Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolutions and Reflections

“What the New Year Brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year”- Vern McLellan

Well, it’s the end of another year and soon the beginning of a new year. And you know what that means? Time to create a New Years Resolution which will be in effect for maybe the first few months or weeks or days…

We all do this, don’t we? We create lists of promises to do healthier things or be better people or something to benefit ourselves or other people, but somehow, they fly into the past of our other promises and we give up on them over time.

Why do we do this? To that question, I do not know the answer to, but I do have a suggestion for everyone who struggles with keeping their New Years Resolutions: Don’t make them.

Well, at least don’t make a New Years Resolution. I mean, it’s a nice tradition of making promises for a new year, but to me, it seems way too unrealistic. And worse, it creates this imaginary barrier in our minds that states, “Well, if I stop trying to work on what I wanted too early, I can just stop and try again next New Years”.

My question to you is…why wait? Instead of making a new years resolution, why not make a daily resolution? Each day, you make short term goals instead of a long term yearly goal.

For example, I hear from almost everyone that their New Years Resolution is going to be, “I’m going to be a better person”. Well, why not have that be a resolution when you wake up every morning instead of once at New Years? I guarantee that if your resolutions transitioned from being a yearly task to being a daily task in your life, they would be much more effective and helpful.

Now as for me, I’m not going to make a list of things I want to do better for next year. I’m going to start following my own advice and after each morning, I’m going to write down five simple tasks that I want to accomplish for the day. And each day, I will continue to make more simple tasks that will benefit me, benefit others, and maybe even benefit the Divine as well.

Every day is a new opportunity for positivity. So let us not wait every year to begin the opportunity. Let us start now.

But…since it is almost the end of the Year 2015, I do feel called to look back on all the events that I had encountered this year. And as I go through my events, I invite you to reflect and even share your own 2015 journey and how you got to the place that you are standing (or sitting) right now.

Looking back on my 2015, it is almost strange to see just how different my life was at the beginning of the year to where I am with my life now.

I was finishing up my final semester at Barton College. I had five classes: American Decade (1960s), World War II, Religion and Self, Health Healing and Religion, and Senior Seminar. These were some of my favorite classes that I took during my time at Barton, so not only did I get to take awesome classes for my final semester, but I also was able to finish with all As.

I was also working as the Ministry Intern at St. Paul’s Christian Church, which I started in August 2014. The interesting part was for the first three months, I was not only the Ministry Intern, but took on more responsibilities at the church when Diane Faires, the associate minister, went on her sabbatical. During that time, I lead the Chi-Rho and CYF youth groups, organized the mission trip for the summer, took on Sunday worship roles like communion, pastoral prayer, and even preaching. Once Diane returned in April, I was extremely relieved that she was back! Mostly because having Diane around makes everything so much better. But during the months that she was gone, I had a much clearer look on what it means to be a minister (from the practical viewpoint mostly) and though my preferred ministry career choice would be to not work in a church setting, I gained enough knowledge and observation that I would be able to manage working in a church setting if God leads me to that specific profession.

Speaking of preaching, I not only had a chance to preach at St. Paul’s in March and later in August, but I also had the opportunity at one of Barton’s Tuesday Worship services, and my home church, Wake Forest Christian Church. Through these opportunities, I grew to appreciate the power and task of preaching to a congregation and though it is still not my favorite thing to do, I learned that it is not a bad thing and can be even fun sometimes.

It’s also strange to think that my final moments as the College Delegate of RCYW were this year at the CYF Midwinter retreat. RCYW was one of the highlights of my college career, but it came the time to pass the torch to new future leaders. I have high hopes for the future of RCYW and I am proud to have served such a wonderful ministry for the CYF in North Carolina.

Along with these events, I also got to experience several adventures at the beginning of the year as well. I volunteered for my first Chi-Rho retreat at Camp Caroline. I participated in the College Retreat at Camp Caroline. My best friend, Mary, and I traveled to Black Mountain for Spring Break and even got to hike up under a waterfall! Mary and I also went to our first Gay Pride Festival in downtown Raleigh! And finally, I got to see several of my friends and family graduate from either college or high school: Matthew Friedley from Gilford Tech, John Friedley from Franklin Academy High School, and Jacob Fonner (my cousin) from Washington High School.

I guess, I also can’t omit that this year was also the year I graduate from Barton College. It feels strange to be a college graduate, but it is real nonetheless. I am proud of my hard work at Barton, achieving Magna Cume Lade, and earning my Bachelors of Arts in Religious Studies and History. I still have a lot of learning to do and a lot more challenges up ahead, but this one victory I will never forget.

And then came the summer adventures!

For the first time since being at Barton, I was not working over the summer at a camp ground. However, that didn’t stop me from being a volunteer at several camps throughout the summer.

At the beginning of the summer, I journeyed to Camp Caroline to work on the Prayer Labyrinth with the camp manager Casey Perry. Though the Labyrinth needs regular touch ups, it still was awesome to get the Labyrinth ready for summer use.

A week later, I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina and volunteered for Camp Sunshine I. The week was stressful, especially since I was the only male volunteer and I had to watch over two cabins, but it was still an enjoyable week nonetheless.

