Why I Follow Jesus

30 06 2011

by SCOTT MURPHY, Council of Twelve Apostles

Why do I follow Jesus? This question takes me back to a pivotal experience that helped me discover something in my journey with Jesus.

There was a period when I thought I was being faithful to God as I diligently prayed for God’s guidance. However, I failed to recognize that my prayers became restrictive when I added too many parameters to my desire to go where God wanted me to go. In the end, I achieved nothing I had prayed for. In my disappointment, I became angry with God. I thought I was being faithful in my desire to follow Jesus. But in the end, I felt that God had let me down.

During this time, God patiently waited for me to discover a new understanding of what following Jesus meant. I finally realized that my prayers had nothing to do with me following Jesus; what I had wanted was for Jesus to follow me where I wanted to go.

Over the years I have tried to keep that in mind, because when we choose to follow Jesus, he takes us into places and experiences that are different than when we try to get Jesus to follow us.

Why have I chosen to risk following Jesus? I’ve learned over the years that when I follow Jesus, it ultimately leads to encounters where the peaceable kingdom of God, Zion, is experienced in relationships with one another. When the tangible love of Jesus is expressed in and through our lives, even in our brokenness, something profound can happen to bring greater meaning to our life.

I’ll never forget when I was serving as a school principal and began to open my life more authentically with my staff. Though I had positive relationships with my staff, those relationships deepened when I began to give expression to the presence of Christ in my life. In sharing that part of my life, many of my staff opened parts of their lives and allowed me to enter their stories.

In those encounters I discovered stories filled with brokenness, loss, and pain. But something meaningful occurred when I offered to pray for them. Sharing our stories enriched our relationships, bringing value and joy to our lives.

On my last day before leaving to come to work for the church, one of my staff members came into my office. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Who is going to pray for me and my family now?”

I knew in that moment a tinge of God’s peaceable kingdom had come near her, bringing meaning, worth, and hope to her life.

Why do I follow Jesus? Because Jesus always points us to where God is present. And where God is, Zion is near, and life can experience the healing and wholeness God desires for all of God’s creation.

Celebrating 175 Years of Sacred Stories

27 06 2011

President Stephen M. Veazey's message honored the past and offered hope for the future.

by BARBARA WALDEN, Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation

As I listened to the bustle of ushers, worship participants, and sound checks on March 27 in the Kirtland Temple, I looked out a window.

I saw hundreds of eager guests, waiting outside the doors. Their weekend of activities was about to culminate in the Sunday-morning worship commemorating the 175th anniversary—to the day—of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

The deep-blue sky, budding trees, and colorful crocuses scattered across the Temple lawn seemed to reflect growing excitement as the crowd waited for ushers to throw open the Temple doors.

The group must have been similar to the one that gathered 175 years ago. People then also waited with bated breath for the doors to open.

Where they were eager to dedicate the “House of the Lord,” we found ourselves eager to celebrate their sacred stories. Stories of sacrifice, generosity, perseverance, and missionary zeal.

We took our seats that morning in the historic pew boxes that have held generations of Saints. We enthusiastically listened to Richard Clothier tell the story behind each historic hymn. We received inspiration from President Stephen M. Veazey’s powerful sermon and were touched by Evangelist Steve Davidson’s testimony of growing up in the shadows of the Kirtland Temple.

We felt grateful for 15-year-old Tina Davidson’s artwork on the program cover, and we found comfort in Presiding Bishop Steve Jones’ pastoral prayer.

As more than 300 members lifted their voices in “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” they joined generations of Saints who have shared our journey with Christ to build the peaceable kingdom.

The service ended, and the congregation slowly left through the Temple’s large, olive-green doors. We knew our lives had been changed.

May we always be reminded that we are stewards of a rich heritage. May our sacred stories continue to be a timeless blessing.


Building Community in Taipei

25 06 2011

Bill Gunlock with members of Community of Christ-sponsored Community in Taipei

by BILL GUNLOCK, Maple Grove, Minnesota, USA

It’s sipping and eating chicken-claw soup and a concoction of corn silk and watermelon rinds, two ancient Chinese recipes to treat illnesses.

It’s singing a Taiwanese folksong with some Chan (Zen) Buddhist monks and nuns at a monastery in south central Taiwan.

