Paul: an Appealing or Appalling Apostle?

Regarded by some as a misogynistic crank, others maintain that Paul was ahead of his time when it came to women in leadership and equality in general. But what do we make of passages like “women are to remain silent in church,” and “wives are to be obedient to their husbands”? For centuries Paul was cited to support slavery: “Slaves be obedient to your masters” (just like wives to husbands!). Yet his short letter to a slave owner, Philemon, is a brilliant (and cunning) dismantling of that heinous practice. Women, slaves, Jews, and homosexuals are just some of the groups who can point to Paul’s writings as providing fodder for those who seek to defend an unjust and cruel status quo.

I think Paul gets a bum rap. Often he’s not taken seriously or despised on account of pronouncements he likely didn’t make. It was customary in antiquity to affix a name of significance to a document to lend an air of authority. Such was the case with many letters bearing Paul’s name; he simply didn’t write a lot of things attributed to him.

On the other hand, we are indebted to Paul for some of the most sublime discourses on matters of love and gratitude and faithfulness. How impoverished our world would be without expressions like:

Do not be conformed by this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds.
In everything give thanks.
Let us not grow weary in doing good.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
In all things God works for good.
So now faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So was Paul “an appealing or appalling apostle?” That’s the way John Dominic Crossan phrases the question. Beginning January 23rd, I’ll be leading a class on the Epistles of Paul with a video series featuring Crossan and Marcus Borg.  We’ll meet for six weeks on Mondays at 6:30pm (repeated
Thursdays at 10:00am and Tuesdays at Friendship Village at 1:30pm). I hope you’ll join me on a journey of discovery as we determine for ourselves whether Paul is in fact appealing or appalling.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Jeff


A Grateful Heart Requires Exercise

Maya Angelou has a chapter in her book Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now on the subject of complaining. Angelou says that when “whiners” would come into her grandmother’s store in Arkansas, she would go through a routine that would begin by quietly beckoning Maya to come closer. Then she would bait the “whiner” customer with “How are you doing today, Brother Thomas?” As the complaining gushed forth she would nod or make eye contact with her granddaughter to make sure Maya heard all that was being said.

As soon as the “whiner” left, her grandmother would ask Maya to stand in front of her.

And then she would say the same thing she had said at least a thousand times, it seemed to me. ‘Sister, did you hear what Brother So-and-So or Sister-Much-to-Do complained about? You heard that!’ And I would nod. Mamma would continue, ‘Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake up again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not …. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of that plowing that person was grumbling about. So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.’

I’m going to remember those words the next time I find myself grumbling.

Thanksgiving is our annual reminder of what the bible encourages us to do daily. Hourly. Even moment by moment. To God and to each other. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

It was Fred Craddock who said, “The final work of grace in the human heart is to make us gracious.” May it be so. See you in church – a great place to exercise a grateful heart.

Pastor Jeff


Prayer

relaxI recently made time for a silent retreat. While I wasn’t able to secure a whole day, I managed to set aside five hours, undisturbed, for prayer and reflection. I even turned off my phone.

My guide was Franciscan priest and writer Richard Rohr, in the guise of his book, “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.” Among the wealth of epiphanies I had was around what he calls the trap of personal preferences. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to make snap judgments about whether or not I like something, from recipes to authors to music. “If we stay in the world of preference and choice,” Rohr says, “we keep ourselves as the reference point” and limit possibilities for growth in the process. Rohr wonders,

As if it matters what color I like. Who cares what I look good in? Or what movie is pleasing to me? It changes from moment to moment. No wonder people have identity crises. No wonder people have a fragile self-image; they have nothing solid to build on beyond changing opinions and feelings. 

Prayer, he suggests, creates spaciousness in our psyche, an openness that allows for new possibilities and growth.  According to Rohr, the important question isn’t whether or not we like something. The real question is, “What does this have to say to me?” What’s the gift that’s being offered?  What can I learn from this experience? How might God be present?

I wonder how often have I denied the Spirit and deprived myself of grace and discovery by dismissing the unfamiliar or off-putting or different?

God of surprises,help keep me on my toes for your grace is sneaky.  May I be open to its many guises, that I might find you in all places and people and be renewed by your love.  Amen.

