Monday, December 31, 2018

Transitional Year- 2018 Review

When the year, 2018, began, the first thing I did was take a class called “Transitions in Ministry and Life”. It was a class designed to help those graduating from seminary better understand how ministry is full of transitions and how transitions can be very disruptive to our lives if we don’t know how to make sense of them. It could not be a more fitting class to begin the year as I would soon find myself in a very transitional year.

When I say, “Transitional year”, I mean that your entire life narrative or a major part of it concludes and is now preparing for the next chapter in your life story.

Transitions are the in between times from one part of your narrative to the next part of your narrative. And while that seems simple, transitions are anything but simple. They are very complicated and honestly very messy at times. They can be confusing, especially when you have no idea what the next chapter is going to be. They can be frustrating as you have to wait until the transition is over, when sometimes you don’t know when it’s going to be over. And it can seem isolating, especially if the transition includes a physical change from a place you have known to a new place where you know no one.

For me, the transition was more than just the conclusion of a section of my life. It was also the end of a purpose that drove much of my actions for a good chunk of my life. I had the goal since graduating high school to get my education: first my Bachelors and then my Masters. Then I had the goal of becoming an ordained minister. Both goals were met this year, with great celebration! However, I was not prepared with a new life goal to drive me forward, which made the rest of the transitional year very confusing, frustrating, and isolating.

Have you ever gone through a transitional year or perhaps just moments in your life that felt like a huge transition? It can be very demanding on our spirits, at least that’s been my experience with transitions thus far. And I honestly believe that if I had a better spiritual life, the impact of the transitional year might not have hit me as bad.

The hard, cold fact is that transitions are a factor of life. We can’t avoid them and honestly, we probably shouldn’t avoid them. Transitions can be a Divine blessing or whirlwind of chaos in our lives. It all comes down to how we stabilize ourselves within the transitions, be it through our spiritual disciplines or through the relationships we commit to or faith/trust we bring ourselves during times of doubt and confusion.

I can’t say I have the true final answer to how we handle our transitions, because every transition is different, just as every person’s life and story is different.

But I do want to offer you this message of hope: If you are in a transitional period in your life and you are unsure of yourself or if things will ever get better or if you will ever find your way…You will.

I believe you are going to be okay. It may take a while and sometimes many life lessons must be learned before you find yourself out of the confusing transitions in life, but I have hope that you will make it through and find new growth on the other side.

It’s a message I must remind myself all the time as well and I believe am going to have to keep reminding myself as I begin to enter a new year, full of possibly more transitions and more challenges in my life.

The year of 2018 has brought on many new events, challenges, and blessings.

I took my last semester at Brite Divinity School, taking classes such as Transitions in Life and Ministry; Angels and Demons; Foundations of Preaching; Pastoral care with Grief and Loss; and Supervised ministry. The transitions class continues in the form of three day retreats throughout the year and so far, I have gotten to participate in two retreats in 2018.

I continued my work as ministry intern at Ridglea Christian Church, where I provided ministry to the youth and adults every week. I would then conclude my ministry with the church in May and expressing my unending thanks for the many blessings and teachings the church had brought to me over the last two years.

In May, I graduated from Brite Divinity with my Masters in Divinity as well as received my certificate for Pastoral Care studies.

At the beginning of May, I sat in on my final Commission on Ministry meeting where in the end they approved me for ordination. On June 23, my church families of Wake Forest Christian Church, St. Paul’s Christian Church, the Region of North Carolina, and even some representatives from Ridglea Christian Church all gathered together in Raleigh to bestow upon me the office of ordained ministry and blessed me with the task to minister to all of God’s children through peace, mercy, compassion, and love.

Before my ordination, I had the sweet joy of traveling to Pennsylvania and witnessing my youngest cousin, the one whom I remember seeing two days after her birth on my 7th birthday, graduate high school.

After my ordination, I began my act of ordained ministry by having the honor of directing CYF conference at Christmount, having the pleasure of working beside some of the greatest counselors out there and being blessed to have Renae Brame be our week keynoter.

Both before and after CYF, I spent my entire summer working at Christmount, serving with the kitchen staff as well as the front office staff, assisting with the summer programs until August. During the summer months, I also had the honor of preaching at various congregations including: FCC Black Mountain, FCC Fayetteville, and Wake Forest Christian Church.

