Grace from Gary

grace ɡrās/noun
  1. 1.
    simple elegance or refinement of movement.

Joy to the World

posted Dec 5, 2018, 9:21 AM by Penny Skildum

Christmas in the Bible

The Christmas accounts found in our sacred stories are not necessarily historically accurate.  To dwell in the need for proof is to miss the beauty and meaning of the season:  tales of life and birth, danger and wonder…and great joy.
Matthew’s Christmas story is a political thriller. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find an infant, born in a house, infused with sacred spirit. We know this part of the story, but we often leave the story there and forget the rest. The rest of the story tells how political leaders react to the birth. Some seek to find him to give him homage. Some seek to find him to kill him. The threat of death is so real that the family must flee their native country to migrate to Egypt. As they flee, there is such an effort to destroy this God-infused baby that there is a massacre of infants in the town where the child was born, Bethlehem. The danger remained so great the family could not return to their hometown. They moved to a little out-of-the-way village called Nazareth.

The Gospel of Luke tells a different story. It is a holiday musical with all kinds of show-stopping songs of joy.  The songs celebrate two mothers’ discovery that they are pregnant. The songs celebrate the birth of their two children, John the Baptist and Jesus. God’s grand finale in this world-changing musical is sung by an angelic choir to shepherds. It is about the music of peace and good will which infuse the world with the birth of this child. Sometimes you are so filled with joy and hope you have to burst out in song. Joy to the World!
These are indeed strange Christmas stories. What does it say about how we, as a people who place our faith in God through Jesus Christ, should react to people around the world fleeing violence? What should we think when they show up at the borders of our nation? Should we support meeting them with military action and tear gas? Shall we meet them as people with human dignity and human need? Do I hear the echoes of “Joy to the World” coming from the voices at our border. Will I, will you, will we join this migrant choir, filled with political intrigue, singing “Joy to the World?”

To join this hopeful choir is how we bring peace and good will to the world. That is what our Christmas stories say.
For my part, I am supporting the Border Ministries Network of Missions & Ministries and the Migrant Ministry Partnership between CAL-PAC UMC and the Methodist Church of Mexico.  

I invite you to find a way this Christmas season to help support those in need; in your community, in your life, in your heart. Together, we can share God’s love in the world. Sing Joy!


The Long and Winding Way Forward

posted Nov 5, 2018, 9:00 AM by Penny Skildum

The Book of Discipline contains the laws, policies, procedures and doctrine of the United Methodist Church (UMC).
In 1972 a delegate at the second General Conference, the worldwide governing and law-making body of the United Methodist Church, proposed an amendment to the Social Principles section on Sexuality in the Book of Discipline.  The section begins, “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are person of sacred worth…” the amendment added to the end of the section, “… although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” A movement began that day to remove the “incompatibility clause” from the Book of Discipline.
There have been several additions to the Book of Discipline within the last ten years that have made it illegal for clergy and congregations to officiate and host same sex weddings. Yet, in Minnesota and around the United States, there are clergy and congregations that do this.
Possibly even more significant, and also in violation of the Book of Discipline, within the last two years two of the five Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church, large geographical areas within the United States, have openly and publicly ordained pastors that are married to a person of the same sex. Portions of the United Methodist Church in the United States are intentionally violating the Book of Discipline and therefore challenging the international structure of the United Methodist Church.
In 2016 this movement brought the legislative agenda of the General Conference to a halt. Once again, a delegate proposed a motion from the floor asking the United Methodist Council of Bishops, the Executive Branch of the United Methodist Church, to provide a way forward. The Bishops proposed establishing a “Commission On the Way Forward” to the 2016 General Conference that passed 428-405. If you would like to know more about the Commission, you can click on the link below:
May 14-16, 2018 the Commission met with the Council of Bishops to present their final report to the Bishops proposing three possible plans to reorganize the United Methodist Church moving forward; the One Church Plan, the Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan. You can see a summary of the three plans by clicking on the link below:
The Bishops voted to recommend the One Church Plan. As the article above says, the One Church Plan “is based on the belief that we can be a church with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements.”  Part of the plan allows for local churches and pastors to discern their own position on ministry with LGBTQ individuals and communities.
The Bishops hoped to present the One Church Plan as the only legislation at a Special General Conference to be held in St. Louis, February 23-26, 2019. However, the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of the United Methodist Church, ruled that all three plans must be presented as legislation.
Yet there has been a new twist in the road forward for the United Methodist Church. At its October 26-28, 2018 hearings the Judicial Council ruled on what part of the different plans are constitutional. In a unanimous vote the court found most of the One Church Plan constitutional and much of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional. The court did not rule on the Connectional Conference Plan because it includes eight proposed constitutional changes and falls outside its jurisdiction.
With only a few months before the special General Conference supports of all the plans must now decide how they will deal with the portions of their plans that have been found unconstitutional. If you would like to know more about the Judicial Council ruling, you can click on the link below:
One of the important dynamics in this long and winding way forward is the international connection of the United Methodist Church. General Conference is the only international, democratic, governing body in existence the world. The way forward for the United Methodist Church will be decided by a group of individual representatives elected through an international, democratic process. This in itself is an important witness of Christ’s good news to a broken world.
We will find out in February 2019 if the General Conference will allow the United Methodist Church in the United States to faithfully address the questions of 1) who is compatible according to Christian teaching, 2) which marriages pastors can legally officiate and congregations can legally host and 3) who can be affirmed for ordained ministry. 
Bruce Ough is the Bishop of the Minnesota Annual Conference.  It is his hope that the General Conference will renew our mission to love God and neighbor, to reach new people, and to transform the world. He is a strong supporter of the One Church Plan which allows for more flexibility on each of the continents around the world. “Is it possible,” Bishop Ough has said, to “reach generations that currently consider the church’s view of human sexuality to be narrow at best, bigoted at worst” in the United States.
It is clearly time for a change in the structure of the worldwide United Methodist Church that allows us to do best what we can do together and allow the church in the United States to reach new people for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

