The Nature of Joy

I’m reading a wonderful book called The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was recommended by Bishop Bob Hoshibata at Annual Conference. These spiritual giants have encountered incredible hardships throughout their lives. Yet both have been able to find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering. They have much to teach us. Worlds apart and from different faith traditions, they have met several times and are said to share a special bond. Tutu visited the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his 80th birthday. They met to work on a gift they would offer the world: secrets to finding true joy.

I am inspired to preach a series based on their book. By the time you read this, I will have done the first couple of sermons (which you can always watch after the fact on Livestream):

July 23                        The Nature of Joy

July 30                        Obstacles to Joy

Aug 20                        Pillars of Joy (Part One)

Aug 27                        Pillars of Joy (Part Two)


I hope you’ll join me on this journey with Tutu and the Dalai Lama as we discover lessons from their lives and how they have been able to maintain their own personal levels of joy.



Pastor Jeff


Summer Sabbath

“In the morning, long before dawn, Jesus got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Mark 1:35

I remember tent camping with a friend on Mt. Lemon, just north of Tucson. We were at 8000 ft. The first day was so cold I couldn’t wait to get into my sleeping bag after dinner. I returned home from the outing rejuvenated after relaxed conversations with a colleague, exhilarating hikes, and lots of fresh air. I felt as though I was able to catch my breath for the first time in a great while. And as much as I loved the ponderosa, Douglas fir and aspen, along with picturesque boulders and melodious birdsong, you know what the best part of it was? No cell phone service. Oh, there were several towers atop the mountain. But evidently – happily — none belonged to AT&T. For 48 hrs. I was blissfully off-grid. Unplugged. Relaxed. How nice it was to catch my breath.

James Adams tells the story of an explorer on an urgent march through the jungles of the upper Amazon in South America. Good progress was made for about two days. Then, on the third morning, he found his native guides sitting solemnly on their haunches, making no preparations for further travel. “Why?” the explorer asked, and their foreman explained: “They are waiting; they cannot move farther until their souls catch up with their bodies.”

I wonder if we too sometimes get ahead of our souls? I wonder if we move so fast from here to there that sometimes we run off and leave our souls behind?

I hope you are able to find time during this summer season, when the pace generally slows a bit anyway, for your soul to have a chance to catch up. Call it summer Sabbath time. May we all find time to pause and catch our breath, and experience the grace and power of the Divine. And every now and then, feel free to power off your cell phone. Give it a rest, too!

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Easter Reflections

I love Easter Resurrection Sunday. In fact, it’s my favorite Sunday of the year. I remember as a child, I could hardly wait for the egg hunt at my Nana’s home in Hutchinson, KS. My siblings and I would wake up early Easter morning and look high and low for Easter eggs scattered throughout Nana’s home. After exhausting our energies to find every single egg, we would gather around in a circle and celebrate what each of us had found. I still find great joy reflecting on this experience because it has helped shape my understanding of Easter Resurrection.
Easter Resurrection, for me, is playful. It’s hunting, finding, and celebrating. Easter Resurrection is discovering God at work in our world through the gifts of Creation, relationships, and the unexpected surprises of life. Easter Resurrection is the anticipation of the spring flowers getting ready to burst into miraculous works of art. Easter Resurrection is the call from an estranged family member who simply says, “I miss you, and I’m so glad I get to talk to you.” Easter Resurrection is the surprise gift of a beautiful desert plant from colleagues to celebrate an achievement. And ultimately, Easter
Resurrection is the mystery of Jesus’ spirit still among us and working in us to do good and to assure us that we are loved unconditionally.

After devouring chocolate bunnies and jelly beans from Nana’s egg hunt, the Bullock’s would get dressed up in outfits that mom spent all year making for us kids. We would load up in the car and attend Easter service at the local Methodist church. The aroma of Easter lilies and the welcome from the congregants made this family of visitors, feel so welcomed and loved. But the highlight of my childhood Easter Resurrection experience was when
the organist would pull out all of the stops on the B-3 Hammond Organ, and lead us into singing my favorite Easter hymn, “He Lives.” The last line of the chorus simply states why I can believe in Easter Resurrection, “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”

I wonder where you will find Easter Resurrection this Easter? I wonder where you will discover God at work in Creation, relationships, the  unexpected, and even yourself? I pray you will be blessed by what you discover. I would love to hear what you find, please let me know.

Enjoy the hunt,
Pastor Joel


A Holy Lent: The Practice of Sabbath & Care for the Poor

Most of us still regard the Ten Commandments as providing valuable instructions about how we are to relate to God and to one another. It’s pretty hard to argue with the prohibitions of not having other gods or idols or not making wrongful use of God’s name. And we have seem to have little problem with those prohibitions forbid committing murder, bearing false witness, stealing, committing adultery, or coveting. However, we’ve increasingly treated one of the commandments as irrelevant if not utterly impractical in our 24-7 economy.

Several years ago, Walter Brueggemann, probably the most widely-respected Old Testament scholar of our day, spoke these words in our sanctuary:

I have come to think that in our production consumption society that Sabbath is the most radical Commandment of God’s covenant, because it means to desist in our control and self-preoccupation to make a break in the rat race. And I find, for myself, as for other people when I talk about this, this is the Commandment that immediately evokes our most resistance.

Making a break from the rat race will not come easily. Perhaps we could all take an initial step toward this goal by committing to some form of Sabbath observance during Lent. For many, that will mean observing Sunday as a day of rest, while for others another day of the week would be more appropriate. There will also be a wide range of opinions as to specific practices for Sabbath observance, just as there is for our Jewish brothers and sisters. (Anyone up for giving up television and social media one day a week?) And more important than dwelling on what we might give up is
to contemplate what we might do with the holy time we create. Please plan on spending a few minutes after the first or second service on the first Sunday of Lent, March 5, in the church Library, meeting with others to discuss how we might support one another in a Lenten experiment in honoring the fourth commandment.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Teach Us To Pray

Do you know where your cell phone charger is right now? Do you pay attention to how long your battery lasts between charges? I bet the answer to both questions is a resounding “Of course!”

John Dominic Crossan says that prayer does for our souls what electricity does for our cell phones. Prayer is the source of our spiritual energy. Whether we realize it or not, we have batteries too. We push our batteries. We run our spiritual batteries right into the ground. Without prayer, we cannot be at our best; no more than our cell phone can work well without a complete charge every few days. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he offered a model of prayer most of us memorized as children and regularly recite without deeply considering its meaning. Beginning the first Sunday in February, and going through Lent, I’ll be collaborating on a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer with colleague Rev. David Felten. We’ll be drawing from Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s discover together the power and profundity of one of Jesus’ greatest teachings.
Feb 5 Greatest Prayer #1: Pray Then in This Way
Feb 12 Greatest Prayer #2: Our Father in Heaven
Feb 19 Greatest Prayer #3: Hallowed Be Your Nam
Feb 26 Greatest Prayer #4: Your Kingdom Come
Mar 5 LENT 1 Greatest Prayer #5: Your Will Be Done on Earth
Mar 12 LENT 2 Greatest Prayer #6: Give Us Our Daily Bread
Mar 19 Guest Preacher
Mar 26 LENT 4 Greatest Prayer #7: Forgive Us Our Debts
April 2 LENT 5 Greatest Prayer #8: Lead Us Not into Temptation


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



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

May you grow in God’s grace and wisdom,

Pastor Joel



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