When the summer ended, I journeyed back to Texas and began my first ministry placement which was at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, working as a Chaplain Resident. This experience has allowed me to expand my pastoral care skills but has given me insight and wisdom of who I am as a minister and where God is leading me moving forward.

I have also been blessed by having the opportunity to preach around the Texas region including at: FCC Cleburne, FCC Richland Springs; FCC Woodson; and Ridglea Christian Church. A sad honor I also participated in was the memorial service of Don Wisdrofer, a retired minister I knew at Ridglea, who parted with me his own stoles and much of his wisdom from his ministry before he passed away.

All these events, both the wonderful and not so wonderful, I cherish in my heart because they continue to grow my life forward and hopefully help me to be a better person every day.

So as we get ready for a new year, a new chapter for all of us, may we not be afraid of the transitions that we have either gone through, are going through, or will go through, but have the hope that we will make it through them and become better on the other side and in the end.

Peace be upon you and may you always love the Ruah that lives within you. Blessed be.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Finding Holy Ground

“Moses was keeping flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the YHWH appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the YHWH saw that YHYH had turned aside to see, YHWH called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am”. Then YHWH said, “come no closer. Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”- Exodus 3:1-5

Have you ever stood upon “holy ground” before? What even makes the ground on which you stand holy?

Holy is often a word we use to describe something that has been touched by the Divine or is in relation with the Divine or is literally the Divine.

In this scene with Moses and the burning bush, YHWH speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and reveals to Moses that the land on which they are standing is holy ground. I believed that the ground they stood on was holy simply because of the fact that a bush was burning without being consumed. But burning bush has nothing to do with the ground being holy. The ground is holy because God is present within the bush and the ground surrounding the bush. It’s holy ground because God is there.

So in order to answer the original question, “Have you stood upon ‘holy ground’? you must ask “where have I felt God before?”

I do believe that there are many places in the world where God’s presence is more notable. For example, church camp is a common place where God’s presence is deeply known. Some people might claim church to be a place they experience God. And many others might experience God outside of church. And that’s okay!

However, I wonder is there any place that God’s presence cannot reside? Thus, is there any place that is not holy?

Honestly, I don’t believe so. God’s presence cannot be taken away from anyplace, which means, everywhere we go or walk into has the potential to become holy ground.

So why then did the ground suddenly become holy for Moses? I think it’s a common interpretation to believe that the ground suddenly became holy. But maybe. Maybe Moses now became aware of God’s presence in the land and thus, that awareness is what made the ground holy. Moses recognized God in the moment and was about to step into holy ground.

But before he could step upon the ground, he was asked to remove the sandals from his feet. Literally, this command did not make much sense to me. What was so wrong with Moses wearing his sandals when speaking to God?
However, let’s look at the sandals figuratively for a moment and ask what is really keeping Moses from being present with the Divine on this holy ground?

The scene that follows is YHWH calling Moses to travel to Egypt and free the Hebrews from captivity and lead them to more holy grounds. But Moses refuses several times, stating he is not worthy to do this, he doesn’t have the ability or the skill. When I see Moses struggle to take on this task presented to him by God, I then see the real “sandals” for which God asks Moses to remove from himself so that he may truly be on holy ground.

So now let me ask you, what is keeping you from stepping into holy ground, to be present with the divine that calls us every day to love and serve each other?

I am fully aware of one of many sandals that keep me from being present with God on holy ground: my anxiety.

There are many moments of my life when my anxiety took a hold of my being and kept me from interacting with others in my life. And while I can say that I have gotten better at controlling my anxiety, there are still moments that I must be aware of the anxiety that lives within me.

I currently work in a hospital as a Chaplain resident. My calling is to step into room after room and be present with those who are suffering from illness, grief, and suffering. The task is anxiety producing on many levels. And I recognize the presence of that anxiety. I recognize those sandals on my feet for I know that every room I enter is holy ground.

But I’m sure you might be wondering, if the patient’s rooms are holy ground, then where is God? How can the ground be holy if God is not there?

You see, God is there. In the patient laying in their bed. In the family and friends gathered to visit their loved one. In the nurses and medical staff tending to the person’s healing.