When Pastors Become Partisan

posted Sep 28, 2018, 4:40 PM by Penny Skildum   [ updated Sep 28, 2018, 7:17 PM ]

“Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food or drinking his wine.”
Daniel 1:8 (The Message Bible)
There’s a history of religious leaders attempting to ingratiate themselves with the powerful; some clergy are always willing to sacrifice the morals and ethics of their faith in exchange for proximity to the crown. Encountering mild resistance from some German Protestant pastors, Hitler elevated a prominent pastor, Ludwig Müller, to the role of Reich bishop in his new German Church and the majority of the churches stepped into line behind the Nazis. I suppose we should not be surprised that some religious leaders succumb to the flattery of the powerful who never care much for love of God nor love of neighbor.
I read about an elegant dinner at the White House on August 27 in which Trump thanked his steadfast clergy supporters. He should have. One attendant at that sumptuous affair was the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. It is not simply that Graham has faithfully supported Trump; Graham’s uncritical support is unsurprising and justified considering his political commitments. What is reprehensible is that Graham gives specious support for Trump as a leader of the Christian faith.
Religious leaders in the United States, no matter what administration occupies the White House, should not seek to ingratiate themselves to those in power. Doing so compromises their integrity and negates their ability to discern the will of God.
The Hebrew sacred tradition has numerous stories involving religious leaders ingratiating themselves to powerful people, always counter to God’s will. Check out Daniel chapter 1 in the Hebrew scriptures. The three main characters of the story Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah resolved not to ingrate themselves “with the royal food and wine” when invited to the Babylonian Emperor’s  royal table. These three new that the price was too high a compromise even for extravagant, royal fare.
In an interview with The New Yorker  (click here to read: on September 4, Franklin Graham,
demonstrated there is no harmful behavior, policy or presidential order that the Trump administration has committed; no sexual misconduct (“that was years ago”), malfeasance, marital infidelity or bold deceit that cannot be excused by the exonerating words of a skillful religious leader.
When asked about Trump’s profanity and his derisive comments about African-Americans and immigrants, Graham explained, “He’s a New Yorker” with “a bit of an edge” who is sometimes “blunt.” When the interviewer said that Trump’s comments seem “mean,” Franklin said that people in the media were mean, but not Trump.
Graham is glad that Trump met with North Korea's Kim Jong-un and pleased that he made friends with Putin. “Pray for the president and Putin” because “the media” and the Democrats want conflict with Russia. When some of Putin’s crimes were mentioned, Graham said that the Russian people “love him” and that our hands aren’t clean either. Asked about the Russian attempts to disrupt American elections, Graham said he doesn’t know anything about that, but he does know that America has interfered in many, many countries’ elections so there’s “enough wrong to go around on both sides.”
Graham draws a line when it comes to separating children from their parents. Why? “Government run facilities have pedophiles working in them.” However, Graham says that the worst aspect of the whole immigrant family controversy is that Trump’s opponents “try to use children to make him look bad.”
It is good to support all efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula and pray for the Russian people and their surrounding neighbors. But no religious leader should address any president, or other person of power for that matter, without condemning the misuse of power and acts of injustice! Religious leaders are not called to partisanship stands whether conservative or liberal, democratic or republican; we are called to speak God’s compassion and justice on behalf of the powerless to the powerful.
When the interviewer quoted religious leader Ed Stetzer’s, he is Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, that some religious leaders have gained political advantage with this president but in the process have “lost our morality,” Graham responded with a dismissive laugh, “Some people think too much.”
Stetzer is right; the religious leaders that have ingratiate themselves to President Trump, and before him President Obama, have provoked a faith crisis among religious organizations within the United States; whether we know it or not. When asked how she reconciles her conservative Christian beliefs with Trump’s lies and infidelities, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I’m not going to my office expecting it to be my church.” Fair enough. But do religious leaders in the United States, like Huckabee Sanders and Franklin Graham, really want to make so great a separation between their faith and their ethics, their lives as Christians and their role as public figures? For Christians, is Jesus Christ’s call for compassion and justice really so irrelevant to politics, statecraft and nationhood?
It’s my conviction that the religious leaders who have sacrificed so much in order to gain a seat at the king’s banquet will soon discover that they have done grave damage to the Christian Church in the United States, to say nothing of the harm they have done to the profession of their clergy colleagues. When the time comes for religious leaders to stand up and say, “No!” Those who sit at the Kings table will have lost the ability even to know that there was something worth saying, “No” to.
As religious leaders engage in partisan politics we lose commitment and fidelity to discern the will of God’s compassion and justice and proclaim it to those in power. During World War I, when his congregation fell willingly into the hands of German nationalism and the war effort, one of the most significant religious leaders of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, repeatedly told them that this worst of times politically could be, in God’s hands, the best of times for a people of faith, “an extraordinary time of God,” a time to recover the grand, though risky, adventure of faithfulness.
I know of a pastor who, after the administration’s policy to separate immigrant children from their accompanying adult(s), simply stood up during the Sunday worship and read Leviticus 19:33, “If a resident alien lives with you in your land, you are not to mistreat him or her. ...” He read the passage without comment or application except for ending with, “This is the word of the Lord.” Then he sat down.
Two families (“and major givers too”) left his church saying we are “tired of these political sermons.”
This pastor is not likely to be invited to dinner at the White House. These type of pastors are my models for ministry, living reminders that commitment and loyalty to God takes precedence over acting obsequious in order to gain advantage with powerful people.
What a wonderful and tough time to place our faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Deep Work