Pastor Jeff


Growing up is hard to do…

bullocksBeing a parent is one of most incredible and daunting gifts that I have been given in my life. Whether we are blood related or serve in parent/nurturing type role in the life of a child, we are co-creators with them in the journey of life. It’s a privilege to dance with children through their milestones.  It can also be heartbreaking when we witness their dreams, crushed, because of various life circumstances.

We are now in a season of change as students are beginning or going back to school from preschool to college. Many of our children are excited for the challenge and some may be apprehensive for the new change. This summer, the Bullock family experienced a new change. We moved to a condo and my daughters began new schools as well. My youngest daughter, Anna, is attending Waggoner Elementary and my oldest, Heidi, is in her first year at Kyrene Middle School. So far they are enjoying the new schools, teachers and friends. I’m very happy that they have made this transition smoothly.

However, a couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting for parents of middle schoolers at Heidi’s school. As I walked into the very large dinning hall, I quickly began to realize that moving to middle school was a big change. I sat quietly in a sea of parents and guardians, listening to each teacher share passionately about the curriculum that they will be teaching my daughter.  Each time a teacher stood up to share, my stomach tightened up more and more. I found myself holding back a flood of emotion in order not to embarrass myself.  Memories of when the girls were younger were flashing in my mind. How much fun we had being insanely silly. But what happened to the time? How did my girls grow so fast?  How did I get to be a parent of a middle schooler?

I thought to myself, “I’m not ready for this change, I’m just not ready.” As I tried to pull myself together emotionally, I came to the realization that this change was more about “me” not wanting to grow up. This realization, of course, sent me to another string of thoughts that lead me to wonder why I don’t want to grow up. Does being a parent of a middle schooler mean I’m getting older? Am I no longer needed as much? Is it possible that I may not know as much about my daughter who is turning into a young woman? I can already hear a resounding, “YES,” as I write this. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared for this change in my daughter’s life. Facing this reality was probably written all over my forehead as I sat there trying to face this reality and appear to be composed. The questions kept popping up in my head, “what will be role in my daughters’ life be?”  “Am I ready for this? Can I handle all this change?”

Recently, I joined a local gym with some friends and am experiencing a whole new understanding of health and exercise. Unfortunately, the work outs never get easier, but fortunately, I am feeling better after each exercise experience… well, maybe three hours after the fact. This new exercise routine, has really helped me contemplate my health and understanding as a parent. Being a parent never gets easier. However, I’m learning to cherish and accept the reality of time gone by and discover ways to grow and mature as a person, even when I struggle to grow up. Being a parent takes time, patience, lots of love, and now I’m learning it involves maturing into the Dad God desires me to be.

I have often wondered about Mary and Joseph’s parenting experience. What brought them joy? What
broke their hearts? How in the world did they really respond to Jesus when they thought he was lost and
they finally found him in the temple discussing theology with the religious leaders? I wonder how they were growing with their son who would lead a movement to turn society upside down and inside out by simply challenging the hierarchy and calling his followers to love God and neighbor with their whole being?

Well, the good news is, I’m not Mary or Joseph and my daughters aren’t Jesus. However, we are all children of God, called to grow in wisdom and grace. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a perfect parent, but I’m thankful I’m not alone on the growth journey. Our family is blessed with great schools and a faith community to help us on our journey of growth and maturity, even when we don’t want to grow up.

In this season of changes, I have been reading stories from Genesis and reflecting on all the growth changes that are occurring within the families. My favorite is the Abraham and Sarah story. They discover that God is with them throughout their journey. What a blessing to receive. May you find that God is constantly with you on the journey.

I wonder how you are growing in your journey? If there is one thing I have learned as a parent, it takes a village. I wonder where you find strength and support in growing up as parent, as child of God? I would love to know. Feel free to drop me an email at joel@dayspringumc.org.

May you grow in God’s grace and wisdom,

Pastor Joel


Madness

This Madness Must End

There is a scene in AMC’s Hell on Wheels, a series set in the 1860s around the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, where the conversation between a few characters turns to God:

“Do you not believe in a Higher Power?” asks one, incredulously.

“Yes, sir. I wear it on my hip,” another replies, lifting his jacket to reveal his six-shooter.

“Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” That line, spoken by the Prince of Peace, echoes the truism that violence begets violence. Through his life and death Jesus shows us another way. Time and again, prophets of old and new, call us to turn our swords into plowshares, our weapons of destruction into implements of creation. As followers of Jesus, we are called to lead by example.