God’s presence is everywhere that was touched by creation, that is touched by the Spirit that is living and breathing in all things. Thus, every time I meet a new person, no matter who they are, I am also in the presence of God. And that…that is what makes the ground holy.

It’s not always easy to be walking on holy ground. Walking barefoot, removing the ‘sandals’ that keep us safe, keep us comfortable, can lead us to pain and discomfort. Removing our ‘sandals’ leaves us vulnerable to the growth and change that God invites us to. To see the imago dei in another person, to see them as a child of God, and to witness another person’s pain and troubles- That’s so hard!

But I believe we can do it. I believe we are capable of looking down at ourselves; reflecting what ‘sandals’ are keeping us from walking on the holy ground before us, the holy ground that God is calling us to everyday.

I believe God is calling us all to be present with God and thus be present with others through love and with love.

As you walk in your journey, may you recognize the presence of God in your life and recognize God calling you to take a step into holy ground. And when you begin to see the holy grounds all around you, may you be brave and remove your ‘sandals’ from your feet, to be present with the Divine Creator and all that has been created along with you.

Walk with Peace, 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Church Roadie

There have been many things that I have done so far in my short twenty-five years of life and many people who know me today would believe the adventures I have had. Except there is one thing that people do tend to be surprised. I used to be a roadie in a band.

Now mind you, it wasn’t a famous band and I didn’t go on cross country tours, but it was a real band and I travelled with them to different shows and learned how to set up and take down musical equipment and sell merchandise on occasion.

The band was the Graffiti Monkeys and it consisted of four of my good friends from my home church, Wake Forest Christian. For almost two years, I went with them to different shows and helped out anyway I could, and they always included me in the events and after show celebrations. Those were some of the best moments of my life.

However, it has taken me almost eight years to understand why being a roadie for the Graffiti Monkeys was so important in my life.

You see, I wasn’t just a random member of the group. I was someone who was welcomed and then wanted along in their journey.

Everyone wants to be welcomed, but I’m not sure we talk enough about how much people just desire to be wanted by others. It’s nice to feel welcomed but being wanted is the next step in feeling included. You can be welcomed once into a group or even many times but can still never really feel included. When you are wanted, that’s not just recognition but confirmation that the group does truly welcome you and wants you to be a part with them.

I wasn’t just a fan of the Graffiti Monkeys who was welcomed to their shows. I was a roadie who was wanted to help and celebrate before, during, and after shows.

I personally find this to be such a huge problem in many of our churches. I hear so many times from different people that the church as a whole is dying, and people keep trying to figure out a way to fix this problem.

I can’t say I know how to solve the whole problem, but I can say at least that we as the church should work on making people feel wanted when they step through our doors. This includes new people and people who have been at the church since the start. All people need to feel wanted and this means all people of different backgrounds, identities, and expressions.

There is this underlying assumption that if a person is made to feel welcomed once, then they will stick around. It’s why I believe you have church signs constantly say, “You are welcome”. But never have I seen a church sign say, “You are wanted”.

We can’t live under the “Welcome Once” assumption anymore. Instead, we need to extend our welcome into “Wanted Always”.

But how do we make people feel wanted?

Well, I would say that you do what the Graffiti Monkeys unintentionally did for me:

They invited me to all their shows.

They asked for help on certain tasks.

They invited me to celebrate either before or after concerts.

They made me feel like an important and valued member of the group, even though I was not a musician or played with them on the stage.

My lack of musical talents was not what was important. What was important is that they allowed me to use what gifts and talents I do have to be a part of the group.

There is not a limit to the gifts that can be helpful in the church. Everyone has a part to play and everyone can help serve and love our neighbors.

Ministry and life has not quota on skills and talents. There are no limitations in how people can be included into the church or any group for that matter.

So may we begin to treat people in the church like roadies: invited to help out in the service of others, feeling included in the fellowships and celebrations that occur, and embraced with the skills and gifts they were given by God.

May all people be made to feel welcomed and wanted in any group they desire to be a part of.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Tears are Sacred

A little over a week ago, I was ordained as a minister into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The service was lovely and I was blessed by everyone who physically and spiritually attended. Once the service was over, a person came up to me and shared that she was sorry that she was crying.

This moment has stayed with me since then because I keep thinking, “Why must we be sorry for our tears?”