Another week had passed and before I knew it, I was back at Camp Caroline getting ready to volunteer for an awesome week of CYF Conference! The camp was so much fun to work with and the theme about learning other religions and being good neighbors to everyone was too perfect for words! Thanks to Diane Faries and Mallory Magelli for creating such a wonderful week!

And right afterwards, I got to experience another awesome week of CYF Conference at Christmount. Though the great Jamie Brame was unable to do many of his “Bramy” things for the week, it was still a great camp nonetheless and all the campers had a wonderful time, which makes me happy. And the best part was getting to lead a small group together with my best friend, Mary!

Before I knew it, I was traveling back up to Christmount for another week of Camp Sunshine. But this time, I wasn’t traveling alone. I led a Mission Trip with St. Paul’s youth to volunteer for Camp Sunshine. Diane, Hannah, James, and I were the adults and the youth included Zach, Jordon, Jackson, Nap, and Karyn. At first, I wondered if everyone would get something out of the trip and have a good time and thankfully, everyone said they had such a wonderful time! I even was told that a few of them wanted to do it again, which is always something you want to hear your youth say about a mission trip! Overall, a great week and a successful mission trip.

Right after the mission trip, I was once again back at Camp Caroline but only for a day. I traveled to see my friend Mallory be ordained by the North Carolina region of the Disciples of Christ Church. It was the first time I ever saw anyone being ordained and it was such a lovely event and I could not be more proud of Mallory for all her hard work and the future ministry she is going to do in her life!

For several weeks, I relaxed after traveling so much, but for the last time, I traveled back down to Camp Caroline only this time, to work as a staffer. Casey needed an extra hand for the week and was offering to pay me a week’s salary so I told him that I would take the job for the week. My job was almost exactly the same as the previous year (I worked at Camp Caroline in 2014), but I will say that Casey’s management skills and leadership made my experience that one week become so awesome! He is doing such incredible work and ministry at Camp Caroline and they could not be more blessed to have him! I am glad to have worked under him (even for only a week) and even more blessed to have him as a friend.

Immediately afterwards, I traveled all the way up to Washington PA to visit family for a week. It was going to be the last time I see them before moving down to Texas for graduate school. During this time, I took a day to just travel to different parts of the town that held a lot of old memories for me. I saw my Elementary school, my old trailer, my aunt’s old apartment, the park that we used to have Fourth of July picnics at, and many other places. So many memories filled my mind on that journey. It was nice to walk down memory lane, but soon it was going to be time to walk up the path that is called, my future.

After getting all my things packed, after seeing friends and family, it was time for me to begin my trip down to Fort Worth Texas to begin my new education career at Brite Divinity School. The journey was long…I mean SO long! But eventually I got to Fort Worth and moved into my apartment the next day.

The first few months were the most difficult. I was alone. I had no family or friends for a while and I was in a completely new setting. I fell into a very depressed state for a long time, but thankfully I had gotten help from several areas:

I began to attend Zen Meditations that were offered on Mondays and Thursdays. I was able to make friends at Seminary and was even included into their, “Squad”. And I even began to see a counselor every two weeks, which was one of the best decisions I could make for myself at the time.

I also had new adventures while in Texas:

Of course, my first semester at Brite Divinity was itself an adventure. I took four classes: New Testament, Theology I, History II, and Congregational Leadership. Each class was tough and challenging in a different way, but also extremely informative and made me think about myself and future ministry, which is very helpful.

I participated in another Gay Pride Parade in Fort Worth and even got to stand with my fellow Brite Students against the protestors that continuously preached hate and rejection.

I volunteered for the CYF and Chi-Rho retreats at the Southwest regional camp: Disciples Crossing.

Took a trip to have Thanksgiving with such a wonderful and incredible friend and her family.

And now, I’m back in North Carolina, visiting family and friends again and getting ready for 2016 to begin.

So that is my 2015 journey and reflections. Now it is your turn to reflect back on your 2015 journey and how much things have changed since January 1 to December 31.

But always remember…You are Awesome! You are Amazing! You are Loved!

May you continue to be loved and experience that love with your entire Ruah for the next year and more!


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

As a Mother Comforts Her Child

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”- Isaiah 66:13

I was assigned in my Introduction to Theology class to write a theological proposal about God’s Love. The assignment, though simple, required a lot of reflection on my part.

I mean, we talk about God’s love all the time. “God loves us so much…” and fill in the rest. Just think about the song, “How He loves” by David Chowder Band and other mainline Christian songs and you will see the theme of God’s love everywhere.

But what does it really mean for God to really love us? What does that love look like?

In the course of writing my paper, I came to two conclusions:

First, in total honesty, we can never really know what God’s love looks like. To say that we, as human beings, can totally understand the nature and love of God is indirectly limiting God. God’s nature and love is so vast and so deep that it is impossible to truly comprehend its wonder.

However, humans can come close to having an idea what God’s love looks like and this was my second conclusion.

The best way that people can come close to understanding the love of God is by watching a mother with her child.