posted Sep 5, 2018, 5:59 PM by Penny Skildum

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. YouTube. Pinterest. Wikipedia. Snapchat.

Together, they explode — weapons of mass distraction.

You know how it works. You are cooking something on the stove or doing homework in the livingroom when you hear a ping from your smartphone. You say, “Okay, while that’s cooking, I’ll go see what that notification is about. Oh no, he’s totally wrong! I have to reply to this post … Ha, that cat picture is silly … What a cool video! And that other video in the thumbnail looks interesting, too … That high school guy is totally wrong again! … This Wikipedia article has a lot of cool information.”

Meanwhile, in the kitchen: it’s like a smoke bomb went off in the livingroom: it’s like what home work!

Research is showing that we really should try to avoid distractions. When we become lost in social media or email, we lose our ability to focus.

Enter Cal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown University and author of a book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport believes we should minimize the problems created by constant interruptions and insists “it’s more urgent than people realize.”

Here’s the problem: When we let emails or Facebook messages guide our workday, we’re weakening our ability to do the most challenging kind of work — what Newport calls “deep work.” This is the work that requires sustained attention, such as writing a report, solving an engineering problem, working with our colleagues, or doing significant research.

The solution to distractions, according to Newport, is to do what we can to set aside long portions of many days to focus on deeper thinking. This means no social media, limited email, strict limits on appointments, and more facetime with coworkers. The result is a life that is richer and more human than a life of robotically responding to emails and clicking on websites, which is what many of us end up doing all day.

In the sacred story that is shared in the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible God challenges an upright person named Job to do the “deep work” of answering the question of who he is in relation to God.

This is not a question that can be answered by a quick Google search, because it involves deep thinking about what it means to be a human creatively connected to God as the connectional Spirit of Life. The One who is at the foundation of all things. The challenge that God gives Job is also a challenge to us — one that pushes us to unplug ourselves long enough to ask and answer some deep questions.

For starters, “Who is God?”

Google god and a few of what you will find is: “God has been conceived as either personal or impersonal. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, while in deism, God is the creator, but not the sustainer, of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. ... In agnosticism, the existence of God is deemed unknown or unknowable.” You can find the six personality traits of God, watch a four-video series about God at, and find a list of books on God from an atheist perspective.

None of these answers are wrong, but such answers can be distracting; too much information, a whole lot of breadth but not much depth.

In the book of Job, God keeps things much simpler when speaking to Job. God asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (v. 4). In other words, “Where were you — Job — when — God — laid the foundation of the earth?” Both the “you” and the “I” are important.

Protestant reformer John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reform of the sixteenth century, unveils one of the guiding principles of his thinking — his view of duplex cognitio Domini — or in English, the twofold knowledge of God. Calvin argues that our knowledge of God consists of two parts: knowing God as Creator and knowing God as Redeemer. Anchored to this is our knowledge of ourselves. Knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are connected and interrelated, according to Calvin, and we cannot have one without the other. Calvin begins by saying that “without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” This is the essence of Deep Work.

That’s why God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Knowledge of Self and knowledge of God are both important. “Who determined its measurements?” God asks. “Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38:5-7).