I understood though why she apologized for her tears. Many times, tears are seen as a burden on other people.

Both men and women are taught that tears are only appropriate during exceptional moments (such as when a person has died or at a funeral). Outside of these moments, tears seem to only place a burden on others.

For example, if I cry, then someone must come and take care of me. Or my tears might mean I am just seeking attention. These are assumptions and they only serve to shut up someone’s tears. The reality is that our tears are the bodies response to the pain and sorrow that needs to be released and heard.

When a person feels they cannot share their tears, it can be hurtful and even dangerous. It can transfer into solitude, self-harm, anger, and even abuse.

I tend to hide my tears from the majority of people in my life. As a man, I was taught that crying was not a “manly” activity to do. Or another example is that my tears represent weakness and as a man, I must be strong and supportive toward others and anything I process must be done in private.

These implicit teachings have now made it difficult for myself to cry in front of others. I feel I must apologize for my tears if I do manage to cry in front of others. Like somehow, my tears are hurting another human being and I must apologize for crying.

No matter what reason we may have concerning the nature of hiding our tears, I want to remind you all that tears are okay.

The understanding that tears can harm another person is completely false. Tears are not harmful agents. Tears are healing agents. They are the beginning step for releasing of our emotions. They are the reminders that our emotions cannot be bottled up if we expect to heal from our sorrow and pain.

There are many people who look at human emotions as messy, chaotic features of the human experience. And I agree. Emotions are messy, and they can be chaotic in people’s lives. But that doesn’t make emotions any less sacred, if not more sacred for their chaotic natures.

The Divine of my understanding is a being of creation. In our creation, people are made with human emotions. Thus, human emotions are not just okay, but are sacred.

The same is true with our tears. Our tears are sacred because they come from the authentic parts of our soul and were given from the Divine that seeks for us to be comforted and healed through out pain and sorrow.

To hide our tears is to hide who we are. And no one deserves to hide the wonderful, beautiful person that you were created to be.

If you have been taught that you shouldn’t cry in front of others or that tears are harmful toward other people, I am so sorry you experienced those teachings. Because I believe that is not what the Divine of Love and comfort had in mind when the Divine created you and me.

Tears are okay. It is good to cry in front of people and not hide them. I look at the power of public laments and witness the crowds crying together and I see not one person apologizing for their tears. When we come together to share the emotions on our hearts, we embrace our humanity and that is sacred.

So as I finish this blog post, I personally take on the challenge to not apologize for my tears to anyone I cry with or in front of. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for my tears”, I now want to say, “Thank you for witnessing my tears and allowing me to be me in front of you”.

My tears are sacred. Your tears are sacred. Our tears are sacred.

May we remember this truth and may we walk in love with our Ruahs.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Proud to Be Me

Very recently, I was having a conversation with my cousin about the reboot show, Queer Eye. As we both identify as gay males, I assumed that he would have watched the show and loved it like I did. While he had watched the show, he was not happy with it to my surprise. He saw the show as too “homo-normative” and seemed to only represent the stereotypical gay man. This saddened me as that was not the message I saw from the show.

It is true that the five guys on the show portrayed many of the stereotypical characteristics of gay men such as colorful clothing and flamboyant gestures. It is also true that as a gay man, I did not relate my personality to any of the guys as I am much more timid, quiet, and not at all a touchy feely type of person.

However, even though I am not like the guys on the show, I still loved the show for one huge reason.

The entire premise of the show is about being proud of who you are and not afraid to show who you are to others.

Each guy is different from each other as well. Despite being gay, none of them talked the same, acted the same, had the same abilities or passions. But they showed that it is okay to be proud of who you are and to create the best possible you, by taking care of your hygiene, your living space, your clothing, your food, and your attitudes in life.

They showed that it is okay to be who you are and to share who you are with others.

I feel too often, especially in LGBTQIA culture, we see some people and either implicitly or explicitly say that we love them for who they are yet tell them they need to tone down who they are in order to belong.

Or on the other extreme, we say a person is not “Gay or Queer” enough because of their personality differences and life circumstances.

Both of these extremes upsets me because it implies that there is a standard or a requirement of belonging into the LGBTQIA community. Our community should be all about inclusion and a space where people of all colors of the rainbow can come together and feel welcome and belonging, despite how different we might be from each other.

