Thursday, February 21, 2013

Relevance LEAD

by Anthony Fatta

Wondering what your friends in the Western Jurisdiction were up to last week? Check out Relevance LEAD, and see Anthony's explanation on why it is important!

The Relevance LEAD conference was not your typical best practices, build it and they will come, young adult outreach conference. It was a little more cerebral than that. We know dressing, teaching, and preaching in one particular way is not the answer to reaching more people. Instead of the typical coffeehouse preaching or film-based sermon series, we had workshops that really focused on our development as ministers like: how to be authentically you in ministry, how to affirm lay ministry as equal to ordained ministry, and to be creative even if it means losing our pensions...because, let’s be real, they will not be there anyways.
In terms of social justice, that is what young adults are hungry for. They want to plug into a tradition that has a strong social witness, but not one that has become a rotary club. Needless to say, this conference was a great one to attend. I think the Western Jurisdiction (at least those at this conference) recognizes that church as usual does not work anymore. We need to let the Spirit move us somewhere else. It’s scary, but it’s a lot better than bemoaning a slow, painful decline. The Gospel is a message for all people, but how it’s shared with people needs to be changed! I look forward to being a part of that change.


Anthony Fatta is the Youth Director at Los Gatos UMC in the Bay Area of California and is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Text: Joel 2:1-2, 12-13

On Ash Wednesday we gather to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. This is a season of repentance and reflection in preparation for the Easter event. I always thought of it as a particularly dirty Christian tradition. In the days of old Christians would come to the bishop on this day to serve public penance by receiving ashes from the previous year’s palms sprinkled over their clothing while reciting Psalms of repentance. On this day, I am reminded of the significance of seeking forgiveness and repentance before God.

The author of Genesis wrote: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[1]

I am the pastor of a small rural congregation on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. One of my church members shared with me a story about growing up out here in Kekaha during the height of the sugar industry. She told me that trucks would drive down the dusty roads spraying mosquito and other pesticides to protect the crops. As the trucks sprayed the pesticide the neighborhood kids would run behind it rejoicing in the misty haze of dust and repellent.

Imagine the health risks of which we were unaware! Not to mention the injustice committed by sugar companies that profited from the exploitation of land and people in rural Kauai. It is the community that continues to pay for the clean-up of remaining chemicals and demolition of the defunct mill.

The text which I offer us for reflection is from the Book of Joel, about a prophet who called his people to lament and seek repentance before God. The people were faced with the threat of invasion from a foreign army, but still, Joel reminded them it was not too late to return to God.

The prophet used poetic imagery throughout the book that is associated with the changing of the rainy to dry seasons in ancient as well as modern Israel. Strong, dry winds called Hamsin (Aribic) or Sharav (Hebrew), much like the Santa Ana winds in California, blow a dreadful current of dust and sand from the Sahara desert. There is no way to escape the dry, intense heat swelling across the landscape.

The point is that we voluntarily or involuntarily rejoice in, live through, and suffer from the plume of pesticide and dust. It is a metaphor that speaks to the very human capacity for both good and evil. There are times when we rejoice in the harmfulness of our world because we know nothing else, but other times we know we are hurt by and/or contribute to the hurt of others.

On Ash Wednesday, it is the ash of the earth that reminds us of the significance of repentance and forgiveness.

Last night I watched President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address. At times I was caught up in the spirit of hope but found myself frustrated with an often repeated phrase: “We can fix this.” He introduced inspirational commentary and commissions on issues such as economic, immigration, and especially gun law reform. Indeed, we deserve a vote and political action on these issues. However, as the prophet suggested, we cannot fix anything in our nation(s) until we seek forgiveness as individual people, but also as a nation that continues to contribute to violence, death, and the ill-treatment of those whom we fail to regard as God’s beloved.

We know what it is like to be human, to make mistakes in our lifetime, to find ourselves in the mess of the earth. We come seeking repentance as individuals in need of forgiveness but also as one community seeking the merciful, kind, and compassionate God.

May you receive God’s blessing on this day as we impose upon ourselves the ash of the earth.

Joshua Clough is the pastor at West Kauai United Methodist Church on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii and a candidate for ordination in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. A native of the Seattle, Washington area he enjoys running, reading, writing, and walking on the beach at sunset with his dog “Cassie.”

[1] Genesis 3:19

Friday, February 1, 2013

Proverbs 21

by Adam Briddell

When I worked in the Senate, Chaplain Barry Black offered a Friday Bible study for staffers. He often turned to a paraphrase of Proverbs 21:31 when wrestling with the tension between trusting God and trusting in human works. He would encourage us to "trust God to win the war, but prepare your horse for battle."

I have been so inspired by how I have seen people of faith prepare to do battle with one of the most entrenched and powerful interest groups in the history of American politics – the National Rifle Association.

It will be a battle. But our perseverance is owed to those communities that have long resembled battlefields. Our perseverance is owed to the families who have been told that their loss is necessary, collateral damage outweighed by the perceived need to own handguns and assault weapons.

We have many allies in this fight. Movements and communities that have long been at the work of fighting for safer communities. Just this past Saturday I joined over a thousand people on the National Mall – all of us deeply moved by the witness of survivors and life long workers in the struggle to limit our capacity for violence. I was inspired! I trust that this war will be won - that God would have our communities liberated from these tools designed to end life. We will remember that we are a people called to abundant life - abundant life that leaves no room for the violence enabled by hand guns and assault weapons.

My friend Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, shared recently that:
"The witness of those who gathered on the National Mall affirms that all humans are created in God's image. We live out this basic theological concept by calling for a ban on military-style assault weapons, a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines, mandatory background checks, and closing private purchasing loopholes. This is a witness from thousands of citizens that life in God’s beloved community is a gift to be safeguarded."

And we will march in the streets, we will preach in our pulpits, we will pray for and with our political leadership. You can take action today by signing the petition found here.

You can take action next week by participating in the Interfaith Call-in Day scheduled for February 4th. Details are available here.

And you can help us to keep building this movement, by encouraging your parishioners, neighbors, friends and family to not let the urgency of this work fade. We are opposed by principalities and powers who believe we will fail. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Adam Briddell is an associate pastor at Bethesda United Methodist Church, has graduate degrees from Wesley Theological Seminary and Georgetown University, and worked for Senator Michael B. Enzi on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Read more from Adam at