Of course, Job does not know. But what Job does come to understand is that he is part of the creative process and filled with the sacred creative energy of God. It is more important to be fully human than to think I am somehow godlike.

We need to hear this, because our high-tech world regards some people as godlike. Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley’s leaders, recently said to The Times Literary Supplement (November 14, 2017), “Humans are distinguished from other species by our ability to work miracles. We call these miracles technology.” But hold on — technology may be helpful, but it is not miraculous. Instead, it can involve polluting factories, narrow corporate interests and the marketing of personal information in a way that can hurt us as well as help us.

God is the source of a sustaining life-giving creative power. Humans can be creative and develop marvelous technology, but we cannot work miracles. We were not present when God laid the foundation of the earth or even comprehend the foundations of the universe, so we cannot do life giving and life sustaining work apart from the source or foundation of Life. God is the Source of all that is, including us.

Fortunately, the Spirit of Life has spun the world in which we live so that it is wonderfully interconnected, a world in which God as the Spirit of Life provides for all creatures.

When we go deep for answers, we discover that our Creator is the beginning of all wisdom and understanding. Calvin knew this, saying that “the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.”

Knowledge of God as the foundation of all creative energy and power. Knowledge of ourselves as social beings, connected to God and each other. When we put the two together, we are doing the deep work that God wants us to do.

Planning A Way Forward

posted Aug 4, 2018, 4:03 PM by Penny Skildum

February 23-26, 2019 will be the most significant days for the United Methodist Denomination since it was formed on April 23, 1968. During a special meeting of the world wide Methodist General Conference delegates, think United Nations, will decide how to move forward by voting on legislation which focus on human sexuality.
An international Commission on the Way Forward, which was appointed by the Council of Bishops in 2016, has spent the past two years working to address the denomination’s differences on topic the topic of human sexuality. The group includes Minnesotan Dave Nuckols, a member of Minnetonka United Methodist Church, who will be guest speaker at Peace on Sunday, November 6, 2018 during worship. He will also be part of small group conversations before and after worship.

The commission recently forwarded two detailed plans to the Council of Bishops for their consideration: the One-Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plan. A third plan, the Traditionalist Plan, has also been discussed and will be presented as part of the of the commission’s work.
These three plans, in general, reflect three different groups within the United Methodist Church within the United States. The One-Church Plan reflects a centrist group which emphasizes unity, the Traditionalist Plan reflects a conservative group which emphasizes enforcing the denominations current policies. The Connectional Conference reflects a progressive group which emphasizes equality and inclusion.

The Council of Bishops is recommending the One-Church Plan for passage at the Special General Conference.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough offers this wisdom to United Methodist churches and leaders as they await the Special Session of the General Conference:
· Do not make decisions before they are made.
· Lead out of a convicted humility.
· Be a non-anxious presence.
· Be relational in your leadership.
· Affirm all the voices and values.
· Speak to the anxiety and fear.
· Strengthen congregational resiliency (build UMC identity, build biblical and interpretive fluency, increase missional commitment, and practice respectful conversation.)
Peace will be using the book Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church as a resource during a short-term study in October on Sunday mornings at 8:30 am and Tuesday evenings at 7 pm.

Christa Meland, Director of Communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, has developed a detailed and objective look at all three plans as presented at the 2018 Annual Conference by Rev. Judy Zabel and Nuckols, both members of the Minnesota delegation to the Special General Conference in February 2018. 

One-Church Plan (recommended by Council of Bishops)
This plan would allow for contextualization in different parts of the world (adapting some non-essential practices to different mission fields to maximize the Methodist witness and success in each place). It is based on the belief that we can be a denomination with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements. 

Some of the key components of this plan:

It will neither affirm nor condemn LGBTQ persons. It would remove the controversial statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” that has been experienced as hurtful by gay persons and as alienating by younger generations.

It relies on pastoral discretion. Clergy would decide which weddings to officiate or not officiate. Clergy—through their normal Board of Ordained Ministry process—would discern who is fit and fruitful for clergy service in their annual conference. This plan would remove the current prohibitions without creating new obligations or affirmation. This plan should put an end to clergy trials that are damaging to individuals and to our public witness.

It respects local church wishes. As for weddings, no local church would be forced to vote. However, the church property would not be used in same-sex weddings unless the local church updates its local church policy to specifically allow it. And as for clergy assignment, bishops would take local wishes into account concerning who is or is not a good fit for their appointment. So, practically speaking, there would be gay weddings and gay ordination in some parts of the United Methodist world, but it would not be forced on local churches.

It protects clergy rights to individual conscience. The Book of Discipline would protect clergy who do not want to officiate same-sex weddings. Likewise, all would be allowed to follow their conscience in matter of ordination.

Pros of this plan:
· Allows for contextualization in different parts of the U.S. (this already exists in Africa, Asia, and Europe).
· More coherent theology for unity because it no longer assumes that human sexuality is the defining theological issue for The UMC.
· No more clergy trials.