Sadly though, our community has not grasped this concept fully. Too many people in the community are racist toward our queer members of color. And then too many are transphobic or feed into Bi-Erasure or disregard persons who identify as asexual. The list goes on of the non-inclusion atmosphere that the LGBTQIA community is currently facing.

June is the month known as LGBTQIA Pride month, where we can remember to be Proud of who we are.

But there are no requirements of who gets to be proud and who doesn’t in our community.

We should all be proud of who we are, no matter our differences, no matter what color we shine or who we love or how we gender identify.

No matter your identity or how you decide to share your personality, I am so glad that the world has you in it!

So may we take this month as a reminder to be Proud of who we are, yet also be Proud of all Queer Persons and celebrate them for who they are in this world!

This is why Queer Eye is such a beautiful show because they celebrated the many complexities and personalities that make us human. When I watched the show, I didn’t think, “Oh, I guess I’m not gay enough because I don’t act like any of them”. I saw the show and realized, “Wow, I am a wonderful human being and I am proud to be gay and me”.

So may you be proud of who you are, no matter who you are, and may you love yourself fully and completely and celebrate the fearfully and wonderfully made person that you are!


Friday, May 25, 2018

What has happened to random kindness?

“Be brave because you are a child of God.
Be kind because everyone else is too.”

A few weeks ago, I was selling some of my books at a Half Price Books store. While waiting to see how much my books were worth, I noticed a woman struggling to get something from the top shelf. Since I was tall, I knew my “skills” would come in handy and I assisted her. She was grateful for my actions and it sparked a friendly conversation. About a half hour later though, when I was checking out, she was in line ahead of me and made the comment, “Oh! I thought you worked here!”

It was an honest mistake, but one that made me think: Why did she assume I was an employee instead of a person just helping another person?

I made the realization that she assumed I was an employee because an employee is required to assist their customers. A random person has no requirement but has a choice. And the woman was surprised because I made a choice that does not typically happen anymore. I chose to see the woman and show love in that moment.

To see another human being seems easy. I mean we see people all the time: at work, at school, on the street, on tv; everywhere we go, there are just other people to see.

But are we really noticing the other people we see with our eyes? Our eyes typically notice more things than we ever realize. Often times, its our brain that tends to miss details.

However, this isn’t just what our brains might miss when we see, but what our heart misses as well.

When we are born, we are created with an incredible power…the power to love. With that power, comes the ability to see the Divine and the Human in all persons. To see another person with gifts and flaws.

Despite the fact that we have this power, the choice to use it is rarely seen in our world.

And it’s understandable. It’s hard to love. It’s hard to see another human being when we have so many responsibilities running through our minds, distracting us from what can be right in front of us.

And then there could be fears, fear of loving someone and not being loved back. Showing kindness toward others and not fairly being the recipient of that same love. It’s a real fear that too often happens in our world as well.

There are many reasons why love can be hard, and I am still learning to see the other person and love them for who they are. I am far from perfect. In order to learn, I look upon those who are making a difference in our world through their kindness and love.

 My first semester in divinity school, my friends and I were driving over for a gettogether. On our way, I noticed a woman sitting on the side of the street with all her belongings. My heart felt sad for the woman. Before I knew it, we were pulling into a Walgreens next to where the woman was sitting. My friend, Stephen, felt compassion for the woman and decided to go speak with her. In their conversations, he found out that all she wanted was to sell her drawings. She wasn’t asking for pity, but just for someone to see her and appreciate her gift of art. Stephen bought her drawing and ironically, it was the image of an eye.

I find this picture to be ironic because it represents that he had seen her as a child of God and as a human being.

It takes a lot of work to see and love someone, even if it is a person that we know. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes listening, and most importantly, it takes dropping what we think we know and simply being present.

Too often, we see people based on appearances or assumed identities. To love another means dropping what we think we know and take the time to hear who that person is.

This is a challenge for me and I offer this challenge for you as well: To see a person fully as they are and show random kindness to all persons that we meet. Not out of requirements, but as genuine care for the other person.

Who knows? Maybe if all persons lived into this challenge, the world might not be as scary a place to live in sometimes?

