Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What it's like to live again: Resurrection Reflections

 I wasn't a Lent Christian growing up. We were pentecostals and we didn't practice such traditions. Lent was seen as to Catholic and to ritualistic. Not that we had any objection to extended periods of prayer and fasting, but the penitence part was to "legalistic" and it was thought that it was to "dependent upon our own ability to be saved."

As long as I have observed Lent, I've never been to keen on the penitence aspect and this year was no  difference. In fact I struggled to keep my Lenten fast in so many ways. At first this really upset me, it depressed me and made me feel inadequate, but then my friend and fellow pastor Coy Remer said, "Well then you're doing it right!" I thought about that and came to the conclusion that Lent is about us humans fixating on our humanity, frailty and fallen nature. Instead of penitence we ought to focus on our propensity for sin and our inability to do absolutely nothing about it! What better way to do that than to see myself fail in my attempt to please God on my own?

This Lent, do to many personal issues, has been one of the darkest Lents of all time for me and because of this I AM SO READY FOR EASTER! This Lent I have come to the conclusion that Christ is absolutely my righteousness and holiness. Without Christ I am dead.

This Easter seems like such a gift. I reminder that because Christ lives, so shall I also live. I suppose as a pastor I should have a pretty good grasp on the last two idea's, i.e Christ as my righteousness and having eternal life through Christ, but like anything the profundity of this truth can get lost in the everyday hassle of life and can become common place especially as a pastor. This Easter I'm taking it all in, this Easter I'm gonna latch on to this idea of life, freedom, and forgiveness in Christ and truly enjoy what it's like to live again! I invite you to do the same.

Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter!

In Christ,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

You and I are bad.

I have been leaning left for so long. It's been a reactionary thing I think. I grew up with a fundamentalist faith, but one that also stressed the mercy and grace found at the cross. Despite the "stressing" of mercy and grace I often felt so guilty that I never knew how to really be free and take advantage of that mercy and grace found at the cross. So every sense my Sophomore year in Bible College I've been leaning left. I teeter back right a bit from time to time, but for the most part I kept moving left.

As a seminary student I was forced to look at both sides and because of my bad experience with the right, even though I often that it might be literally right, I kept moving left until I finally came to the point were God was so transcendent and humanity was so full of potential perfection that I though perhaps God's not a being, perhaps Gods not really that involved, perhaps Jesus wasn't God, but demonstrated the fullness of the perfection we could obtain if only we tried harder. Over these last few weeks of Lent all of that leaning left and all of the human potential for perfection has come to a head. I've had a sort of awakening, a renewal of sorts, I clear and conscience picture that the truth is you and I are bad.

We can't make it on our own. He need the cross, we need Jesus to be our righteousness, because without his righteousness we have none. We are fallen, broken and sinful. We are mortal, frail and incapable. We are human. As Nadia Boltz-Webber says, "It's dark in hear." referring to our hearts. I wont ever return to the strict interpretations of faith and scripture of my youth simply because my mind has been opened and once a mind is opened to truth it's impossible to close it, but I wont belive that I am able to be perfect simply by trying harder. I need Jesus and is victory over sin and death to save me from my own sin and death. No matter what I believe the world needs Jesus to be freed from it's sin and death. This Easter will be the most special Easter I've experienced in a long while, because this Easter resurrection will mean more than it's ever meant before.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More controversy in the Church...whatever shall we do?

I'm amazed at the never ending litany of stories, blogs and reports clogging up my news feed on Face Book regarding human sexuality and the United Methodist Church. Most of you know my opinion on the issue. I think there is a clear difference between church marriage and civil marriage. One is a solemn ceremony conducted in view of God and friends and family. It is a sacred religious event that marks a major transition in the lives of two believers. The other is a legally binding contract between two consenting adults. For whatever reason an officer of the church, i.e Pastor, Priest or minister) is given the authority by the state to conduct state affairs and legalize and solemnize at the same time.

