to determine whether or not our denomination will be fully inclusive of LGBTQ people. Additional reasons that millennials give for leaving the Church: it is “anti-science”, “anti-women”, “hypocritical”, and “judgmental”. Progressive Christianity attempts to address these and other concerns by offering a positive alternative for being in community and following the way of Christ. Those are some of the ways we at Dayspring attempt to express an open, inclusive, generous Christian faith centered on Jesus and his message of the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Jeff


Humble Beginnings

I am grateful to Chuck Winkler for having invited me to lead a session on “How We See Jesus” at the Men’s retreat at Camp Mingus last month. It was a beautiful setting and we all learned so much from each other. To begin, I asked participants to consider some of their earliest or childhood
images of Jesus: maybe a picture, sculpture, or song. For me, it was a small crèche my mom had brought back from Germany as a young adult. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus – crafted from dried corn husks. I remember as a boy my folks putting that simple nativity out each Christmas season. Now as an adult I’ve come to realize another layer of meaning around that simple piece of folk art, fashioned of discards – I mean, besides tamales, what else are corn husks good for?

Jesus had a heart for “the last, the lost, the least” – those often regarded by society as “outcasts,” even “refuse.” Stories of his birth hint at his own marginalization: Mary, an unwed mother, expectant in a most unconventional way; the Good News coming not to the learned and powerful but to (dirty) shepherds working the night shift; the babe of whose birth we sing born not in Rome but some backwater province of the empire, and laying in a cattle feed trough, not a castle.

It’s easy to sentimentalize Jesus, especially during this season when we celebrate his birth with dazzling lights, lovely Hallmark cards and entertaining Christmas pageants.  That simple corn husk crèche reminds me of the earthy reality of the birth of an outcast-soon-to-be-refugee who would devote his life to helping all to see – powerful or vulnerable – that everyone is no less than a child of God!

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Jeff


History

Recently my family and I were on the East Coast visiting colleges and basking in the glorious hues of fall. Browsing in a used bookstore, I discovered a dusty, leather- bound tome entitled History of Methodism in Maine: 1793-1886. Thumbing through its pages, my eyes fell upon the minutes of the 1840 General Conference in Baltimore. I was gobsmacked to read the following:

The Bishops’ address was read, in which they express their approval of the pastoral address of the previous General Conference, especially that part of it relating to the subject of slavery, concurring in the advice to the entire church “to wholly abstain” from all abolition movements …

My thoughts turned to John Wesley, and to the final letter that he penned a few days before he died in 1791, to William Wilberforce.

Fifty years before Methodists were advised by that 1840 General Conference to refrain from participating in the anti-slavery cause, the founder of the Methodist movement wrote a letter encouraging the great British abolitionist Wilberforce in “opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.” (Previously, in 1777, Wesley had published an abolitionist tract called “Thoughts on Slavery.”) Thanks to the courage of Wilberforce and others, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807.

As was the case with Jesus and Paul, within a generation the radical message of John Wesley was watered down to accommodate the status quo. The Methodist Church would split over slavery in 1844 – 16 years before the Southern States seceded from the Union, precipitating the Civil War. The two general conferences, the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South reunited in 1939, but only after the South made the creation of a special “Central Conference” for blacks – “separate but equal” – a condition of the merger.

It is not hyperbole to say we stand at a similar crossroads in our day. A special General Conference will be held in February 2019 in St. Louis. 800 delegates from around the globe will determine the future of the UMC. Just as slavery divided the church then, divergent understandings of human sexuality may well split the church now.

Our bishop, Bishop Robert Hoshibata, is convening “Holy Huddles” for laity and clergy “in order to better understand and prayerfully share our thoughts for our Church.” I have already attended two of these sessions and heartily encourage you to attend the Holy Huddle on November 17th at North Scottsdale UMC, 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Here’s the link for more information about Holy Huddles and the 2019 General Conference.

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. One of the things for which I am grateful is the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan heritage. My prayer is that we will find a way forward in love, following the counsel of John Wesley, who said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” The very future of our denomination depends upon it.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Jeff


Tikkun Olam

Pastor Jeff with Rabbi Dean Shapiro at Temple Emanuel Synagogue’s Ship Ahoy! gala event on April 28, 2018.

Last April, Janice and I represented Dayspring UMC at a lovely gala sponsored by Temple Emanuel, the synagogue located around the corner from Dayspring, near Rural and Guadalupe. Dayspring was honored with their George Korobkin Community Service Award “presented to individuals, groups or organizations that have had an impact on the togetherness of the Valley and its people.”

Renewing our relationship with Temple Emanuel has been delightful and gratifying. Dayspring was a big support during the synagogue’s early years. Rev. Bert Lewis and Rabbi David Pinkwasser brought the two faith communities together to develop mutual understanding and to support a number of neighborhood initiatives.

I first met their present rabbi, Dean Shapiro, at a meeting of the Tempe Interfaith Fellowship shortly after being appointed here. We partnered on the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Dayspring in November of 2014 and have collaborated on a number of projects since. Last year, Temple Emanuel held their High Holy Days’ services at Dayspring – we have double their seating capacity – and will be doing so again this fall. In fact, we have all been invited to attend their closing Yom Kippur service at Dayspring on Sept 19 at 5:45pm.
Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days that starts with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the intervening days, the person seeks to improve their behavior and be reconciled to others and to God. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

There is a Hebrew expression, tikkun olam, which literally means “to mend the world” or “to perfect the world.” We play a role in mending the world when we recognize where we have fallen short in our relationships and our commitments and then take steps to remedy our shortcomings. Other intentional steps involve building community and working for peace and justice. To that end, Rabbi Dean and I are in the process of planning shared activities for our congregations. An interfaith build day with Habitat for Humanity, a panel on “Earth Stewardship from a Faith Perspective,” and “Community Conversations” over a meal or refreshments are all in the works. I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these opportunities to foster community and grow in our understanding of each other’s faith traditions. Jesus himself, after all, was Jewish!

Shalom,
Pastor Jeff


Wesley and the People Called Methodists

John Wesley, the co-founder of what would become the United Methodist Church, relates in his journal a life-changing experience while crossing the Atlantic in 1736. The voyage to America took four months and the passengers were comprised of two main groups: folks from England and German Moravian Christians. Toward the end of the journey there was a third storm, more violent than the others.

“In the midst of a worship service the sea broke over, split the main‑sail to pieces, covered the ship, poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming was heard from the midst of the English, but the Germans calmly continued to sing their hymn. Afterwards I asked one of them, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

Deeply moved by the faith of the Moravians, Wesley wrote, “It was the most glorious day I had ever before experienced.”

It would be some time before Wesley himself would experience that utter assurance of God’s unconditional love and acceptance, and be able to declare, with Paul, that

“… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I believe we are all looking for that Gospel reassurance – that we are God’s beloved and that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

I find in Wesley’s humanity and life-long quest to follow Jesus a compelling and inspirational example. During the month of August, we will be considering the legacy of John Wesley with a sermon series on spirituality, faith and theology of this remarkable leader. I hope you’ll join me!

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff