A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

Goodbye, farewell and amen

Ring a bell?

If not, two things are certain: 

  • you’re young 
  • you need to find and watch the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H

First aired on February 28, 1983, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” chronicles the final days of the fictitious 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as the Korean War comes to an end.

It remains one of the most-watched series episodes in TV history. 

As my wife Marcy and I enjoyed watching it again a few nights ago on MeTV, I was struck by the significance of the title.

Not just to an all-time great TV show, but also to the troubled times in which we live. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen. 

More than eight months into a global pandemic with no end in sight, it’s time to say goodbye to our lives, indeed our world, as we know them. 

There will be a new normal. We are becoming a new church

“Behold, I am doing a new thing …” – Isaiah 43:19 (ESV) 

We will, for example, worship in our Sanctuary again. 

But we will also continue to worship and study and teach in cyberspace. 

Answering God’s call beyond our walls in a manner we never previously imagined.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

It’s time to bid farewell to partisan politics and racial divisiveness. 

To set aside our differences and love one another as brothers and sisters. 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.– 1 John 4:7 (NRSV) 

Republicans and Democrats.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists.

Doesn’t matter. We’re all human.

We’re all children of God. Loved by God.

Worthy of God’s love, are we not also worthy of love from one another?

Regardless of our differences? 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to say amen.

To assert our faith. To pray. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.– 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV) 

 Pray for our church.

Pray for our families.

Pray for our brothers and sisters.

Pray for our world.

Pray. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Mixing politics and religion

I hate politics.

OK, maybe hate is a bit strong.

Particularly in a world where there’s way too much hate right now.

Let me rephrase.

I am dismayed and disheartened by the extremely polarized state of politics in America today. 

If you’re a Republican, Democrats are wrong.

Liberal. Socialist. Unchristian.

If you’re a Democrat (full disclosure, I am), Republicans are wrong.

Capitalist. Nationalist. Racist.

Oh, and unchristian, too.

You’re red or you’re blue. White or black. Good or evil. 

There’s no middle ground. No gray area. No room for compromise.

“As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”

– Stephen King

OK, I take it back. I do hate it. It’s just plain wrong.

Yet some would argue this is not the place to talk about it.

I am, after all, representing a church.

And there’s a widely though not universally held belief that politics and religion don’t mix.

“Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure, but it sure ruins the ice cream.”

– Tony Campolo

But the Bible does have something to say about politics:* 

And nowhere can I find evidence this guidance is meant only for one political party or another.

It’s meant for all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Imperfect human beings all. Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong.

All of us – all Republicans, all Democrats – are children of God.

All worthy to be loved, just as God loves us all (John 15:12). 

I pray each of us keep our spiritual duty in mind as we exercise our civic duty to vote. 

What the Bible Really Says About Politics, Jesse Carey, RELEVANT, February 25, 2016

A prayer for those who have become hashtags

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

O God, Almighty and merciful,
Who heals the broken-hearted,
and turns the sadness of the sorrowful to joy:

Let your goodness be upon all that you have made.

Remember with compassion those who are this day
Destitute, homeless, or forgotten by humanity.

Bless the poor and down-trodden.

Uplift those who are cast down.

Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
And lift them from their sorrows,
Sanctifying and preserving them.

Cheer with hope all discouraged people,
And by your grace renew them.

Though trouble comes from every side,
Let them not fall into distress.

Though injustice runs amok,
Let them not be dismayed.

For you are the One who lifts the poor from the dust,
And who tramples the power of the mighty.

Grant this prayer, O Lord,
Through Him who became poor and cast down,
And Who rose and calls the downtrodden to rise with him:

Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

May Breonna Taylor’s memory be more than a hashtag,
And may we die to injustice, and rise to new life.
 
Based on a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, 1952

Staying in love with God

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Yesterday we completed a three-part worship series on the “3 Simple Rules” of the Methodist movement with a discussion of the third rule – “Stay in Love with God.”

Here are a few ways you might consider putting that rule into practice this week:

Works of Piety
– Search the scriptures

  • ask questions of it
  • wonder about a passage that puzzles you
  • memorize a Psalm
  • read the daily lectionary

– Attend virtual worship this coming Sunday

– Share the Love Feast (since we can’t gather physically for communion)

– Spend just five minutes in silent prayer

– Fast for a day or a portion of a day, or choose something to fast from for a day, like social media, the news, screens, etc.

Works of Mercy
– Gather school supplies for donation to Freeman Elementary

– Purchase food items for donation to Austin Street Center

– Learn more about anti-racism

– Check on a neighbor

– Record yourself reading a children’s book for our Learning Academy kids

Servant leaders

With all due respect and affection for John Cravens, Randy Adair and Josh Medlock, the best youth director I’ve ever worked with was my wife Marcy Buford.

I met Marcy about 38 years ago when she was the youth director at Satellite Beach United Methodist Church in Florida.

We were married at that same church 37 years ago – on July 1, 1983.

As one of her volunteer youth counselors, I learned about something called ‘servant leadership’ – a philosophy where a leader’s goal is not to ‘lead,’ per se, but rather to serve.

She ingrained this philosophy in everything we did with the youth at Satellite Beach, and later at Custer Road and St. Andrew United Methodist in Plano, Brentwood United Methodist in Tennessee, and White’s Chapel United Methodist in Southlake.

And I’d like to think it stayed with me as I transitioned from corporate America to my own ministry career nearly 10 years ago.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of history’s most renowned servant leaders, once said:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Never has this question been more urgent than now, when so many are suffering from the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual effects of COVID-19.

Let alone problems that have gone almost forgotten in its wake – like hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and immigrants seeking better and safer lives.

Or systemic racism, the issue against which Dr. King advocated and which ultimately claimed his life. 

Now more than ever, we need servant leaders.

People willing to put the needs of others first, and trust that someone else has their back. 

Jesus, of course, was the ultimate servant leader.

And he not only exhibited servant leadership, but commanded his disciples – and ultimately us – to do the same. 

The Bible cites numerous examples of this, including the scripture I’ll be reading as part of our Virtual Worship service this coming Sunday morning:

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

– John 13:14-15

Washing one another’s feet – doing for others – is ingrained in our church mission statement:

Cultivating Christian Community:
Loving God, Living Faith, Serving Others, Inspiring Hope


It’s why we are the church.

It’s why we continue to give and worship and serve, even as our church building remains closed.

It’s why we are called to prioritize the needs of others, even in the face of our own seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Many of us – myself included – wonder if we’re equipped to handle our own problems, let alone someone else’s.

And though I’m not advocating for ignoring our own situations in favor of others, it’s important to remember as Christians that God ‘has our back.’

So the question I’m asking myself each morning – the one Dr. King asked – is also the one I challenge you to ask as well:

What are you doing for others?

All will be well

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

For the past several weeks, a group has been gathering on Zoom to read and discuss a classic of English literature and Christian mysticism, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.

Julian lived in the late 14th and early 15th centuries in East Anglia, an area of England which was hit hard by the Bubonic Plague.

Scholars estimate that England lost at least 40 percent of its population during these outbreaks.

As if widespread illness and death weren’t enough, Julian and her contemporaries were also dealing with the instability of the British monarchy at the time, which waged the Hundred Years’ War in a power struggle for control of France.

As a result of many years of war, taxes went up to finance it.

The result was the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an uprising of the common folk in response to conditions of poverty and increased taxation.

Bleak times indeed.

In the midst of all this upheaval and death, a 30-year old Julian fell ill and came close to death.

As the village priest was administering last rites, she began to have visions in which the crucifix the priest held before her face began to bleed and speak. 

Miraculously, Julian recovered and spent the following decades meditating on and praying about her visionary experience.

She shared her experience in writing (the first known and so-credited female writer in the English language), first in the “short text” not long after her recovery, and then in the “long text,” written a couple of decades after her visions.

In the long text, Julian gives more detail as her discernment and understanding increased.

The result is a gift of writings from Julian that speak profoundly to our own time.

Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love, as scholars have come to call her work, brings a profound message of encouragement and hope – a positive word for us in the midst of negativity, anxiety, suffering and death. 

The phrase “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well” was an assurance she received from God in the midst of her illness.

It is a message she passes on to the reader of those words in the hope that in the midst of death, we can hear that “all will be well” in God.

There are many other gems in Julian’s work, but there is one in particular that has strongly resonated with me in the last few weeks.

Julian shares:

“God reminded me that I would sin; and because of my pleasure in contemplating him, I was slow to pay attention to this…At this I began to feel a quiet fear, and to this our Lord answered, “I am keeping you very safe”…[F]or just as it was shown that I would sin, the help was also shown…”* 

We live in a time in which we are offered the opportunity to take a look at our sin – both collectively and individually.

For white folks, we have the chance to take a good hard look at how we benefit from systems and institutions that harm and kill persons of color. 

Individually, these days of shelter-in-place offer the space to take a good hard look at our own compulsions and emptiness.

It is enough to bring one to despair: 

If I take a real hard look at my sin, I will surely fall into the abyss…..I may be broken and not be able to recover…..I may have to admit that I was wrong……

The Divine word in response to this is, “I am keeping you safe.” 

The Triune God who created each and every one of us has chosen to love each and every one of us, and as we do the hard work of reckoning with our own “stuff,” God will not let us fall into the abyss.

We are held close by God, who assures us all will be well. We have nothing to lose but the sin that “clings so closely.” (Hebrews 12.1)

*Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love: Penguin Classics, 1998, p. 93.

What am I supposed to do?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

How many times have you heard this phrase lately:

“We live in uncertain times?”

I hear many variations of that phrase right now.

I suppose some people use this phrase and its many variations as a way to express frustration and perhaps fear during a time when things are out of control and we are unsure what the next day will bring.

Others might use this phrase to simply state the obvious because they are unsure how to put into words how they feel about what is going on.

Then again, some simply might be using this phrase as others use the expression, “Same old, same old.”

I have come to realize that I fall into that second category of people.

I have been unsure how to express how I feel about current situations in our world.

Most of you who are reading this have known me long enough to know that expressing how I feel isn’t usually a problem for me.

And while that may be true, there is this thing called social media that has presented a problem for me.

Before I came on staff here at First United Methodist Church Garland, I never had a problem expressing how I felt about things on social media.

I often engaged in lengthy and wordy battles on Facebook with people who expressed their “concern” or “confusion” with one of my posts.

I did the same with emails and other forms of written communication.

I wasn’t really too concerned with the fallout or repercussions regarding the things I wrote.

However, since becoming the Director of Student Ministries, I began to analyze very closely the things I had been putting out on social media.

I started to wonder….”Is this the right way to do this?

Should I really be stating how I feel, especially if it may be counter to how some of our congregation feels about things?”

I struggled with this, a lot.

Then I watched a video of a black man named George Floyd being suffocated to death by a police officer.

Another senseless and needless death in a long string of senseless and needless deaths of black men and women.

I wanted to express how angry and upset I was. I wanted so desperately to respond on my social media accounts.

I again started to question my actions though.

I thought, “I am not a person of color. How is this going to be received?

What will happen if I use the hashtag #blacklivesmatter?

Do I really want to start another Facebook war with people who may not agree with me?”

So I put my computer up and chose to remain silent.

This was my response when our church started talking about human sexuality.

This was my response when we elected our current president.

It was the same response I adopted about most things that would be considered volatile subject matter.

I stayed silent.

Thank God for Maggie Proshek, Associate Pastor for Children, Youth and Families at Arapaho United Methodist Richardson, who as most of you know was raised and heard her call to ministry at First United Methodist Garland. 

I read a post of hers at facebook.com/magathaa810, and immediately felt ashamed and guilty that I had been silent.

She clearly stated her stance in a way that was respectful, dignified and in keeping with who she is as a Christian.

Yet you know exactly where she stands.

I suddenly felt very inspired and realized I had been looking at this all wrong.

My call as a Christian is to speak out against social injustice in whatever form it takes.

My call as a leader in our church is to be transparent and lead by example.

What example am I setting for our youth and college students by being silent?

What example am I setting as a father for my children by being silent?

Silence in not the answer, nor is it a solution to a problem.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for silence and discernment.

But when it comes to social injustice, silence is NEVER the answer.

ACTION, that’s the answer.

Being silent is ignoring my call as a Christian. So I’ve decided to remain silent no more. 

I fired up my computer and wrote one of the longest Facebook posts I think I have ever written.

I did the smart thing and asked my wife to review and edit it before posting.

If you want to read it, you can find it at facebook.com/joshua.medlock.5.

I want to give thanks to Maggie for being willing to take a stance, to throw caution to the wind and stand up for what is right.

I want to thank Senior Pastor Valarie Englert for always encouraging us on staff to challenge our congregation and talk about the hard stuff.

I want to thank Associate Pastor Caroline Noll for always being a voice of discernment and wisdom for me when I struggle.

I especially want to thank Yolanda Pendleton, Director of Missions, Community Outreach and Advocacy, Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries, and Cedric Kidd, Facility Superintendent, for being the voices of color I needed to hear, and for being willing to talk to me about racial injustice and my role in all of this.

All of these people have given me the courage and strength to take a stand, use my voice and be called to action.

I thank God for each of you.

I kept asking, “What am I going to do?” during these uncertain times.

Although these may indeed be uncertain times, I am quite certain about what I am going to do.

I am not going to be silent.

I am not going to stand idly by and watch as social injustice happens all around me.

I am going to continue to encourage our youth, our college students and you to talk about the hard stuff.

It isn’t going to be comfortable, but it isn’t supposed to be.

It isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth doing is.

It isn’t going to go away unless we who are called to action do something about it.

I am not naïve and I am very aware of how privileged I am.

Part of that privilege is being able to ask questions, contemplate my role and be involved as much or as little as I feel is necessary without having to actually experience any of it personally.

This realization was a starting point for me.

My heart breaks for those who are experiencing these things. It is happening to them. They don’t have a choice.

So I challenge us, all of us, to use our privilege and make a difference.

I challenge all of us to heed the call to action and not to remain silent.

It is a difficult decision and one that will most definitely make most of us uncomfortable.

I am certain it is worth it.

Photo from The New Yorker

I can’t breathe

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

A frequent starting point for me when writing is a story: some memory or everyday experience to help make what follows relatable or relevant (or both, on a good day).

In these days following the abuse and murder of George Floyd, there is no little tale with which to begin.

Mr. Floyd’s horrific story has unfolded before our eyes onscreen. We have heard some of the profoundly sad words of that story:

“please let me stay here …” 

“I can’t breathe …” 

The violent, intentional force exerted on Mr. Floyd by a white police officer – all the more awful because of its quietness – places the abuse of power that is white privilege front and center.

Any person who claims to love God-in-Christ cannot be silent.

For all who love Christ are called to a vastly different understanding of power. Not only are we to understand power differently, we are called to live the practice of our God-given power differently.
 
What is unfolding before us is a monumental clash of two universes.  In which one do we live?
 
On the one hand, there is a universe based on hierarchy and inequity in which the lightest skinned people call the shots; a toxic, misaligned world in which violence bubbles up all too frequently.

In such a universe, persons of color pay the price over and over.
 
And then there is God’s kingdom: a universe created by a loving God who calls the powerful to give up that power out of love and care for the diverse world God has created.

Let us consider for a moment the values of God’s kingdom:

* The first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Mark 10.31)

* Don’t compete to sit at the head of the banquet table (Luke 14.11)

* Everyone gets paid an equal wage in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20)

* God’s power shows forth in what is considered shameful by the world (I Corinthians 1.28)

* God-in-Christ empties himself, taking the form of a slave (Philippians 2.6-8)

* Following in the Way of Christ leads all believers to the Cross, and to death of self (Matthew 10.38-39)

What God values will clash with the values of white privilege and the abuse of power every time.

We are called to cry out “I can’t breathe” with the George Floyds of the world, especially if we benefit from the system of white privilege.
 
We cry out “I can’t breathe” not because we feel sympathy for Mr. Floyd and countless others like him, but because our privilege must be given up and put to death.

We must walk the Way of the Cross.
 
No more. No less.
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