It’s singing American and Chinese folksongs with wealthy business people at a high-class karaoke center.

It’s being inspired by 18-year-old Johnson Sun, who takes two buses for the hour trek across Greater Taipei to be in Community…and returns home late.

Community is where relationships enrich people’s lives. Community is the name of our Community of Christ-sponsored get-togethers on Saturday nights.

April marked the 35th anniversary of my first arrival in Taipei, which lasted almost 10 years. I vowed to immerse myself in the Taiwanese culture. Today, at age 71, I still hold that philosophy. My return to Taipei brings much satisfaction…and deep and varied relationships.

World Service Corps invited me to volunteer support in the Taipei Community of Christ, known in Taiwan as Fu Yuan Jesu Jidu Jiao Hwei. I recently had retired as an educator—English as a Second Language, English/language arts, and part-time corrections teacher. I taught students from kindergarten through the first two years of college. They came from many cultures.

I didn’t choose these careers accidentally. In my childhood, my parents taught me that whatever I chose to do I should dedicate those skills for service to the Divine and our church. I’m still reaping the benefits of that approach.

Saturday evenings in my home, we have Community of Christ-sponsored Community. Varied activities encourage intimacy among individuals and groups. We respect our diversity—mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, foreigners, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Chinese traditional religion practitioners, and non-believers. Community is a holding pond to establish authentic relationships.

We don’t talk religion, though the church’s nine Enduring Principles are also Community’s. Folks sing, practice their spoken and written English, have fun, and eat. Community includes singing in three languages, oral reports of events and issues related to the nine principles, a lesson in English writing or speech, and time for quiet meditation for wellness and well-being.

Inevitably, someone wants to hear more about the sponsoring church. After three months, two Bible classes have formed. Another is being planned. They will become vehicles for the Divine’s workings and for sharing the gifts of our church.

It’s already happening. Chi Ming, Angela, and their 18-year-old son bring groceries to a member low on money. Le Wei encourages and supports 14-year-old Hsi Chao by attending his school play. Hsi Chao volunteers to help younger members with their English writing skills. Ten- and 11-year old Allan and Joseph Chueh volunteer to do deacon-like jobs. With the authority of being elders, Ben Hwa and I share our gifts of healing.

I will end with a story. I asked Kwan Chuan and his girlfriend, Wen Nin, “Why do you give so much time to motor scooter across town to my home to treat my sciatic soreness? And why do you bring the chicken-claw soup and watermelon rind-corn silk tea and spend two hours cooking it and massaging my leg?”

They had three answers. One: they were impressed that I gave up the comforts of my American home and family to come to Taipei to be a long-term volunteer. Second: I dropped some coins into a Buddhist nun’s begging bowl. The third was interesting.

Kwan Chuan said his ancestors led bands of marauders in Taiwan. By doing good works as a model for generations ahead, he and his father now want to turn that heritage around.

Kwan Chuan’s unselfish ministrations to people like me brought an unexpected return. His father, who formerly had distanced himself from his son, now has reconciled their relationship. Kwan Chuan is now to be the next son in the ancestral line to teach the ancient Chinese therapies kept in their family for generations.

Kwan Chuan and Wan Nin saw the Divine at work in their goodness. Understanding the relationship of goodness to the Divine is one of their goals. They will be two of those starting Bible classes.


“Be Examples to the Flock”

22 06 2011

Author Myles McCormick (front) with Marina (third from right), her family, and friends.

by MYLES McCORMICK, World Service Corps

I have been struggling with how to describe the life and work of Marina de Merino and her grassroots community-development organization in El Salvador. Instead of fleeing during the civil war atrocities of the 1980s, she stayed to struggle and save the soul of her homeland. “If we don’t set the example, who will?” she explained.

Having received her philosophy and work methodology directly from her 16-year mentor, Ed Guy, Marina is the embodiment of 1 Peter 5:2–3 NRSV:

…tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.

Be examples to the flock. True joy for her community and its successes are evident on her smiling face at every neighborhood meeting, church event, planning session, and worship service.

Marina spends hours every week maintaining friendships with community members around the Program Center for ADCASMUS (Association of Community and Environmental Development and Multiple Services of El Salvador). The people are both members and nonmembers of Community of Christ. This places Marina in a position to try to guide the community to a better standard of living.