Cons of this plan:
· Does not completely satisfy the progressives because it does not bar some kinds of discrimination against married homosexuals in some parts of the UMC. 
· Does not completely satisfy the traditionalists because allowing same-sex marriage in any form violates their interpretation of scripture.
Connectional Conferences Model (considered but not recommended by Council of Bishops)
The Connectional Conferences Model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services, and one Council of Bishops, while creating different branches that would have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice. 
In the U.S., the five geographically distinct jurisdictional conferences would be replaced by three overlapping conferences: one traditional conference, one progressive conference, and one centrist or “uniting” conference. Each annual conference would choose to be a member of one of the three connectional conferences based on their affinity to the conference’s theological stance on homosexuality.  Any local church that disagrees with the annual conference decision could vote to join a different branch conference.
Pros of this plan:
· Makes a place for all three viewpoints within the UMC and yet creates enough separation that there is clarity for each position.
· Conferences and local churches could make a clear choice on human sexuality and yet enjoy some of the missional advantages of remaining a global church.  

Cons of this plan:
· Creates a complex structure that is more congregational than connectional.
· It would take years of administrative work to put this in place—there would be many constitutional amendments that would be difficult to ratify in annual conferences around the world.
· Churches may split as they try to determine which branch they will join.
· Some traditionalists would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being affirmed in some parts of the UMC.
· Some progressives would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being discriminated against in the UMC.
Traditionalist Model (not recommended by Council of Bishops)
The Traditionalist Model would affirm the current Book of Discipline statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Boards of Ordained Ministry would still be prohibited from recommending LGBTQ candidates for ordination. Officiating same-sex marriages would still be a chargeable offense and being a self-avowed and practicing gay clergy would continue to be a chargeable offense. 

The Traditionalist Model would demand increased accountability to the Book of Discipline—not only for individual pastors but also for churches, bishops, and even annual conferences, all of which could face punishment.

Pros of this plan:
· Essentially preserves the status quo, which some want.
· Requires no changes to our structure.

Cons of this plan:
· It’s a plan for keeping the status quo; fighting will continue and it will compromise our mission with costly trials.
· Plan is not a plan for unity; it tells the progressives to leave.
· We would likely lose most of our millennials and the next generations.

Sandhill Cranes and Small Frogs

posted Jul 2, 2018, 6:43 AM by Penny Skildum

It’s a Sandhill Crane!
I’ve never seen one before and at the time I had no idea what it was, but there it was in the little pond by my house. My dog, Iris, and I were on our daily early morning walk on the trail around the pond under clear blue skies. I looked over and there it was on the far side of the pond.
And it happened.  I’ve never had it happen to me before. It seemed like a slow motion movie. This large bird spread its wings and began to fly... right toward me. It gracefully gained altitude and then it pooed all over me!
It was wonderful and disturbing at the same time.
For many it seems we live in wonderful and disturbing times. It seems a lot of people are getting pooed on - immigrants, Muslims, voters, non-voters, ordinary citizens, children, adults. The poo seems to be of Biblical proportions. I think cats and dogs may be living together.
So yeah, you may be feeling like things are smelling a little like a ripe diaper. And yes, there is real pain and suffering in that poo. But no matter how bad things may smell and look we still haven’t given up.
Here’s how I know.
We are still showing up for each other. We are reaching out to people we know are hurting in ways that are profound, wonderful and compassionate. We are still helping each other clean up our messes.
We are still being moved and broken by the sounds of young children separated from their parents and siblings rather than growing hardened after hearing it for the hundredth time.
We are still seeing funny videos and laughing.
We are still hearing our favorite songs and singing along.
You see it is by showing up and being moved and laughing and singing that the poo slowly becomes fertilizer for a better tomorrow.
I know a young girl who walks around sanctuaries to pick up small frogs in her hands to put them in a paper cup so she can carry them outside and put them where they can thrive. It doesn’t matter they may pee in her hands; it matters they can thrive. I don’t know if they thrive or not, but I know because of her they have a chance.
It’s a small thing but very wonderful.
Life is always amazing and wonderful and worth the chance, even when it's messy.
Grace from Gary