I urge you to write your legislators:

  • To support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines
  • To support background checks to help restrict those with histories of gun; violence, links to terrorist organizations, and histories of domestic violence from purchasing firearms;
  • To commit to improving mental health treatment.

I also invite you to consider relinquishing any firearms you may have in your possession. But that may not be easy. I’ve been in conversation with a community official about Dayspring partnering with the Tempe Police Department on a firearm “turn-in.” I was aware of the 2013 state law that prevents police from destroying guns from “buy-backs” but was astonished to learn the law applies to guns voluntarily surrendered as well.  While the State of Arizona is clearly not interested in reducing gun prevalence, I believe more and more people in our community recognize the presence of guns in their homes poses a far greater risk to themselves and household members than a potential break-in. I just learned that a 16-year old girl died today from an accidental firearm discharge in her home in Tempe.

This madness must end.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, ‎”Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of human beings.” Jesus was Gandhi’s model for nonviolent resistance. For too long we’ve professed belief in the kind of “higher power” that can be worn on one’s hip. It is high time we chose Jesus’ way.

Pastor Jeff


Dayspring

2016-03-29 10.07.07I have come to deeply appreciate the name of our church and the wisdom of those who were behind its naming. A Middle English word meaning ‘dawn’ or ‘first light,’ dayspring first appeared in the 13th century. Clearly the term is laden with a sense of hope and promise. A U2 refrain comes to mind: “It’s a beautiful day / Don’t let it get away / It’s a beautiful day.” The translators of the King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611, applied the term ‘dayspring’ to Jesus in Zechariah’s prophecy toward the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. In the early 20th century, W. B. Yeats wrote of “the dayspring of their youth,” referring to the beginning of a new era or order of things.

Do you ever wonder about the health and future of the church at large? The United Methodist Church isn’t alone in its 50-year-long membership decline. Millennials (ages 18-35) continue to leave the church in alarming numbers. Their stated reasons: it’s homophobic, anti-science, exclusivist, hypocritical and judgmental. In his book The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, Robin Meyers writes:

“Now for the good news: the church of Jesus Christ in the Western World is in terrible shape. That’s right—the good news is the bad news—and that’s good news. Why? Because, according to the distinguished scholar of religion Phyllis Tickle, apparently about every five hundred years the church holds a sort of giant rummage sale. It must decide what goes and what stays, what is dispensable and what is irreplaceable. Five centuries after the Protestant Reformation, we find ourselves passing through precisely such a time. Think of it as a kind of spring cleaning. We are sorting through our theological stuff and asking painful and disorienting questions about where it came from, what it’s worth, and why the once lucrative market for creeds and doctrines seems both depressed and depressing.”

As a progressive church, I like to think that Dayspring is helping to usher in a new era of Christianity, one that is open, inclusive, non-exclusivist (honoring other paths to the sacred), justice-oriented, and faithful to the person and vision of Jesus, “the dayspring from on high [who] hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (KJV Luke 1:78-79).  May it be so!

 

Pastor Jeff

 


The Color Purple

PurpleThe season of Lent is upon us. The forty-day period before Easter offers Christians pause to reflect on our spirituality and take an inventory of our lives. Why forty days? The number forty is derived from the traditional forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. Lent has traditionally been associated with self-denial, fasting, and penitence.

Have you ever wondered why purple is the traditional color for Lent? It was the color of royalty, wealth, status and power – that much I learned from my Bible dictionaries. But why it’s the color of Lent was still a mystery to me, so I consulted Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple, to see if it might offer a clue. It’s rather interesting to see how she uses the color. There are several passages where purple is mentioned.

One is where Celie, this poor rural black woman with a terrible self-image, oppressed by society, and especially by men, meets a woman named Shug, who is proud, and free, and beautiful, and loving, and life-affirming. Celie falls in love with Shug. She adores and venerates her. Shug gently leads Celie out of her imprisonment, her self-imposed bondage, and frees her. In one scene Celie envisions Shug, her redeemer, dressed in purple.

In another scene Shug is talking to Celie about God:

“I think it [ticks] God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. God made the color purple to please us, just to be beautiful. Most people think that our purpose in life is to please God, but God is trying to please us. That’s why God made the color purple”

It’s customary to give up something for Lent. I don’t want to take that away from anyone who is really looking forward to a wonderful season of suffering! But let me suggest Lent need not be a time when we carry our little crosses. Maybe we could use the season as a time of intentional reflection to see the world in a new way. To see “God in all things and all things in God,” as the mystic put it. To see “Christ on the face of each other,” as the contemporary gospel song puts it. To see how “God is trying to please us.” Call it forty days of wonder. Life-affirming, Spirit-infused wonder. Or, if you prefer, you could always give up chocolate.