The big issue is whether or not LGBTQ person should be allowed to marry, legally and religiously, and should UMC pastor be allowed to conduct those ceremonies where it is legal to conduct them? I doubt we'll ever come to any real agreement on the issue, but a former professor of mine from United Theological Seminary as suggested a possible why forward for the continuous United Methodist Church. I think this way forward might just be the answer to pray so I wanted to share it with you this week. Below is a copy of Dr. David Watson's blog post for this week entitled "Separation without schism"

Lots of people are talking about schism in the UMC. I’m one of them. I don’t want a schism, but I recognize that one may be inevitable. Is it possible, though, that United Methodists could separate into two denominations without constituting a schism?
There have been many schisms, separations, and splinters in the history of the Church, but two stand out as most significant. The first is the schism between the East and West, which actually took place over centuries, but was made official in 1054 when Cardinal Humbert, the envoy of Pole Leo IX, walked into Hagia Sophia and placed a document on the altar a document excommunicating Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. Even after this time, Eastern and Western Christians lived and worshipped together. Eventually, however, a state of affairs emerged in which these eastern and western churches no longer recognized one another’s sacraments (including ordination), teaching authority, and liturgical traditions. There were other consequences as well, and over time they became two entirely separate communions.
The second major schism is of course the Protestant Reformation. We normally date the beginning of the Reformation to 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg. As with the first schism, however, this one was a long time in coming. The result was that we ended up with more Christians in separate communion from one another, without recognizing one another’s sacraments, ordination, liturgy, and teaching authority. Luther and many others were excommunicated. It wasn’t long, moreover, before Protestants began to break off from one another, each group insisting that it had the proper way to interpret scripture and the Christian life.
Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary has recently written a blog post calling for another of these Protestant separations. He argues for the formation of a new Christian denomination that could be called something like the Progressive Methodist Church. Those United Methodists who cannot or will not live within the boundaries stipulated in the Book of Discipline, he says, should be allowed to go their own way in peace. They should be able to keep their properties and pensions. We should make all this as painless as possible, because the state we’re living in now can’t continue.
I’m not ready to endorse this idea, but there is something appealing about it. We have to find some way to let some air out of the balloon, or it’s going to pop. The last General Conference was a madhouse. I’m certain that the next one will be worse.
So let’s say we took Dr. Witherington’s advice and separated amicably into the Progressive Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church. This would not necessarily constitute a  smaller scale version of the Great Schism of 1054 or the Protestant Reformation. It seems likely, for example, that we would recognize one another’s sacramental authority. Implicitly, then, we would recognize the ordination of the people who performed the sacraments. After all, we recognize the sacramental authority of many different traditions. In fact, the UMC is already in full communion with the ELCA and the Episcopal Church (both of which ordain gay and lesbian people), which means, among other things, that we may exchange clergy with one another. We implicitly recognize the ordination of very broad range of traditions by recognizing the baptism of virtually every other Christian group. Last I checked, we don’t ask if the person who performed the baptism was gay. Problems could arise if the baptism was in some name other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that’s probably about it. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, ELCA, PCA, PCUSA, UCC, Southern Baptist—it doesn’t really matter. If the minister was ordained in his/her tradition, we recognize his or her sacramental authority. It would require a full-communion agreement to bring their ministers into our churches, but we nevertheless implicitly state that their ordination is valid.
If the UMC separated into two different denominations, would we be less generous with one another than we are with, say, the Lutherans? It seems unlikely. What we’re talking about then, is not a schism, but a separation.
You may say, “You’re splitting hairs, here, Watson! You’re arguing semantics!” No, imaginary interlocutor, I am not. For Christians to recognize one another’s ordinations and sacramental authority is one of the most important ways in which we can promote unity in the body of Christ. It is the opposite of schism, and it is much more important than a denominational structure or some other formal means of identifying various Christian groups. Why? Sacrament is where the real action is in Christianity. The sacraments are where we most directly encounter God. When we say that we recognize one another’s sacraments and ordinations, we’re saying that in these sacramental activities, God is really showing up. Christ really is mediated to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Is there anything more important than that?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Honor exchanged for shame: Thoughts on America's history with Native peoples

I am the father to three, soon to be four,  Native American children and the husband of a Native American women. My wife and kids are all registered tribal members of the Oklahoma Band of Cherokee Indians, a.k.a Cherokee Nation. I am proud of their heritage and of the heritage of all Native peoples. Most Native peoples treated the land and each other with respect and had a particular amount of integrity towards the land and creation as well as honor and respect. I am ashamed of the way our nation has treated these honorable people and I believe there will be a reckoning for America's unrepentant sins towards indigenous peoples.

