Rev. Gregory and Me

I came across this one a “Dear Abby”-esque site where readers apparently write to Rev. Gregory, it reminded of a conversation I had at Annual Conference and how hearing some of the opinions of my friends shocked me a bit. It also plays into some recent motion in my life.

a question:

Hello Rev.Gregory,

I was born and raised a Catholic and my mom doesn’t like when I attend service at any church other than ours. My dilemma is that I feel that the Catholic religion is so organized and although I enjoy going to our church I feel that when ever I attend service at our local UMC or even attending service with my husbands cousin at the Seventh day Adventist church, it seems that the feeling of the community is so much more warm and different than the environment at our catholic church.  Of course to my 78 year old mother the only true religion is the Catholic one. Do you believe that God doesn’t favor one religion over another and that different religions are just different roads all leading up to God?
Thank you,

an answer:

Dear Grace,

Thank you so much for writing.  You ask an interesting question.  Before I proffer a response, I would really like to make a few definitions clear.  Specifically, your use of the word “religion.”  The way you appear to be using it is different from how I would use it.  When I talk about the difference between Roman Catholics, Episcopalian, Lutherans, United Methodists, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Baptists Seventh Day Adventists, etc., I prefer to use the term “denomination.”  All of these institutional churches are “denominations” of the one Universal and heavenly undivided Church of Jesus Christ.  All of those who are part of these denominations are “Christians,” followers of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ and members of the Body of Christ.  We all affirm the same basic faith in Him as Saviour and Redeemer, and we mostly profess our faith with creeds, affirmations, and statements that share much in common (as in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds).  By contrast, when I use the term “religions” I am thinking about Christians as distinct from Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.  These are different religions, not the various denominations of Christianity.

Hence, my response to your question should be evident:  I believe that God really doesn’t care about our denominations.  Our denominational distinctions are simply the institutional ways in which Christians have organized themselves.  In other words, God does not favor one brand of Christianity over another … they are all part of the ways in which God has provided for us to be Christian.

a situation:

I remember being in third grade and hearing a boy talking about his church. He asked me what religion I was, and when I said “Catholic” he leaned back, opened his eyes wide and said “Oh…I’m Christian.” Even in third grade, I knew this was the incorrect attitude and was brought by misinformation or misunderstanding on his part, and shouldn’t make me feel bad. But it always did make me feel bad. It makes me feel bad TODAY. I haven’t been in a Catholic church since my older sister’s wedding a few years ago. I’m a member at a United Methodist Church where I am all. the. time. I can hardly be described as anything except Methodist (especially without adverbs such as: previously, remotely, or slightly). I recently (two days ago) revealed to my Catholic parents that I was being called to be a Methodist minister. It would be safe for you to assume I was apprehensive…anxious…terrified? none of these words are really good choices.

I knew they wouldn’t be mad. I knew that they weren’t going to kick me out of the house or tell their friends they now had five children. I just felt like they wouldn’t like it. Because they were Catholic and that would be saying “Methodism isn’t a phase for me.” For those of you who know my parents, you know it was silly to not want to tell them. My dad is supportive in anything I want to do, especially things I’m good at or passionate about. My mom is ecstatic that I won’t be applying to engineering schools in Boston, New York, or Antarctica in a couple of years. However, I couldn’t help feeling bad that I was going to always be different from the rest of my family.

This leads me to wonder what really IS the difference between these two worlds. Not culturally or politically. Not in doctrine or tradition. But the difference in the heart. The God difference.  It’s something I thought about a lot when I was deciding whether or not to become a member at Epworth when I had been going there for a few years.

a question:

How does a calling come into the division of denominations? Should denominations really be so indignant with one another?  Does it really matter what church you end up at? Are we all that different?

my answer:

Ephesians 4

“1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”

You don’t get to choose. As Pastor Sarah said when I talked to her about being called into ministry “How do you say ‘no’ to God!?” You are God’s and when He draws you somewhere. You just go. And if you’re a Catholic girl being called to preach, he might just call you somewhere that you can do that.