To love in a world that seems to be filled with hate is especially difficult. I like to believe that love and random kindness is like a ripple in the water. It can spread and influence other people’s lives and give them the opportunity to also create their own ripple that helps others and influences others.

This is my hope for the world: to create ripples that reach everyone I meet and help others to create ripples of their own. To show random kindness and love to everyone we meet. May it be so.

May your heart and Ruah be receivers and givers of love,


Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Week Reflections: Dark Night of the Soul

While this is a reflection on Holy Week, I also devote this reflection to Rev. Jamie Brame, who not only is an influential minister in my life, but has acted as my spiritual mentor, Supervisor, and a close personal friend for many years. Jamie has served as Program Director (previously Church Relations Director) of Christmount for over 25 years. He has been a spiritual guide for several generations of campers that have come to Christmount for camp and I honored to say that I was one of those campers. His wisdom has helped me during difficult times and may they do the same for you as well.

In the gospels of the New Testament, there are several scriptures in which describe Jesus, before his arrest and betrayal, went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed. Jesus prayed all the time. He prayed with his Disciples, he prayed in the community, and I’m sure he even prayed with his enemies.

But this prayer was different. In this prayer, we find Jesus, disturbed in Spirit and heavy with the burden that is about to happen. In the garden, Jesus flat out tells God, “Remove this cup, this burden from me, yet not my will but your will be done”.

This is such a powerful prayer!

It is a prayer that is intimate. It is a prayer that is honest. It is a prayer that is comforting.

The scene in the garden reminds me that even the Son of God experienced a Dark Night of the soul.

Now don’t let the name fool you. A dark night is not always something that occurs within a few hours or a day. A dark night of the soul can last for weeks, months, and even years. We experience a dark night of the soul when our spirits, the very core of our beings feels lost, disconnected, confused, or even separated from the God that loves us.

To experience a dark night of the soul is not a pleasant process. Many people often suffer from these dark nights and struggle to recover.

Even Jesus had his dark night of the soul. And we see that in his moment of despair, in his night of eventual betrayal and death, Jesus decides the appropriate response is to pray.

Jesus was no stranger to prayers. Jesus knew the ancient psalms of his ancestors. He knew how to meditate and speak to God like a parent, like his Abba. Jesus was a spiritual master. So this prayer in the garden was not something he did all of a sudden. Jesus already had a long history of praying and being open and honest with God. This history is important because it helps us to know that our dark night of the soul cannot be solved just by a single prayer, but by praying unceasingly throughout our life.

One of my spiritual homes on this earth is Christmount Christian Assembly at Black Mountain, NC. Not only do I feel at home within the mountains, but Christmount has always had a long history of embracing and teaching spirituality. The main reason is because of the Rev. Jamie Brame.

Jamie Brame not only serves as Program Director at Christmount, but for over 20 years, he has directed and keynoted the CYF Conference for high school campers. While each camp is different to be sure, we were always taught how important our spiritual lives matter.

One of the many lessons Jamie taught me while at Christmount was how spirituality is like physical exercise. When you exercise, you start out small and short. You begin with a 10 minute walk, or 5lbs weights. Then you move up to a 30 minute walk or 10lbs weights. You gradually increase your exercise practice, which takes both time and energy.  

The same is true for spiritual disciplines and prayer. Jamie always tells a story about taking his youth group back when he was in college to a monk monastery. Jamie visited the monastery and had been very good friends with many of the monks there. One of the monks was speaking to his youth and one had asked, “How long do I need to pray every day?” The monk answered, “three minutes”. The wisdom from this answer is not only that you devote yourself to a task of daily praying, but when you start your prayers small, you can later increase your prayers much like you would if you were exercising.

As you begin your prayers as simple and small, you allow them to gradually grow. You can begin with the simple Jesus prayer in which you say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner, yet one whom you love”. Or pray for someone else by simply saying a person’s name and having faith that God is already at work within that person’s life and doesn’t need to know all the details of their situation.

How you pray is between you and God. The way we pray is remembering that love is at the core of our relationship with the Creator.

When we are in our dark night of the soul, love seems distant or even gone. We may not even be aware that God is still present during these dark nights. That’s where spiritual discipline and prayer comes in. If we start praying now and pray every day, even if its three minutes a day, then when the dark night of the soul enters our lives, we are able to endure the night.