In Northern Michigan there is an Island, an Island I'm sure all of you have heard of before. It's called Mackinac Island. It's a beautiful get away from all of life's hectic things. It's trapped in time, there are no cars and all the homes and buildings are from the victorian era. It's known for it's cool summer weather, fudge and "the Grand" (the Grand Hotel, built by the rail road companies hoping to capitalize on the the industrial wealth coming to the Island at the beginning of the 20th century). I love Mackinac Island as most who have been there do. As a young person growing up in Michigan it was an annual summer trip to go to the Island, buy some fudge, walk around the state park and enjoy the ferry ride to and from the island.

As much fun as the island is and as beautiful as it is, it was once more beautiful, more sacred than most of us know. The island is a sacred place in the tradition of some of its earliest known inhabitants, the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) tribes, who consider it to be home to the Gitche Manitou or the "Great Spirit". Gitche Manitou is also known as the "great mystery". According to the Ojibwa, Mackinac Island was created by the Great Hare, Michabou and was the first land to appear after the recession of the Great Flood. The island was a gathering place for the local tribes where their offerings were made (in the form of tobacco) to Gitche Manitou and was where tribal chiefs were buried. A place that was once an organic, living, breathing temple...a sanctuary...the home of God himself, is now a tourist trap known for fudge, opulence and worthless souvenirs. 

Gitche Manitou is a god much like ours. He is benevolent and nurturing and owns the universe. He is unknowable, which is why he is often called the great mystery. He gave humanity his entire stock of tobacco, which he loves, and asks us to smoke the tobacco as an offering to him. This sounds silly, but in the mythology it is a great gift and serves as a medium between Gitche Manitou and humanity. 

What happened to Mackinac Island is just one example of White Europeans taking something sacred from the Native Peoples and treating it with shame and treating them with shame. The systematic hunting and killing off of the American Plains Buffalo, the uprooting of the Eastern tribes, i.e. Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Seminole and moving them hundreds of miles to the red dirt of Oklahoma, the intentional exposure of the Sioux and other Central tribes to small pox...all this is serves as a witness to our nations willingness to make minorities a means to an end for the sake of wealth and power. I understand that this happened almost 200 years ago, but there has never been any formal apology or attempt to reconcile and neither has there been one with the descendants of the Africans who were enslaved on this continent for 400 years!

I hope that there is more awareness about the plight of Native Peoples, what years of genocide have done to this once honorable people. They live in poverty, addicted to drugs and alcohol and plagued with obesity. They're forced on to reservations (if they want land to live on for free) and are offered subpar healthcare. Shame on our ancestors for stealing these peoples honor. My God have mercy on our nation.

This is the day that the Lord has made!! Reflections on a month of blessings.

These past three weeks, of which I have failed to post at all, have been immensely busy for me and our world. There's been the Olympics, Russia taking over the Crimea, Fred Phelps was excommunicated and thats just the world news. Theres lots to report from my own life, as well as reflections on those events which I hope will help you in your life.

Two weeks ago it was announced that I would be appointed to the Homer United Methodist Church in Midland, MI effective 7/1/2014. This will be my third appointment in the United Methodist Church and one that I a very excited about. I am, however, very sad to be leaving the church family we have here in Onaway and Millersburg and even asked my DS if it were possible, like a football coach, to bring with me some of my choice staff to help implement our game plan, of which he laughed and said no. I'm very grateful to the people of Onaway/Millersburg UMC for their love and support and their grace and patiences as I learned more about my call, gifts and trade. I was a 29 year old Seminary graduate when I came to Onaway and I showed it often. I really appreciate this collection of saints who helped refine this young pastors call. They will always be in my heart.