“2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’

Love each other. What benefit do you receive from belittling Methodist discipline or from mocking Catholic Lent practices? How does it glorify God for you to call each other “crazy” or to call ANYONE “crazy” for that matter? I don’t think it does. I think that if you are intolerant of other people, blind to Christian similarities, or just rude to each other- then it doesn’t matter to me how much you know about John Wesley or how long you’ve been in the Knights of Columbus or how much scripture you can quote off the top of your head. If you can’t live out the simplest truth presented to us- Love God. Love each other- then you have bigger problems than your denomination.

“3 Make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit through bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”

You and your siblings may sleep in different rooms. But you live in the same house, under the same roof, with the same dad and the same mom. When you take into account all of the things that make us the same, the things that make us different don’t matter. All of the things holding us together- into one community of Love, shared in the same Faith, ruled over by the same Mercy, enveloped in the same Grace- are more important.

“7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

No. We aren’t all that different.

Brady Bunch had it right

When I was litte, my favorite show was The Brady Bunch. I loved the theme song, I loved the symmetry of having three boys and three girls in a family. ALL of it just made me happy.
One episode that I remember particularly well is “Confessions, Confessions” (from Season 2). It starts with Greg saying “Hey, guys, let’s shoot free throws into the waste basket” Bobby Brady, wise beyond his years, says “We better not, Greg, mom always says don’t play ball in the house. She’ll be mad” Greg replies, “No she won’t! She’s not home!”
The three boys play basetball around the room and Peter throws the ball, out the door, down the hall, down the stairs and right into Mrs Brady’s favorite vase.

Mom always says don’t play ball in the house.

The six kids all chip into to buy glue to fix the vase, but when Mrs Brady returns home and places flowers in it, water leaks out of the cracks and all over the dinner table. Feeling guilty for helping Peter get out of his mess instead of telling the truth, the five siblings, and even Alice!, confess to breaking the vase in various ways. Peter is the only one who doesn’t say a word.

Mr and mrs Brady find it obvious that the quiet Peter is the one who is actually responsible for breaking the vase, and because a whole half hour had to be filled, they let him sweat. They even make HIM come up with the punishments for his siblings that covered for him. The poor thing has nightmares and awful feelings all week before confessing. He broke the vase. Because he was playing ball in the house. And he lied. And he tried to be deceitful. It. Was. All. His. Fault.
After asking forgiveness from his Mother, Peter feels so much better and is relieved to be free of his secret.

And he never played ball in the house again.

It was never a debatable a fact. No one walked around saying “Does Mom always say not to play ball in the house?”
NO! EVERYONE knew that Mom always said not to play ball in the house. She made it clear. She said it flat out. Simply stated. DOn’t play ball in the house.
God does the same thing for us. Don’t kill, Don’t covet, Don’t steal, Don’t lie….It’s not a metaphor. It’s not debatable. That’s just what God SAYS! He made it clear. He said it flat out. Simply Stated. Keep my commandments. Here they are, they’re just for you.

But then Peter screws up. As we all do. He goes against something that’s RIGHT THERE for him. And he tries to fix it for himself. And we try the same thing. We do the things we’re supposed to do. We are kind to each other, we honor our parents, we tell the truth. But sometimes we screw up. Sometimes we break the bar instead of raising. sometimes we just do something wrong. And what do we do when we screw up?

Do we try and stick things back together with cheap glue?

Do we sweep our sins under the rug?

Do we let our consequences be had by others?

When we screw up, we feel bad. Whether it’s a little or a lot. We have that itch. there’s that feeling in your stomach that makes you say “Hey, bad move, buddy” And when we screw up, we can TRY to make things right by ourselves. Of course we can try. But it might not always get us very far. If we were the ones that screwed it up in the fist place. What makes US qualified to fix it?

But Peter screws up. His parents know it, too. And they go after him. They focus their energy on setting him straight. When we screw things up. We’re lost. It’s like we’re in a fog. And it separates us from God. And the more we try to do things on our own. The farther we get. When we’re lost, we need help. And God is there. God goes after us.

Out of 100 sheep, if one of them wanders off. The shepherd leaves the 99 and goes after the one.
The Brady’s forget everything and try to bring Peter back.
The widow cleans her wholoe house looking for one coin when she has nine still.
Nico spends his day looking for his purple semi-truck hot wheel, even though there’s a bucket of them in the other room.
God goes out and finds us, even though we’re only one in billions of his children.

God tells us what he wants us to do.
And when we screw up.
He finds us.
He fogives us.
And he loves us all the same.