The dark nights don’t get easier. Jesus still suffered and died. But Jesus was able to realize that he was not alone in his suffering. God was still there, accompanying him to his last breath. When Jesus says, “not my will, but your will”, Jesus is not resigning himself to suffer, because Jesus knows God is not a divine being that enjoys our suffering. Instead, Jesus is putting all of his trust in God to not leave him during his darkest moments.

Prayer takes trust. Trust in the God that loves and cares for us. It may make prayer more difficult.

However, as a person who has experienced my own share of the dark night of the soul, I have both experienced moments where I had no spiritual disciplines and a few spiritual disciplines. The nights I had the comfort of prayer after days of feeling lost and confused were more comforting than when I had no prayer at all.

So as we enter this Holy Week, may we look upon Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, praying to his Abba openly and honestly. May we learn what it means to pray everyday so that when we are in our own dark night of the soul, we may have the comfort of a God who is present during our darkest moments. And may we have the courage to put our trust in God: “Not my will, but your will be done”.


Friday, January 12, 2018

God is Love

This is the first of my series on what I have learned from ministers in my life and how these ministers have influenced and shaped my ministerial identity. I met Rev. Jay Deskins in 2010 when I was a camper at Christmount. I later worked under Jay for two summers at Christmount as part of the camp staff. Jay is a wonderful minister with a great passion for youth and I consider him not only a ministerial role model but a great friend. I thank him for the influence he’s had on my life.

It was the summer of 2010. A wonderful summer for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the week I spent at Christmount’s CYF Conference. I never did camp at Christmount before this year, so my soul was curious and anxious.

But I wasn’t anxious because I was going to camp. At this point, I was getting used to camp life and had also done a week at Camp Caroline the week before.

My anxiety came from a faith crisis I was struggling with at the time.

In 2008, I took an elective course in High school called “Religions of the World: The Bible in History”. The course taught me both biblical history as well as the five major religions of the world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was the first time I had direct learning about the world’s other religions and after that class was over, I grew a greater appreciation for learning about how other faith’s traditions view and interact with the world. This course even encouraged me to pursue a Religious Studies degree in college.

However, between that class and the CYF Conference at Christmount, I learned, either directly or indirectly, that some Christian theologies and interpretations of biblical scriptures reject other religions and even state that if someone does not believe in Christ, then they will go to hell.

This disturbed me greatly. While I proclaimed myself as a follower of Christ, I was not comfortable with the fact of God banishing people to hell simply for having a different belief.

For a long time, I was not sure what to believe about the faith I choose to follow. Should I just accept this “fact” and go on for my life? Should I renounce my membership in the Christian church? I had no idea what to do nor did I have the language to understand my inner frustrations around this eschatological question.

So I went to Christmount in June with these questions and anxiety and left with my understanding of God restored. How you may ask? To be honest, there were so many wonderful things that happened that week of camp, but one of them came from one man: Jay Deskins.

I never knew Jay before that week, but he was both my small group leader and cabin counselor. I could tell Jay had a wild and fun side about him, but there was much wisdom and spirituality as well. For example, while we had fun and played games in our small group, we always began with prayer and always ended with prayer.

And it was Jay who helped me with my faith dilemma that week.

Every night, the entire camp would create a circle of chairs in Aldridge hall. Throughout the week, campers were encouraged if they had any God, faith, or life question to anonymously write it and put it in the “Question box”. Then right before worship, a counselor or director would read the question and the entire camp would discuss it. No matter what the question or the camper’s beliefs about that question, the discussions were always civil and respectful. We called these moments as “God Talks”.

Well, I was brave enough to write my question. I don’t remember what most of the people said, but I will always remember what Jay said.

“I cannot believe in an all loving God that will send any of his children to hell”.

His statement hit me like a pound of bricks. And I knew instantly that Jay was right. I do believe in an all loving God. And I do believe that God, being the divine source of love in our universe, is not a God who seeks punishment against non-believers of Christianity. At least that is the God I choose to believe in.

Since that God talk, I have shaped my ministry around God’s eternal love for all of God’s children and I know the rest of my ministry will always believe that God is love. No matter who you are or what you believe. You are loved, because God loves you.

May this story help you remember that God is love and give you a similar hope that I received when I heard this message from the amazing Jay Deskins many years ago.