At the Program Center lives a family: Carlos, Francesca, and their 8-year-old son, Josué. Previously they lived under a sheet of plastic on the bank of a river. The parents collected plastic and glass bottles and shards to scrape a living.

As a social worker, Marina took on this family case, putting them in her center for shelter and work. They have lived there three years, helping keep the grounds clean. Last year, Carlos and Francesca were baptized under a small grove of yellow bamboo.

Marina understands that a key to bringing sustainable change to her country and community is children. During the school year ADCASMUS facilitates a free before- and after-school study program for students in middle and junior high schools. Books covering basic classes and a licensed librarian-turned-educator-turned-social worker reinforce the program.

Students come from the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods. A few even travel over 30 minutes to learn in a peaceful environment. Leaders encourage all students to bring their parents. Then, the staff involves them in helping their children study.

Marina also has confronted violent gangs that harassed some students for “safe passage” through the neighborhoods. She and her faith ended this.

Marina left her home congregation in Santa Rita, near the capital, San Salvador, to found a congregation that shares land with her organization’s center. They are not in a fancy building in a glistening metropolis, three blocks from a Starbucks. Instead, they work where the need is greatest, where struggle is visible, where the sheep wait.

Nearly all ADCASMUS funding has originated from Community of Christ’s World Hunger Fund and is channeled through World Accord. Programs and ministries like those led by Marina are possible through Spirit-filled generosity. Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a states:

Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers of all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

God calls on us to respond with our gifts to foster reconciliation where there is brokenness. We answer by loving one another in a community of shalom. God calls us to shepherd the flock by being examples.

What the Address Means to Leaders

20 06 2011


On April 11, the day after his “The Mission Matters Most!” address to the worldwide church, President Steve Veazey spoke at the Leaders Gathering in Independence, Missouri. He asked: “What does it mean to you?”

Erica Blevins Nye, Young Adult Ministries:

“I take away great hope in the connections being made. Young adults are just as diverse as any of the rest of us, and many that I’ve talked to have captured the vision of what our church is all about. They understand our vision, our mission to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. They have a deep understanding of just what that means and calls us to do.


“Also, many young adults really powerfully want to change the world, change their families for the better, and grow personally. They just don’t quite get deep down in their heart how this Jesus guy has anything to bring to that great hope and call they feel in their lives. They don’t know how to make that connection for a spectrum of reasons.

“But what I’ve heard these last several days—and in the responses I’ve seen from young adults who have interacted with this just a little bit so far—is that it’s a foundational way for young adults who haven’t made the connection between Jesus Christ and world-changing mission. That brings me a lot of hope, particularly for those people who are hardest to reach, because they aren’t already in our doors.”

Greg Edwards, Chicago USA Mission Center:

“That we’re focusing on the mission of Jesus Christ. Not that we haven’t done that before; however, it is now so obvious. Now we’re able to share ‘who we are’ [through the Enduring Principles] and now ‘what we do.’…I haven’t felt this way since I was a teenager. I am excited for the future.”


Robert Cook, Cedar Valley-Nauvoo USA Mission Center:

“I believe this is prophetic, and I’m proud to be part of a church that has been led by prophets from the beginning until today.”

Wally Evers, Chesapeake Bay USA Mission Center:

“When I go back to share with our mission center…what I will share with them more than anything else is the trust and validity I get out of being here, hearing from our First Presidency, from our apostles. The sincerity and authenticity made me a believer. This is the right thing for us to be doing in the church.”

 Keith Townsend, Inland West USA Mission Center:

“I tend to hear and see everything through the eyes of a congregational financial officer. How is this going to affect my congregation back home?… I think these initiatives are terrific.”


Charlie Carter, Mid-Atlantic USA Mission Center:

“Twenty years ago Apostle Alex Kahtava put into our heads the idea of taking everything we did in congregational life, writing it on a white board, and erasing the whole thing. Then we started from scratch, asking ourselves: ‘What would happen if every single thing we did in our congregational life were based on mission?’

“That thought has been stirring inside of me…Recently I heard more questions that grabbed my attention. They were, ‘If Jesus in the flesh were a member of our congregation, what kind of a congregation would he want to be a part of? What kind of stuff would he want to do?’

“Over the last six months I’ve been sharing those questions and message with congregations.… We’re starting to get excited about that concept. Coming here has taken us very strongly to the next step.