And, so, as God’s children. We are called.
We are called to do our best to keep his commandments.
We are called to ask his help and forgiveness when we do screw up.
We are called to stick with God, because he’s gonna ntake us where we need to go.

Live out loud!

When we picked the theme for this event. I was really excited. If we’re talking about LIVING OUT LOUD…I mean, it sure sounds like fun. I love to live. And I love to be loud. You’d think this would be easy for me, but it’s not. I’ve been thinking a lot. I’ve been trying really hard to figure out what I mean by saying that. Because, I mean, Every since you’re a little kid you hear teachers and parents tell you that “Actions speak louder than words”. Everything you do outweighs anything you could ever say. But your LIFE? That outweighs everything else. Whatever you spend your life doing is what you are saying all the time, whether you realize it or not.
My whole life I’ve felt like I was missing something. I would work so hard in school and I would get great grades. I played every sport I could get my hands on. I made friends with everyone I knew. And those things are all great, and they made me feel good. But it never felt like I was doing anything. There was always a part of my that just sat there. And it slowed me down.
I was doing so much in every area of my life, but I had one thing that was missing. It was like I was dancing, but I had one leg dragging behind…struggling to keep up. It had fallen asleep. And as I got older, it got harder and harder to see people burning with passion, doing the things they loved, while I was still dancing with my sleeping leg. And sure, it’s just one thing. But it was the most important thing. I didn’t really have God in my life.
For me, God was like 911. When I was really little I called it, just to see if it was real, because it didn’t make sense to have someone who was really always there for you 24 hours a day if something went wrong. Once the police came out to my house and gave me a talking to, I knew they were there alright.
I thought that god was out there, somewhere. But I didn’t really need him all the time. I left him alone, in a way. When I got into 7th grade. I became friends with a lot of people who went to Epworth UMC. My friend, Amy, was on my softball team, and we were so much alike. One day she invited me to go to youth with her.
Being with that group of people was different. Partially, because the youth at Epworth are plain and simple weird. But partially because God was there. And it was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It wasn’t a big Mass with an organ and Priests and Deacons in Vestments like I was used to. It was just ten or so kids, eating pizza on couches as old as they were. To feel God in such an ordinary place was incredible to me. And so I came back.
Everything I did with Epworth made me feel God more and more. Before I knew it, I was speaking at church and planning events. I didn’t even realize it when I talked to other people about God. It just happened. It felt like I wasn’t so far away from God. It was like I was part of the body of Christ. I was a fingertip reaching out to everyone I knew.
John Wesley said once in his notes to “Catch on fire with enthusiasm, and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” When that fire is lit inside you. People can tell. When someone passionately believes something, when they aren’t just saying things to you, but they are LIVING to set an example. It’s easier to listen. Whenever I meet someone who loves God from the bottom of their heart, I can hear it at the top of their lungs.
You know you’re exemplifying what it means to ‘Live Out Loud’ when your heart is in what you’re doing. We always want to go out and do the work of God, because actions speak louder than words. But we can speak louder than that. We can do more than just doing the work of God. We can BE the work of God. God made all of us to serve him on earth. And everything you do for God means more when it’s not just what you’re doing right now, it’s what you’re doing for your whole life. When you put all of yourself into doing God’s work, then you become God’s work.
And so, tonight, I’m asking you, to catch on fire. I wish that I had the words to make you all explode into belief, and be ablaze with all your faith. We could melt away all of our pain and iniquities.  The whole world could feel God and scorch the sky with their enthusiasm.
But I can only tell you what I feel. I can only say that every time I load into a 15 passenger van I get a little closer to God, and every word I say in God’s name makes me burn a little bit brighter. I can tell you that I plan on living my life as loud as I can get.
I think we should all go out into our everyday lives and burn. We should do our best to not only DO the work of God. But to BE the work of God. To be an extension of what we believe. To burn so bright that the whole world can see our faith, and our love, and our passion. To set ourselves alight with our enthusiasm for God so people everywhere can see it. To take our lives…and to live them loud.

Bobby Bragan Essay: Dr Seuss

It is true of many people, that age is inversely related to imagination. The more “mature” a person gets, the less they dream of things unseen. We tend to leave our creavity in the same place we leave our coloring books and bedtime stories, behind us. I don’t know many people that have maintained their inspired frame of mind, but our world has been blessed with some that have.