Jesus’ Resurrection: Out of the Tomb

posted Jun 5, 2018, 6:58 PM by Penny Skildum

This is the second reflection of Resurrection, you can find the first at:
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Ecumenical Version of the Apostles’ Creed
“To put it bluntly, not even a credulous nonbeliever is likely to be persuade by the various reports of the Resurrection; they convince only the already converted. The same must be said about the visions (of the Resurrection). None of them satisfies the minimum of requirements of legal or scientific inquiry.”
The Resurrection, by Geza Vermes - pg. 141
A Time and A Place
We live in a time and a place where modern legal, scientific and historical inquiry do not align with our ancient Sacred Story. The Resurrection of Jesus is the center of what is central to the Christian faith; Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascending into heave. What could this all mean?
Those of us who grew up Christian have a handed down understanding of Jesus’ resurrection that, not only goes back to our childhood, but is also reinforced by generations of the forbearers of our faith. This pre-understanding of Jesus’ resurrection that we have inherited emphasizes a historical-factual understanding, in both hard or soft forms. The hard form is committed to biblical inerrancy and sees Jesus’ walking out of the tomb as factually, literally, historically and infallibly true. The soft form knows each Gospel has a different story of Jesus’ resurrection, but the gospels all reflect a basic factuality of an historical event. So central is this historical factual understanding of Jesus’ resurrection for many Christians that, if they can’t except it, they cannot be part of the Christian community of faith with integrity.
Maybe an emphasis on a factual-historical resurrection of Jesus, as if it could be photographed, gets in the way of seeing how the first followers understood his resurrection and how we might re-understand it.
The first followers of Jesus do not live in the modern world that developed out of the Western Cultural Enlightenment that aligns history and factuality supported by scientific inquiry. Yet, the profound significance of Sacred Stories is that they share a different perspective and perception that modern historical, factual, scientific inquiry offers.
For our ancient forebears of faith, the idea that somehow resurrection needed to align with history, science and fact literally never entered their minds. Resurrection aligned with their time and their place.
Methods of Inquiry
Today much of what we understand is based on a scientific-factual method of inquiry. We could say that the ancient world was based on what we could call a political-religious method of inquiry.
The vast majority of New Testament scholars agree that the message and mission of Jesus’ life can be summarized as, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). This makes sense within a political-religious method of inquiry. The opposition to Jesus’ message and mission by the retainers of the Roman Empire makes sense within a political-religious method of inquiry. Jesus’ death makes sense within a political-religious method of inquiry.
From a scientific-factual method of inquiry the resurrection and ascension of Jesus’ doesn’t make sense; base on a political-religious method of inquiry it makes sense.
In a time and a place when the Roman Emperor was proclaimed the “Son of God and Savior” on the currency throughout the Mediterranean world; understanding Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension makes sense from a political-religious method of inquiry. When heaven is understood as God’s throne room ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the King makes sense from a political-religious method of inquiry.
For the earliest followers of Jesus, the significance and meaning of Jesus’ resurrection was that the living Spirit of Jesus was present with them. Through their political-religious method of inquiry it was God who reigned in their midst and would one day rule the world through the continuing, ongoing, living Spirit of Jesus; not Caesar.
Jesus is Lord
First, the followers of Jesus experienced the risen, living Jesus in their midst. Then they proclaimed Jesus is Lord. This is the earliest message and mission about Jesus’ resurrection as represented by the Apostle Paul within thirty years of Jesus’ death he wrote:
Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God later they embodied that proclamation in our sacred story.
Philippians 2:9-11
This makes sense within a political-religious method of inquiry. This is not only religious language, it is political language.
The last things that happened in the process of the Christian sacred story was Jesus embodied in resurrection through resurrection appearances. The stories are meant to bring flesh and blood to the experience, message and mission of resurrection. Resurrection did not begin with Jesus walking out of the tomb, that was the last step in it’s development. Jesus’ resurrection it the story of his life giving, spiritual presence within his community.
Before resurrection was fixed to on paper it was lived in people’s lives and community.
Jesus’ resurrection, for the earliest followers of Jesus, is the God of Life’s living response in the person, message and mission of Jesus that those with power and authority tried to destroy by arresting, interrogating, torturing, and executing him.
Inquiring minds about resurrection can bring new perspectives and understandings to the Gospels; Jesus life, message, mission and death; and new life after his life.
Today resurrection automatically brings historical, scientific, and factual questions. This is not true for the first followers of Jesus; for them resurrection automatically brought political religious questions. Who is Lord? Who is Savior? Who proclaims the will of God? Which mission and message shall I support, the One which crucified Jesus or the One that brings the person, message and mission to life again? The Christian Sacred Story is the answer to these questions.
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark 16:6) This is the essence of resurrection. For us, as for the first followers, do we look Jesus still in the tomb? That’s the question that needs to be answered.

What a Movie Can Teach Us About Uncertainty, Loss, Love and Life

posted Apr 30, 2018, 7:21 PM by Penny Skildum   [ updated Apr 30, 2018, 7:24 PM ]