When a mother delivers her child into the world, she is creating life for that child and throughout that child’s life, she protects the child, she nurtures the child, she loves the child without any conditions.

God does the same with us. God created not only the world, but everyone in the world. God nurtures us to go through the trials of life, but also protects us as well. God loves us like a mother.

Perhaps this is why Jesus did not come to this world from the skies or from the Heavens directly, but through the love of his mother, Mary?

While writing my paper on God’s love being close to a mother’s love, I discovered there were a few implications to my conclusions:

If God’s love is like a mother’s love, wouldn’t that make the image of God motherly? Yes…and No.

Typically, the image of God for most Christians is that of a man or that of a Father. However, I feel that God by assigning a specific gender on God, we are still limiting God to a human image. We do this so we can understand God better, but in the process, we block out all other possible images that God is and/or could be.

The majority of biblical scriptures do portray God as male. However, there are also several biblical scriptures that portray God as female. In the Hebrew language, there is a word named “Raham”. The word has two meaning.

The first is Compassionate. Most Christians would agree that God is a compassionate God. However, the word also means Womb. So if God is compassionate, yet womb-like, wouldn’t this give God a more feminine image as well?

Also, at the end of the book of Isaiah, Isaiah is comforting the people and trying to give them hope for a future. One phrase that he says, from God, states, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (66:13)

Thus it is possible for God to have a masculine and feminine qualities and it is also possible that God is beyond both of these qualities. Thus, we must be open to all the different ways that God can reach us and see God is more than one light.

The other implication is that of how do we receive God’s love. Does everyone get to have God’s love or are there certain conditions in order to receive the love of God?

I have found that many people are comfortable with saying that in order to receive God’s love, you must repent. You must stop sinning or else you will be thrown into Hell….really?

Would an all loving God throw God’s children into hell just because they sinned or didn’t repent or even if they didn’t believe? I don’t believe so. Believing in a God that has conditional love seems to me that again, we are limiting the true and all loving nature of God.

Again, look at a loving mother. When a child is born into this world, a mother does not require anything from that child. A mother doesn’t say, “You can only receive my love if you believe in me, don’t cry, and don’t do anything sinful”. A mother loves the child, no matter what without any conditions. If a mother can love her child without any conditions, then how can we say that God has conditional love? Again, we are limiting and even lowering the love of God.

It does state several times in the bible that forgiveness is important from God. However, why is it important? Does God really need our forgiveness? I don’t think so.

The act of forgiveness has nothing to do with receiving an apology. An apology is not necessary in order to forgive someone. A person who forgives, forgives not because the person who harmed them deserves the forgiveness, but because the person who forgives deserves peace.

My Grandmother used to tell me that she would forgive my Pappap every single day. My Grandmother and Pappap lived in the same house, even after they divorced. My Pappap had his negative qualities, including being rude, crude, and sometimes just down right mean to other people. My Grandmother was the opposite. She was always kind, compassionate, completely caring, but my Grandmother was also a tough woman as well and did not take crap from anyone. She had a lot of righteous anger at my Pappap, but instead, she forgave him, every single day. My Pappap never apologized for his actions to her. He never even changed his behavior. But still, my Grandma would forgive him every day, not because my Pappap deserved forgiveness, but because my Grandma chose the path to peace.

To say that God needs our repentance in order to receive God’s love has the whole equation backwards. God wants us to forgive ourselves and bring back peace into our lives. God is the definition of peace and love, because God forgives us all the time. God lives in the realm of peace instead of wraith and anger. God wants us to live in this realm of peace as well so that is why forgiveness is so important to God.

In regards to the proposed condition that, “We must believe in God in order to receive God’s love” is also incorrect in my belief. This condition implies that God must be known or recognized in order to receive God’s love. I will admit, it is very difficult to feel or see God’s love, but that does not mean that the love of God is still not present.

Take a look at the biblical story of the Prophet Moses’ birth. During those days in Egypt, baby boys were taken from their mothers and killed in order to keep the population down of the Hebrews. Moses’ mother could not allow that to happen to her child. So she did the only possible thing she could do in order to protect her child. She placed Moses in a basket and placed him in the Nile river. Moses would then be found by Pharaoh’s daughter and he would be raised in Pharaoh’s house, separate from his Hebrew family. Now, Moses’ mother did not just stop loving her child once her child was gone. Moses’ mother loved him for her entire life, even when Moses’ was not even aware of her existence.

We do not need to acknowledge God’s existence in order to receive God’s love. When we do acknowledge it, it is seen as a blessing, but not a requirement. God does not require anything from us in order to feel loved. Just like a mother does not require anything in order to love her child.

God’s love reflects that of a mother’s love and yet is far greater than we can ever imagine. So, if you have believed that you need to repent for your actions or have faith in God in order to have God’s love, I want to give you encouragement that you have already received God’s love.

God’s love cannot be stopped and it cannot be taken away. God’s love is given freely to everyone, even those that may not want it or feel like they deserve it.

You are loved, completely, totally, and forever.

Always remember, As a mother comforts and loves her child, so will God comfort and love you.

May you all have a Blessed and Loved Filled Mother's Day and may you embrace the Love of God with your Entire Ruah!