Theodore Seuss Geisel is my role model, because he never turned his back on wonder, and he shared his imagination with the world. He wrote and illustrated books, that have been adored by millions of kids, under the name: Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss has created countless characters to teach children about important values. Honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, determination, and the importance of family and friends are only a few of the ethics that Geisel communicates to kids. In Horton Hears A Who, Seuss interprets that a “person is a person, no matter how small”, and that no matter how insignificant you think you are, you can make an overwhelming difference. In Oh The Places You’ll Go he encourages readers to try their hardest, because they can do anything if they set their minds to it.

I, for one, have taken things I learned from Dr Seuss books and applied them to everyday decisions. These decisions are what have defined my character. And I’m glad my character has been molded after someone like him. Geisel hasn’t only effected me as a child. His wisdom is useful to people of all ages. I’ve been inspired to try new things and talk to new people by his statement “If you never have you should. Things are fun and fun is good.”

Dr Seuss has taught me to be whatever person I want to be and be proud of it. He once said “Be yourself, because the people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.” Geisel could take something as complex as finding true love, and define it as simply as “when you can’t fall asleep, because your reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Teddy Geisel has taught me that a little nonsense is good for you it “wakes up the brain cells”, and really, isn’t that what we all need sometimes? I don’t see why we shouldn’t look at life from every angle, change it’s color, then give it polka dots and wings. Creativity is essential to life, the world would be a rather boring place without people who look at life through the other end of a telescope.

I thank God that I’ve had the oppurtunity to know characters like Horton, The Cat in The Hat, and even little Cindy Loo Who. They have taught me things without even allowing me to be aware of it. Dr. Seuss has inspired me to make the best of my life, and live every moment with passion and integrity, and to just allow myself to stop and have fun. It is much too easy in today’s world of constant going and doing, to let yourself get caught up in work for the rest of your life. Of course, work is important and completely necessary, but it is by no means all there is to life.

Because of Teddy Geisel’s contribution to my life, I am able to look at the end of one moment as the beginning of a whole new adventure. And when faced with an ending of something I loved, I will not cry because it’s over, I’ll smile because it happened. I hope I have made it apparent why I wish to emulate Theodore Seuss Geisel. As I grow older, I hope not to become an “obsolete child”, and that as I mature I still have my sense of wonder. I wish to continue imaginning, dreaming, and trying my hardest to be as much like Dr. Seuss as I can be. He is my role model.

Pledge of Allegience

It was written in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy who was a Baptist minister in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. His cousin was Edward Bellamy, author of American Utopia novels such as Looking Backward and Equality. Both of these men worked to tell people about their ideas. They thought that the middle class could create an economy in which all people were treated equally in both political and social matters.

Francis was pressured to resign from his church, due to his controversial sermons about socialism, and he went to work as an assistant for Daniel Ford, who was both a member of the congregation and the editor of The Youth’s Companion, which was essentially the Reader’s Digest of its time. In 1892, Francis Bellamy was the chairman of the state superintendents of public schools. He was in charge of collaborating a celebration ceremony for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ exploration of the New World. There was to be a flag raising and while of of the school children saluted and recited the Pledge he had written for the occasion.

The original pledge was as follows:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In October 1892, “to” was added before “The Republic”, which makes it sound more like it does today, when said aloud.  Francis had toyed with the thought of placing a remark about ‘equality’, but the state superintendents were against equal rights for African Americans and women. So for the sake of agree-ablility, he just left it at “liberty and justice for all”.

Dr. Mortimer Adler wrote a book, The Six Great Ideas , which was partially inspired by Francis Bellamy’s ideas expressed in the pledge. He wrote that the three ideas in which America is based on are equality, liberty and justice for all.  And that, “Justice mediates between the often conflicting goals of liberty and equality.” (This is also somewhat expressed in Fahrenheit 451 By Ray Bradbury. Captain Beatty refers to restraining freedom being the right thing to do, so that minorities will not be offended)

In 1923, The National Flag Conference changed the words “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America” And in 1954, the Knights of Columbus fought to add “under God” to the pledge. It was said that Bellamy would of resented this change, because he had been forced out of his church because of his ideas, and after his retirement, he actually stopped attending church because of the horrid racism that he found there. The racial inequality was so madly unjust that it forced a former minister to stop attending church!!!