“As we look at these mission initiatives, it begins to flesh out for us the answer to those questions. It’s been a very powerful next step for me. I can hardly wait to get back and share it with my mission center.”

Carman Thompson, Canada East Mission Centre:

“About a week ago I did a blog post called ‘Voice,’ and it resonated with a lot of people in my mission center. It talked about how over the last 50 years we’ve sometimes lost our voice. It ended by saying, ‘It’s time we found our voice.’ Of course, the critical questions are, ‘What is it we say with our voice? What is it we proclaim? And to what do we invite?’ The mission initiatives for me have provided an answer in terms of what it is our voice needs to proclaim.”


Robin Linkhart, Western USA Field:

“The last several years I have been thinking about mission and asking myself the question over and over again: ‘What is mission?’ Because of my ministry I’m called to teach others and explore together what mission is. I continued to go back to the passage in Luke 4:18 and 19, and to hear the passage of Luke in chapter 10.

“These days have been an affirmation to me that what is coming out of us as the body of Christ is God’s song of mission. …We are singing a beautiful, mighty chorus of mission. It’s expressed in lovely harmony and beautiful colors that reflect the whole world and all the peoples of the world. And we are singing it for the sake of the world.”


Bill Pennington, Chesapeake Bay USA Mission Center:

“I have this vision that’s been forming in my head since you shared this message. It was definitely from God. At my age I don’t get excited very often anymore, but I was really excited. I am excited.

“I think there is more hope for this church today than there has ever been in my lifetime. I think about going home. What will I say to people, and what will I try to make them feel?

“I want to make sure not only that I get the meaning, but everybody I share with gets the meaning. I intend to spend perhaps the rest of my life trying to do that with this message.”

Peace Award to Honor Terry Tempest Williams

18 06 2011

by BRAD MARTELL, Peace and Justice Ministries and LORI MARTELL, Independence, Missouri USA

Terry Tempest Williams’ intimate relationship with her religious family culture and the Southwestern landscape provided the bedrock of her life. But it was the pain of loss that propelled her along a journey that has made her one of today’s most-influential writers and environmentalists.

Williams, a visionary author, naturalist, and activist, will receive the 18th Community of Christ International Peace Award on October 21. The event will be open to the public and webcast live at http://www.CoChrist.org from the Temple in Independence, Missouri.

The theme, “Creating Hope, Healing Earth,” honors her work to promote peace with an ethical stance toward life. Through her eloquent writings, Williams teaches that environmental topics are social-spiritual issues that ultimately become matters of justice. She displays the power of peacefully taking a stand on behalf of life, land, and people.

A Time of Grief

Williams’ faith roots hold fast to her family’s six-generation Mormon heritage and the land of her childhood, Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Her family spent much time together in wild places. From a young age, she was captivated by the landscape, abundance of life, and God’s Spirit within the mountains, wetlands, red-rock desert, and Great Salt Lake.

Then the pain began.

From 1951 to 1962 the USA detonated bombs at the Nevada Test Site. A memory from 1957 has plagued Williams since age 2. The blinding flash of a nuclear bomb lit up the nighttime desert sky as her family was riding in a car. She believes the radioactive fallout from such tests might have led to cancers that claimed the lives of many family members.

In 1983, while she was losing her mother to cancer, one of her favorite sacred spaces, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near the Great Salt Lake, was drowning. The cause was the unforeseen impact of a poorly planned railroad causeway combined with years of record rainfall. The lake’s salty waters spilled into the freshwater wetlands, killing or driving out birds that Williams had grown to love as extended family.

It was a time of grief. She found the words to express it in the 1991 book, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It has become an icon of environmental literature and a testament to the importance of engaging life fully, even when it hurts. This work saw the development of Williams’ rare abilities to take a compassionate stand in the face of injustice and connect seemingly disparate issues.

Compassionate Engagement

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b

Williams gives us an example of what it can mean to live this scripture. Her message of peaceful civic engagement led to the book, Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness, which she edited with Stephen Trimble. This collection of stories was instrumental in protecting 1.9 million acres of Utah wilderness under threat from fossil-fuel interests.

At the 1996 dedication of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, USA President Bill Clinton, held up a copy of Testimony and said, “This made a difference.”