Pastor Jeff


The Face of Jesus

Head of Christ *oil on panel *25 x 21.7 cm *circa 1648

Head of Christ *oil on panel *25 x 21.7 cm *circa 1648

You may be surprised to learn that the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection includes a portrait study of Jesus by Rembrandt, the very study the Dutch master used for his Supper at Emmaus. Curator Graham W. J. Beal’s dream to see the works side by side was realized a few years ago with a special exhibit at the D.I.A. called Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. I was fortunate to see that exhibit while visiting Janice’s family for the holidays.

Organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Musée du Louvre, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibit included paintings, prints and drawings of Jesus by Rembrandt and his students from museums throughout the world. I marveled at the seven or eight small portraitures of Jesus. They were simply breathtaking. I’d seen one of them previously in Berlin, but it was extraordinary to see them together for the first time since they were created in his studio.

Breaking from the traditional, idealized form based on Greek sculpture, Rembrandt painted an all-too-human likeness of Jesus. Moreover, he used a Jewish model, probably a Sephardic Jewish immigrant. (Rembrandt and his wife lived in a Jewish section of Amsterdam). Rembrandt literally changed the face of Jesus. What you get is a humble, human, caring Jesus. A servant, not a superhero. A life marked by compassion that was simply divine.

I want to invite you to join me on Monday nights at 6:30pm or Thursday mornings at 10am beginning January 25 for “Meeting Jesus Again: Part 1,” an exploration of a credible Jesus for the 21st Century. We will be joined by 25 experts for a conversation around the relevance of Jesus for today in this video-based study. Together let’s learn more about the One we’re called to follow.

Pastor Jeff

 


‘Tis the Season!

Go tell it on the mountain . . .that Jesus Christ is born!    

– African-American Spiritual

 

‘Tis the season of gifts and giving!  More than that, Christmas is a time to get in touch with what it means to give. When we give, something happens to us, as well as to the recipient!

Many of the gifts we give at Christmas are wrapped and placed under the tree. But there are so many others . . . the gift of friendship to someone who is lonely, the gift of compassion to someone who is hurting, the gift of forgiveness for someone who has hurt us, the gift of patience for those who are anxious. These gifts are everlasting. Long after the toys have been cast aside, the sweaters worn out, the perfume used up, these gifts will yet remain. They are eternal.

I want to suggest another unique way for us to give this Christmas, one that also could have lasting value. There’s a story about William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Booth spent most of his years reaching out to the destitute on the streets of London. This story may be apocryphal, but it has an important message:

Each Christmas there was a tradition in London that the churches would send out representatives to the streets to invite the poor to a Christmas celebration. Huge crowds would gather for this annual burst of generosity. The Anglicans would begin by announcing, “All of you who are Anglicans, come with us.” Then it was the Roman Catholics: “All who are Catholic, come with us.” Then the Methodists, the Lutherans, and all the other denominations announced, “Whoever belongs to us, come with us.” Finally, when all of the church representatives had made their invitations, a large crowd of people still was milling about. At that point William Booth would shout out to the people, “All of you who belong to no one, come with me.”

Hospitality is a hallmark of Dayspring UMC. We might well shout on the streets, “All of you in the East Valley who belong to no one, come with us. All who have become disillusioned with organized religion come with us. All who have been rejected by others, who are weary and heavy-laden, come with us, and God will give you rest. All who wish to be a part of a community where everybody is somebody, come with us.”

Let your gift, then, be an invitation. Invite your friends, relatives, neighbors, associates & acquaintances who may be looking for a faith community to one of our five Christmas Eve services – 3, 5, 7, 9 & 11pm – which promise to be inspiring and inclusive worship experiences. And there’s no safer time than Christmas to invite someone to church!

You might also consider inviting family, colleagues and neighbors to the Dayspring Chorale Christmas Concert on Dec. 6 at 7:00pm and our Children’s Christmas Pageant on Dec. 13 at 8:30 & 10:00am.

May the love, hospitality and generosity of the one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas touch your heart and fill your life with meaning and purpose.

In the Love of that First Christmas,

Pastor Jeff


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