As significant as a new appointment is,  probably the most significant thing that has happened professionally to me over the past 3 weeks is the approval of the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning as a Provisional Elder. This was a life time of preparation, even though I have not been a Methodist my whole life and I have been an Ordained minister in another tradition, I feel as if everything I have experienced up to this point was leading to the completion of this goal. I actually begin the journey in 2007 by joining the First United Methodist Church of Sallisaw, Oklahoma. I can really even go back a bit further to a conversation I had with Dr. Jack Harnish, who would tell you that he gave me a "kick in the pants" which motivated me to get going on my call to Ordained ministry.

The countless hours of work, worry, fear, doubt, joy, elation and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, plus the countless amount of saints who have been there supporting me and encouraging me and showing me grace has all culminated with this one event...so far. Last Tuesday I met with the Board of Ordained Ministry for a round of interviews which went wounderfully. The interviews were encouraging, formative and a form of holy conferecning. The next day I received a call from a member of the Board informing me that I had been approved for Commissioning as a Provisional Elder. I felt weak in the knees and I cried, in fact the board member, a good friend of mine, told me to breath and relax. It was such an emotional moment I wasn't sure how to respond. I'm certain now that the only proper response is one of gratitude...gratitude to God and to the gracious saints who held my hand and made this possible.

Now as great as all that is I also found out recently that the baby my wife and I are having is going to be a girl!! After three ruckus and rowdy boys it'll be nice to have a sweet little baby girl. We have already decided to name her. Her name will be Sophia Elizabeth Blanchard. Elizabeth is a tribute to the Advent story of Zachariah and Elizabeth's surprise baby...John the Baptist. Sophie was a surprise to me, not an intentional pregnancy, but she will be great in the eyes of God and do great things in for God's kingdom.

I'm overwhelmed with blessings and I'm grateful. My heart is filled to the brim with gratitude and thanksgiving. I'm so happy to see so many of my life's goals coming to fruition and I know this is really just the start of more of life's challenges, but for now I will sit in the sun and absorb it's warm rays and enjoy the day, for this is the day that the Lord has made. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Josh

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Might Month of March!

Where I pastor ww are just wrapping up a series of sermons called, "The All-America Month of February." It was kind of a tongue a cheek series. Obviously a month with record snow falls and cold temps doesn't evoke images of American greatness...well not quite like July does. It does however have several holidays that are uniquely American, but perhaps are not thought of as holidays, i.e Super Bowl Sunday, Ground Hog day, and Presidents day. Along with tying together the biblical theme togetherness we also explored the theme of the other. Being that it was Black History Month we also covered some of America's greatest Black historical figures. I think it went well. I had fun planning, preparing and delivering these sermons. Next up is March!

There's no catchy theme for March because for me March will be a very busy month, but also because this year March contains the early part of Lent. Growing up in a Pentecostal church we had little to no Lent, but plenty of lint...ha ha ha. Really though, I never recall hearing anything about Lent other than it was a Catholic thing and there for must be bad. Little did I know that Lent was a time of growth, reflection, introspect and reconcilliation. Lent is a truly blessed time of simplicity and un-indulgence.

I discovered Lent as a wayward, back sliden, recovering fundamentalist and pentecostal via the Episcopal Church. At that point in my life I was ready to embrace any form of Christianity that did not resembled the form of which I knew, i.e Pentecostalism. It was explained to me by a very wise, old, and country Priest that Lent was a time of repentance and reflection, used to help prepare us for the joy of the resurrection and the new life in Jesus. In away the relationship that Lent has to easter is very similar to the relationship that our earthly lives have to our eternal lives, it prepares us.

This year I'll start it all off with ashes, but hopefully I'll be more intentional about engaging in prayer and end up with a better understanding of God. I will fast and abstain and all those other Methodist things, but I also want to add, to do more, read more, pray more, give more, so that this time of reflection is not simply about not eating donuts or drinking diet coke or not logging on to Facebook or not txting while driving, but is about growing and becoming something new.