The new pledge was said to be “both a patriotic oath and a public prayer”. I don’t know about you, but I happen to think that something that this man believed in with all his heart, his patriot oath, and our public prayer. Should be something with meaning. It’s actually poetically put if you look at it with fresh eyes. But the government, in an effort to make schools more patriotic I suppose, has taking every ounce of importance that these words once possessed, and let it seep out of the numbed minds of kindergarteners.

When you start school, you are a mere four years old. A four year old can not comprehend the meaning of these words. They can barely pronounce them. By the time they know it well enough to say it by memory (which is easy seeing as its recited everyday.) , they’ve already dismissed the notion that they could possibly mean anything. Even the most enlightened children only know that it means something about America and how it’s a good thing you live here. I’ve just finished 8th grade and even though I know exactly what all of these words mean individually, as a group they are nothing to me except and introduction to the announcements. And it’s not just kids. I know that some teachers feel very strongly about the pledge ans its meaning, but there’s no way that every time they’re forced to recite it they’re REALLY thinking about everything that America stands for.  They’re thinking about taking roll and making lessons plans.

Sure, it sounds good to say that school children spend a good thirty seconds a day reflecting on the basic principles that this country was built on. But they AREN’T! They’re spending a good thirty seconds a day reciting a pledge that was robbed of all meaning. A pledge that was  sucked dry of even the smallest amount of poetic significance.

Noticing windows

Last Sunday, the lights wouldn’t come on in the sanctuary and we had church in the dark. Mr. Raul said something that really stuck in my head and I don’t even know if he meant to. But he said “We might no have the lights, but at least we have the air conditioning.” When he said that, it reminded me of this skit that we performed for you today. We’re supposed to be grateful for what we have. And people try to convince themselves of this, by thinking that it could be worse. Because it could ALWAYS be worse.  We’re always saying things like “There are kids in Ethiopia that would love to have those carrots that you won’t eat!” And of course, we should be grateful for what we have, and there are people that are less fortunate than us. But the real reason that we should be grateful. The first reason is that what we have was given to us by God.

And you know what? I’m glad that we walked into a dark church last week. Because I looked at the front of the front that morning, and I saw the stained glass windows. I mean I always knew they were there, but I never truly appreciated them before. That day helped me to see how gorgeous hey really are. How all the different colors complement each other. They are really quite nice.

The way I thought about it was…that God’s love for us is like these windows. But the lights are like every other factor in our lives. The lights come and go, they flicker on and off. Throughout your whole life they’re always different. It turns out; you will never be able to predict what they’re going to do. As soon as you think you’ve got them figured out, they trick you by not coming on when you flip the switch one morning. But those windows…they NEVER turn off! Sure, there are days when the other things in your life distract you from them. When the lights are on, you don’t always notice the windows as much. You might even notice them at all if you have a lot on your mind. But just because you think about them less, doesn’t mean that the windows exist any less than they do when they have your full attention. Just because you have a lot on your plate, and maybe you’re having a rough day, doesn’t mean that God loves you any than he always has. You just don’t think about it as much. I mean, when I have a bad day, and I have to rush from one place to another to another….the lights in my life are on like STRODE MODE or something. I don’t stop, and breathe, and think that God loves me, and that everything in my life is supposed to be for him. Sometimes we lose sight of that.

Sometimes in your life you just want to throw up your hands and say “THAT’S IT! I’M DONE! I HAVE NOTHING LEFT!! My brother skied into a low-flying plane! My job is back-breaking and this guy is hanging out in his little office all day. IT’S NOT FAIR!!!”

Your lights are out.  And maybe, just maybe…I’m just throwing this out there, you can let it bounce around in your head for a second and if you don’t like it, just throw it back. But maybe, those days when God turns off our lights… it’s so that we can notice our windows. We can get a good look at how much God loves us, the kind of look you can’t really get with lights flickering all around you.

Sometimes things have to fall apart to fall into place…And when they do fall apart, it doesn’t matter that everything’s in pieces. What matters is how you carry them. God will let you carry your pieces however you want. But me? I want some help with mine. So I vote we remember our windows, put less stock in our lights, and carry our pieces towards the Lord, because once you remember he’s there, he’s a lot easier to see.