It’s all been leading up to this, 
Avengers: Infinity War.
Practically since its announcement has had fans, bloggers, and writers alike buzzing with theories about how this climactic chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would end. Which of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would make it out to live in another sequel? What state would the planet, or even the galaxy, be in when the dust settled at the end of the final scene? And just how bad could Thanos, the movie’s giant purple space monster, be?
Without spoiling anything that hasn’t already been discussed, Infinity War states its intentions very early on, and mostly sticks to them: this is not going to be a purely fun outing. Characters you love are going to die. The heroes we’ve been rooting for all these years may not always end up on the winning side. And the big bad? He’s more complex, and more threatening, than we thought.
Previous Avengers movies were about the challenges of building and sustaining and a community. Infinity War is a sobering reminder that even the biggest, strongest communities sometimes face adversity that results in sacrifice, uncertainty, and loss. This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gathering of characters both beloved and new, and throwing them into a brutal endgame. It’s a Good Friday movie, too, putting those left standing at the end into their own version of Gethsemane.
Thanos is an intergalactic warlord who seeks five infinity stones; the time stone, the mind stone, the reality stone, the power stone, the space stone, and the soul stone to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, a weapon that gives the wearer control of the universe. Thanos wants to use the gauntlet to wipe out exactly half of life across the galaxy. The meat of the plot involves the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy meeting up and joining forces after Thanos shows up on Earth in search of the time stone, possessed by Doctor Strange and the mind stone, possessed by Vision.
As for Thanos, Infinity War gives him a backstory and a mission that infuses the character with a surprising amount of sympathy. He’s not, as it turns out, totally evil. Instead, he’s that most dangerous of villains: one who wholeheartedly believes that he’s doing the right thing, yet what he is doing is fatally flawed. Thanos is on a crusade and nothing or no one is going to stop him.
Throughout the movie there is character explorations and relationships both new and established that make the film’s final battle that much more heartbreaking. Friends lose friends and mentors lose protégés. The resulting world is left in utter chaos, with the outcome uncertain. We leave our heroes in a moment when all hope seems lost.
But we know that hope still exists. For one thing, Marvel’s got more movies in the works. But more importantly, Infinity War is part of a story tradition that follows the same pattern — one that goes all the way back to the Bible. Characters setting out to change the world experience success and transformation, then darkness to the point that it seems light will never come again. Biblically, we know what happens — Jesus is crucified, then there’s resurrection, and a message of new life and transformed. In Marvel terms, we know the second half of Infinity War is coming next year, with movies introducing new characters on the way.
This story isn’t over yet, and there’s reason to believe the pain will make way for life and new growth to come.
So, it is with resurrection faith.

Resurrection: Life in Lifeless Cement

posted Apr 2, 2018, 8:01 AM by Penny Skildum

“These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…” (Acts 17:6)

I was once at a four-day clergy seminar on resurrection led by a female, Asian theologian. Her understanding of resurrection was so unique that one of my colleagues asked, “Do you believe in resurrection?” I will never forget her answer, “Yes, I see my grandmother every day.”

The word that we know as “resurrection” in the original language of the New Testament is anastasis, it is a compound word made of the word for up, ana, and rising, stasis. Resurrection is an up-rising.

The Experience of Resurrection
Before there are the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and his resurrection appearances we find in the Gospels there is the proclamation of the living Christ presence with his followers who experience his living presence with them.These experiences and its proclamation began in Jerusalem at its earliest a few weeks after Jesus’ death, maybe within a few months, most certainly within a year.  Most or all of the twelve disciples were part of this group that lived in Jerusalem, most notably the disciples Peter and John were part of the leadership, they were among the earliest ones to proclaim and experience Jesus’ resurrection. However, the most significant person within this group was not a disciple but a brother of Jesus named James. Within a few years another person whose name you may know became an ally of this group, Paul.

From Jerusalem this groups’ proclamation spread throughout Israel and the Mediterranean world, into Syria and possibly as far as India. The best witnesses we have of this movement that began in Jerusalem are the letters of Paul and the book of The Acts of the Apostles that we find in the New Testament.

Possibly within months, certainly within a few years, Jesus’ followers were proclaiming God had raised Jesus from the death in “three days,” on the first day of the week; on the first day of a new creation… as Paul phrases it, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Connecting Jesus’ Death and Resurrection to his Life

This group in Jerusalem was the most influential followers of Jesus after his death and framed the message that was proclaimed about Jesus until the mid-sixties CE (Common Era), but they were not the only group. At some point early on a group of non-Israelite Jews had to leave Jerusalem because one of their members named Stephen was killed by the authorities. They moved to a city in then the Syrian province of the Roman Empire on the Mediterranean named Antioch.

But there is another group, possibly a more influential group when we ponder the development of the Gospels that left Jerusalem, even earlier than the non-Israelite Jews, to go back to Galilee; if they even came to Jerusalem in the first place. This was a group of anonymous followers of Jesus who were with him in Galilee during his ministry. The core of their faith was not the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus by God but the teachings of Jesus as they experienced his resurrection presence with them. They met at least weekly on Sundays, if not more often, to reflect on what Jesus said and did, and how it impacted their lives. They developed an oral list of Jesus’ teachings along with a few events from Jesus’ life, including his baptism by John. By the late-fifties or early-sixties CE this group had written a list Jesus’ teachings and a few events of Jesus’ life that is now call The Sayings Source or Q or The Q Gospel.