Lent is a gift. A chance to look inside and reflect on what we are and where we are going and if we find out that we are not what God is calling us to be or we find that we are heading down the wrong path, come the last Friday in Lent we can rally at the cross and be reborn on Sunday! So this Lent embrace the the time to reflect, to look inside and enjoy the mighty month of March.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

United Methodist Ministry: What are we doing and Who are We?

This past week I posted a question in a Facebook Group page on the role of Local Pastors and their use of traditionally Ordained person styles, garments and vestments. I got a lot of different response, but most of them were either of the visceral type or showed complete indifference. I suppose on the grand scheme of things whether Local Pastors can wear collars, stoles and robes and whether they can use the style Rev. in front of their names really is inconsequential. What matters is whether or not good ministry is taking place and whether or not the gospel is being taught and shared and changed lives are the result of that, I understand, believe me I do.

I've been a Licensed Local Pastor (LLP) now for over five years. This May, assuming everything goes well, I'll be an Elder, a commissioned Elder, and will begin my two year probationary journey to Full and Ordained Elder. I understand the difficulties, the challenges and to and extent, perhaps the discrimination some LLP's feel, so again, I get it. I also understand that there is a difference between an Elder and an LLP, one that should be distinctive, but in away is vague when we sit down and try to discuss it. After all an LLP is a pastor, he can celebrate sacraments, perform wedding, funerals and all other Pastoral ministry and is intinerate. What does and Elder do? Please refer to the prior sentence. The  practical difference that I can see is guaranteed appointments, larger churches and better salaries. Elders are, for the most part, guaranteed those things. On tope of those things Elders can expect to have close to $70,000 in debt, endure a rigorous and sometimes random and always frustrating Ordination process, and an expectation of constant professionalism.

Please don't misunderstand me, I love LLP's and value their ministry, I feel certainty that I am called to Ordained ministry, but why would one go through all this when they can virtually do the same thing with 1/4 of the complications? I know plenty of people, even those who commented to my post over the weekend, who said they were happy being and LLP an that they felt no pressure or urgency to become Ordained. Even young people in their mid thirties are opting to remain as local pastors because it's to much money and work to become and Elder and DCOM's and BoOM's are fine with that.

I believe in the call to Eldership in the church. The church needs Elders, it needs the Ordained Elder, the Ordained Elder is a gift from God, they are called of God to order the life of the church, preserve the apostolic presents and administer the sacraments. Without the Ordained Elder the church would fail. I think it's time we discuss what Ordination is instead of just taking about what they do. They do everything an LLP (essentially a temporary clergy person or lay pastor) can do, but at a much higher cost, personally and finically. But what does it do to them, what changes about them, ontologically how are they different from the LLP? The cost to them is greater, the devotion, the sacrifice and the life time spent sold out out to the body, like St. Paul, becoming a servant, giving up their rights and identity. But how do we recognize this other than with higher salaries and bigger churches? All those things are great feats of faith that the Elder provides to the church. Her witness and devotion to God by willing to give everything up is a great feat of faith, enabled only by a perfecting God. The Elder devotes her life, her finances, her family to service the church. What does that mean for her, how does that change her?

I think LLP's are great pastors, who also sacrifice, but they're pastors. Is an Elder just a pastor? I don't think so. I think they truly are the gift of the apostolic presents in our churches. I've heard it said once that though your young pastor might be 30 years younger than you, when he wears that stole, he is 2,000 years old. My hope is that we continue to discuss the role of the ordained, and what ordination does and not just what they do. I hope that LLP's recognize the sacrifice and devotion of Elders. So many LLP's seem to have a chip on their shoulder regarding Elders. They feel that they are just as good, just as qualified, just as significant to the church...and they are, to an extent, but if all the church needed was the LLP, we wouldn't have Elders, if all we needed was the Pastor, we wouldn't need Elders. This is a conversation, like most in our church that will be polarizing and controversial and to some inflammatory, but we need to have it. I hope my thoughts don't offend any of you, but instead calls us all to reflection.