In her 2004 book, The Open Space of Democracy, Williams’ essays share her views on the ethics and politics of place, spiritual democracy, and the responsibilities of citizen engagement.

“For a democracy to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction…for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal…,” said Laurie Lane-Zucker, then-executive director of the Orion Society. “Follow the words of Terry Tempest Williams and you will find yourself in the company of as important a thinker as we have in these times of terror.…”

Finding Beauty in a Broken World, published in 2008, constructs a narrative of hopeful acts by taking the broken and creating something whole. Using mosaic as a metaphor, Williams explores the injustices and brokenness of two types of genocide: countless prairie dogs killed because people don’t like holes in their pastures, and the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda of one million Tutsi by Hutu extremists because of ethnic tensions.

Through these heartbreaking journeys, she finds the beauty, peace, and hope of restoration that can come only through a Spirit-filled soul.

Indispensible Witness

This limited space is insufficient to capture the artistic breadth of Williams’ work as writer, poet, editor, teacher, speaker, advocate, and peacemaker. She speaks for those who have no voice or are not often heeded by corrupt systems: wild places, reviled creatures, indigenous peoples, women, and children. Her keen insights challenge injustices on local, national, and global levels in a humble and gracious manner.

Community of Christ honors her life and work and invites all to attend and to absorb Williams’ message. It’s an indispensible witness for our journey as a church in pursuit of peace for all of creation.

Making Mutual Respect a Lifestyle

15 06 2011

by Stassi Cramm,
Council of Twelve Apostles

It was a hot afternoon in July 2008 as we arrived in Bandundu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). We had traveled all day, and Shannon, our 18-year old daughter, was not feeling well.

I wanted to cancel the HIV/AIDS prevention class Shannon was teaching, but she wanted to press on. Apostle Bunda Chibwe said it would be a large gathering because Community of Christ leaders invited all the churches in the village. He was right. Several hundred people gathered as the band played praise music.

The class went great. Shannon’s presentation was being translated from English into French and a local language. The subject matter of biological data and theological underpinnings made the process difficult and slow. The crowd attentively listened and took notes.

Many participants asked questions through the translators, and Shannon responded. It was amazing to watch as she and the people engaged one another.

In reflection, I realize I was witnessing the relationship principle of mutual respect (Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a) in action. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a Harvard professor, wrote a book, Respect: An Exploration (May 2000, Basic Books). Lightfoot explained:

Usually, respect is seen as involving some sort of debt due people because of their attained or inherent position, their age, gender, class, race, professional status, accomplishments, etc. Whether defined by rules of law or habits of culture, respect often implies required expressions of esteem approbation, or submission. By contrast, [Lightfoot] focuses on the way respect creates symmetry, empathy, and connection in all kinds of relationships, even those, such as teacher and student, doctor and patient, commonly seen as unequal (p. 9-10).

From her six case studies, Lightfoot identified six qualities that make a person respect-worthy: empowerment, healing, dialogue, curiosity, self-respect, and attention.

There was a mutual respect present in Shannon’s class that surprised me. She empowered the people by caring what they said and listening to their stories and struggles. She was curious about their questions and engaged people in genuine dialogue to learn more. She responded authentically with care and compassion, trying to help the people receive what they needed most.

Similarly, the people empowered Shannon through attentiveness and willingness to hear what she had to say.

Woven within this moment, everyone was both teacher and learner, and everyone wished to make the community safer. It was amazing, and it dawned on me this same experience was less likely to occur if Shannon were teaching in the USA.

Similarly, a young African woman probably would not have received the same respect if she had taught the class in DR Congo.

The extreme cultural differences allowed the traditional understanding of respect to be overcome. Age, gender, and education no longer were the determining factors for respect. Respect was born of the mutual nature of the experience as symmetry, empathy, and connection occurred.

Jesus’ message and relationships with all people challenged the traditional understanding of respect being a one-way action from subordinate to superior. Remember, Jesus challenged people to follow the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees but not their example of power, prestige, and expected respect based on position (Matthew 23:2–12). In contrast, Jesus typified mutual respect where, as Lightfoot defined, his relationships created “symmetry, empathy, and connection.”

Jesus met people in their everyday circumstances. He empowered them, brought healing, engaged in dialogue, expressed interest in their lives, helped them find self-respect, and paid attention to the real people.