By 66 CE Israel was in open, violent rebellion against the Romans. By 73 CE the Roman military machine had rolled across Israel devastating its land, villages, cities and people. The culture and society that had organized the Jewish people in Israel, and therefore the small Jesus Movement within it, completely collapsed. It is within this context that our first Gospel, Mark, was written. It was the author of Mark that connected mostly the events of Jesus’ life, but also a few teachings of Jesus, with his death and resurrection.

Mark’s gospel is often called a story about Jesus’ death and resurrection with a long introduction. It was written sometime around the year 70 CE, forty years after Jesus’ death. While the author of Mark was the first to connect Jesus’ life with his death and resurrection; authors have been doing it ever since.

Two of the earliest to follow Mark’s lead were the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each author had a copy of Mark’s Gospel in front of them and a copy of the source we now call The Sayings Source. These two sources were used as the overall structure of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Sometimes Mark’s gospel and The Sayings Source are copied word for word. The authors of these two gospels also added some of their own events to the stories of Jesus; most notable, their unique Christmas stories.

But for our purpose, the authors of Matthew and Luke added their own versions of Jesus’ resurrection and story or stories of his resurrection appearances. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written sometime after 85 CE, fifty-five years after the death of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of John incorporated unique resurrection appearance stories, possibly sometime after 100 CE, seventy years after Jesus’ death.

Resurrection in Lifeless Concrete   
This does not mean the appearance stories appeared out of thin air. As we have seen the resurrection of Jesus has been central to the Christian faith since its beginning, even before it became a legal religion within the Roman Empire, when it was decriminalized in 313 BCE.

By 400 CE seeds had been sown which eventually brought a break between the Catholic, meaning Catholic as the universal sense, into Western Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy in 1054. There were many reasons for the Church splitting like an earthquake into Western Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy, but one of the significant differences was their understanding of the resurrection of Jesus. The same thing happened again during the Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther in 1517.
The point is - the understanding and experience of the resurrection and Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, which continue to this day, have evolved. These stories are meant to inspire our souls and spirits.

Unfortunately, in the religious culture of the United States which too often emphasizes the Bible as the literal and verbatim truth of God and where adhering to doctrinal beliefs are more important than faith, Jesus’ resurrection and his resurrection appearances have too often been set in lifeless concrete.

Does life take hold within concrete? I think it does. What is needed now is a new Up-Rising of God. This will be the topic of my article for next month’s newsletter.

That’s How It Works

posted Feb 28, 2018, 8:01 PM by Penny Skildum

It’s always interesting when, during a casual conversation, someone asks me “So, what do you do?” When I let them know I’m a pastor I usually get one of three types of responses, something such as:  “When did you accept Jesus?”, silence or “I don’t believe in religion anymore.” It is the third response which  is most interesting. Many people in the United States don’t believe in religion anymore. 

Traditional Western Christianity is about accepting a certain set of “beliefs.” Yet many of these truths contradict what modern Western Civilization knows to be wrong. Traditional Christianity means believing there is a divine being who lives in a heaven somewhere, someplace who created heaven and earth. That Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary yet is completely human. That Jesus Christ died for our sins and who will come again to raise the quick and the dead.

For some Christians it also means the universe was created in six days, Jesus walked on water and raised the dead and everything else the Gospels tell us about Jesus literally happened: that he was raised from the dead in a physical body which his disciples could see and touch.

The most beloved and well-known passages in the Gospels emphasize the importance of believing, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV). On Sunday mornings as a child, when I confessed my sins I was forgiven with the words, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Of course, my pastor meant those baptized like Lutherans baptized and those who believed like Lutherans believed.

For much of my life these beliefs helped me organize my life. They were ideas basic to giving meaning to my life. But for me, as for many, I slowly questioned these traditional beliefs of the Christian faith and began to rearrange what I believe.  

I began to believe differently. I believe in God and Jesus and in holy Spirit. I believe in the Bible as my sacred story; I believe in the Church as a community of everyday saints; I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and Jesus’ way of non-violence. I believe in resurrection and the power of Life. I believe that “God so loved the world” that the power of such a love is the most significant transformational power in the world. That love is mostly clearly seen through faith in God through Jesus Christ. But my understanding, my idea, of each of these has significantly changed.

What I believe, the ideas I hold most dearly, still are the basis by which I live. But they are just that, ideas. While they help me be faithful they are not my faith. They are the concepts, feelings and thoughts; the ideas, which are fundamental to who I am. They inform my life, they help me be faithful. But they are not faith; they inform whom and what I can trust and where I can best place my commitment and loyalty. These are the elements which make for faith: trust, loyalty and commitment. What I believe informs my faith; faith and belief are closely related but they are different.

I have lost faith in much of what I used to believe. However, I believe in everything I trust; my beliefs inform my commitments and loyalties;  I’m open to growing and changing. That’s how life works. 

Many people can no longer accept the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith. But some way, somehow we are all faithful; we still trust as well as have commitments and loyalties;  our faith always changes and grows. That’s how life works.

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