Thursday, May 19, 2016

Full Circle and the In-Between Times

It's a strange morning waking up to a new rhythm of life now that I am back in California and waiting for the next step.  You would think coming home for good would be exciting and joyful, but it a strange feeling today and a bittersweet feeling.  Yesterday, a good friend who came back to CA with me from Wesley returned to DC and thus, my time and experience at Wesley and in DC came full circle for once and for all.  As I dropped him off at the airport yesterday morning, I had the same feelings I had four years ago in August after my dad and I drove to Washington, DC then dropping my dad off at the airport.  It's a mixture of emotions, the sadness of saying goodbye/see-ya-later, yet the anticipation and excitement for what's next.  Back then, I had the excitement and anticipation of beginning seminary and exploring Washington, DC.  But now, I have returned to CA and it is definitely not the same the second time around.  Of course, I am only back in Sacramento for a short time, as I will be moving about 2.5 hours away to Quincy, up in the mountains at the end of June.  On our way back, my friend and I stopped by my new church to greet some of the leaders and had a chance to see the church and parsonage where I will live.  My time at Wesley has come full circle and a new story is about to begin in Quincy.  But first, there are those in-between times to navigate.  

The in-between times is kind of like being in a holding pattern, or can be a time to renew and make new self-discoveries.  It is also a time of establishing a new rhythm, a new routine while breaking with what has been.  As I prepare to move into my new appointment, it is a time to rest and prepare, but also a time to see how I can structure things, learn better self-discipline, and find new ways of doing things. It is also a time to renew relationships and reconnect with friends.  

At the same time, I have been watching The United Methodist Church General Conference intently since yesterday.  As many who are life-long (or semi life-long) United Methodists, our church is in an in-between time as well.  We have become a global church, but also have been struggling with new understandings of how we read scripture, how we welcome people into our fold, how we coexist as a global church.  And for the first time in awhile, the possibility of a split has been real.  The church four years ago showed that it cannot agree to disagree, which had some writing on the wall that a split was inevitable.  While a split has been averted for now, it does not mean that it cannot happen.  I have heard both sides of the issue, including a couple very emotional conversations and like many, I too fear a split.  It does not do the body of Christ any good when we are fragmented.  Yet we are also broken people and need each other, which cannot happen when the body is in two or three different parts.  We need to be open to one another, we need to learn from one another, and need to figure out how to love alike, channeling John Wesley's words from his sermon, "Catholic Spirit," when Wesley says

But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.

My prayer for the UMC as we navigate our own in-between times is that we can have more focused conversations, filled with grace and understanding, loving each other in spite of disagreement, especially when it comes to human sexuality (could write a whole other post on that).  We need to lose ourselves and let go of our egos regardless of whether we are conservative, liberal, or moderate, finding where we can ALL come together to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our communities, nations, and world, working for the common good.  This might be naive and a little foolish on my part to seek such, but I believe that it can happen and my calling is grounded in building bridges and working with people who may think differently than I do.  However, I also think on the words from the apostle, Paul in Romans 8: 24-28, who writes

For in[o] hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes[p] for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

One of the greatest blessings in my time in seminary is that I was challenged on my embedded theology many times, by fellow students and faculty.  I've had to prune some things, re-think other things, but also learn to love and show love even when it was a challenge to do so.  But, there are also times I've fallen short and I seek forgiveness from those whom I may not have shown love towards in times of disagreement.   We're human and it will happen, but we also have the choice to make whether or not we will show love and grace.  We have the choice whether we will listen to and even pray among one another despite differences, and that we will still come together at the table.  I recall Bishop Warner Brown's episcopal address at last year's session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference that when we listen to each other and love one another, it is possible to be like the NRA and Green Peace family members to sit at the Thanksgiving table together and eat from the same turkey.  That was one of the greatest blessings I have had in my time at Wesley, becoming good friends with those whose thoughts and opinions that differed from mine, sharing a meal together, studying together, and praying together amidst our differences.  And, we still loved each other because we saw each other as fellow brothers and sisters.  That is my prayer for the UMC too, that we can get back to seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, not for what we believe.  Perhaps we can learn how all things together can work for the good!!  

Another blessing in coming full circle at Wesley and into the in-between times is making deep friendships with people I have met, people I will be friends with for life amidst the distance, as these friends can still challenge me and keep me accountable and I can do the same, even though my style is more like that of a careful and gentle shepherd.  Recently, I saw the love of Christ come through a friend who challenged me to love myself, as this has been a challenge for me my whole life and admit, it's made loving others a challenge because I can't love myself and even made accepting God's love a challenge.  Not being able to love myself has at times caused me to foolishly think I would loose these same friends over something menial, but it is also foolish to think that, as true friends will stand by you and these friends have.  Knowing them has made me realize that I AM LOVED, not just by them but also by God, flaws, personality quirks, and all.  And I in turn love them, flaws, personality quirks, and all.  Something that was said to me recently is something that will resonate with me for the rest of my life: "God loves me just as I am, as God was willing to sacrifice God's self and die for me." No matter where we are or who we are in life, God loves each of us and I am grateful that my eyes have been opened to this, as I admit I'm sometimes like the disciples and just don't get it.  Sometimes, you NEED friends like this to speak the truth in love and while it might come in the form of a kick here and there, it is sometimes necessary.  I also would not have made it through the seminary, or the candidacy process without these same friends, encouraging me along the way and prodding me where needed, including tough love.  See, love is not always warm and fuzzy, which I admit was more along the way of my jaded view of love.

But we also must be open to these kinds of challenges and to being held accountable.  While I desire to go onto perfection, particularly in love, I know I am going to fall short many times along the way and while these friends may also challenge me, they are the same ones who will help me up when I fall and encourage me to get back on track.  This in-between time is a good time to implement it and move towards a more disciplined life, especially when it comes to body, mind, and soul.  And so, I come into the in-between times, cherishing the memories and friendships I made at Wesley Theological Seminary, but now turning my face to the new life and the new day that will come July 1 when I begin serving my first appointment.  Let us continue to be a source of light in this world and continue building bridges between each other.

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