This happened when he met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–11), when he ate a meal with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10), when he healed the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13), and in many, many other encounters with people. All of Jesus’ relationships demonstrated the relationship principles we are called to express, including mutual respect.

How often have you heard someone commiserate that she or he wished another person would have more respect? As an example, I am sure you have heard some version of the following: The problem with our society is that youth no longer respect authority. This use of the word respect is not about mutual respect. It is about one-way respect.

Our challenge as faithful disciples is to move beyond this form of respect and develop mutual respect in all of our relationships.

The website http://www.OurWorldHarmony.com defines the four corners of mutual respect as:

I respect myself.
I respect you.
You respect yourself.
You respect me.

In this model, mutual respect occurs when all four of these conditions are met. This model stresses that mutual respect begins when each of us learns to respect oneself and extends respect to others. We cannot make someone else respect us, but we can make it easier by leading a life of behaviors and attitudes that are respect-worthy.

Similarly, we can look for respect-worthy qualities in others as opposed to making them earn our respect.

One of the most-poignant moments in Shannon’s class happened when an older pastor from another denomination asked a question. He quoted several Hebrew scriptures and asked Shannon why her church would teach information that conflicted with these passages.

I held my breath, wondering what Shannon would say. I hoped Bunda would intervene. He was standing next to Shannon, serving as a translator. Bunda simply waited to translate Shannon’s words.

Shannon smiled and acknowledged the importance of the man’s question. Then she explained how Community of Christ interprets scripture through the example of Jesus Christ. She explained how we are called to recognize the worth of all persons and love both neighbors and enemies.

She explained that these principles are lived out by providing information to everyone so they can make informed decisions. The man listened with interest. His body language did not suggest he was convinced, but he seemed to be considering what he heard. He started to sit down and then stopped as he thought of another question.

He asked if Shannon felt disrespected by her parents because they taught her information a young girl should not need to know if she was living a respectable life. Shannon smiled as she explained that she felt respected by her parents, and similarly, she had great respect for her parents.

She said her parents respected her enough to trust she would make the right decisions in life if equipped with accurate information. She also said her parents taught her many lessons about life and helped her integrate her knowledge into responsible choices.

She said her parents’ respect for her made it easier for her to respect them. She ended by suggesting that if the people of this village truly loved and respected the younger generations, they would break the silence. She encouraged the older adults to teach the younger adults about the challenges within the village, such as HIV/AIDS, and how to make responsible choices.

In her response to the pastor, Shannon had defined the nature of mutual respect without even knowing she was expressing an idea that pushed against most cultural norms. As much as the world has changed since Jesus walked the Earth, facets to cultures and behavior have not changed much. We still get caught in expecting respect based on predetermined criteria of power and position.

In many relationships, developing mutual respect takes time and patience. This is true between spouses, co-workers, congregational participants, and in all of our relationships—especially with people we do not naturally like. We must be willing to listen and truly understand each other. We must be willing to set aside preconceived notions about each other and honestly learn about who a person is and who a person is becoming.

We must be willing to risk with one another by being transparent. We must be willing to let each other make mistakes without judging and attributing negative motives to the one making the mistake.

We must be generous with our love, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. We must be willing to trust one another and cling to one another even amid conflict. We must be willing to confess that we can respect each other even when we do not agree.

God is calling us anew to embrace the principle of mutual respect in all of our relationships, just as Jesus taught. May we rise to the challenge and embrace mutual respect that “creates symmetry, empathy, and connection in all kinds of relationships” through the expression of empowerment, healing, dialogue, curiosity, self-respect, and attention.

Looking for Jesus

13 06 2011

by Carolyn Brock
Spiritual Formation and Wholeness Ministries

Who is Jesus, really? How do my ideas, images, and experiences of Jesus impact my spiritual life? Am I really a disciple of Jesus? Is his way, his vision, his life pattern, his consciousness, his oneness with the Divine the way I am willing to have my identity and choices be shaped? Am I willing to follow Jesus into wilderness places of ego-unraveling, soul-forming encounters with God?

Am I willing to receive sacred sight, a compassionate heart, inner hearing, radical courage, and a blazing vision of healing and justice for the creation of God? Do I really want to go that far, be that counter-cultural, work that hard, die that much, or be that consumed by divine stirrings and longings?

How deep and real is this Jesus thing? And what would it mean for his radical way of knowing, and being, and yearning, and yielding, and healing, and dying to become the door, the gate, the path, the center through which I am drawn into oneness with the Holy One he loved?

These questions haunt me. They feed my ongoing, flawed pursuit of the real Jesus; the yet-alive and accessible Jesus. We are called to pursue the mission of Jesus Christ with renewed clarity and fervor. We are told that passion for mission begins in transformative encounters with Spirit. How do I learn this truth from Jesus?

How do I go with him into the cave of the heart, the still, empty, receptive place where Spirit blows and speaks, caresses and shapes? How do I feel one wave of the divine longing, see one glimmer of the passing holiness, hear one whisper of the eternal voice that so captivated and compelled Jesus? How am I sent into mission from this place of encounter intimately known by Christ?

Lots of questions. Perhaps endless answers based on our diverse spiritualities and Christological perspectives. The two spiritual practices on this page support my search for the Spirit-drenched Jesus. Both involve the gift of divine imagination and the practice of spiritual attention.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

11 06 2011

Ministry is helping children escape the pangs of hunger.

by Jeri Lauren Lambert
Children and Family Ministries

It started with a simple message: “You need to know kids in this area go hungry when they are not in school.”

Standing in the aisle of the Tunnel Hill Congregation in Illinois following a worship service, I was met by a former school administrator with this unsettling news. Three more times I received this same message from the same person, always brief, always disturbing.

I began to picture children riding the bus with mine, eager to get to school on Monday, though not to see friends or a favorite teacher, but to have breakfast after a weekend with little or no food. And I began to be sick to my core, often in tears on Sunday evenings as my own children bickered over meals.

I shared my discomfort with the Tunnel Hill Congregation. Following a service a tearful woman approached me and said, “I will help you do whatever needs to be done.”

While researching childhood hunger we discovered an organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, called Blessings in a Backpack. Angie Harner and I learned we would have to raise $8,600 annually to do the program, given the need in our school.

Within five weeks we had the money from a rural community with a population of fewer than 1,000. Now each Wednesday volunteers assemble 60–75 bags of food delivered to the school by a grocery store. On Fridays, while the children are at recess, teachers put the bags into children’s backpacks.

When we participate in the sacred meal, the sacrament of Communion, we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, and we recommit to being the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of God in our community. We are energized for the work of bringing the peace of Jesus Christ to the world.

For Angie and me, we are blessed to be a blessing.

Blessings in Abundance

9 06 2011

Linda McDaniel (l.) provides Lenten ministry

by David R. Brock
presiding evangelist

I can’t decide.


Do I tell about Evangelist Digna Altamirano of Honduras traveling (through the generosity of tithes and offerings) to Cartagena, Colombia, to offer ministry of blessing where it has never before been offered?


Do I tell about the 10 evangelist blessings, four baptisms and confirmations, and the classes and visits with Pastor Yaneth Hernandez to members and friends in just a few activity-packed days? Or maybe I should just tell about 80-year-old “Abuela” (grandmother), who hugged Digna and gave her a blessing with a prayer of encouragement and the accompanying presence of the Holy Spirit.


Or, maybe I should tell about the noon-hour Lenten journey experiences at Shalom Place in the Temple each workday from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. I could describe the Native American “Wiping of Tears” ritual with sage and eagle feathers and ceremonial tobacco and the silence and the prayers and the drumbeat and the song to the four directions and the Presence that freed some to ask Community of Christ elders to offer the sacrament of healing afterward.


Should I tell about the pain and struggle that so many carry as secret burden: the child who suffers from mental disease; the struggle for strength to break a debilitating habit; the loss of trust in a relationship? Or, I should try to describe my own feelings as I lay my hands on one of those heads, with no answer, no solution, yet knowing God heard and responded as tears of relief flowed?


But, there also is the homework club in Spokane Valley, Washington, USA, or the Homestead Community Café at the Guildford Congregation in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, or the amazing story of how Edwin Wanyando came to be ordained as evangelist in Nairobi, Kenya, a few weeks ago.


So many instances of sacramental living daily brought to my awareness in our faith community, in the human community, in creation. Which one do I choose?


I can’t decide.