Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Love Being a Father

I was looking through one of my books in my personal library the other day and found this note from my daughter. I wonder what year it was that she gave it to me as a gift. Now she is 20 years old and quickly becoming a young professional.

Sometimes little things like this reach out and touch me with deep joy! I love being a father.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Isaac Taylor Grave

I recently had another opportunity to visit the grave of my great, great, great grandfather, the Rev. Isaac Taylor. He was a Methodist circuit rider and preacher during the 1820's during the early waves of Methodism in Alabama and Mississippi (it was one conference at that time). His body is buried in the graveyard of Taylor Memorial UMC near Trussville, Alabama. The church is named after his brother, Rev. William Taylor, the pastor who founded the church.

It is always a holy moment to stand at his grave, and I do so from time to time. Years ago, I had been praying about some of the difficulties we face in the United Methodist Church, wondering if we would face structural division in my lifetime. I stood at his grave weeping and a wave of peace came over me. It is as if the Spirit spoke, saying "Steve, you were ordained in the United Methodist Church. Your father was ordained in the Methodist Church. Your grandfathers were ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Taylor was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church. It doesn't matter what you call it. It will never matter how you organize it, for the fire of Wesleyan faith will keep burning." I recalled that during his ministry, the church divided over issues of slavery.

I began a long process of letting go and trusting God for the future. My ministry has been a journey of realizing that I am stepping into a larger picture of the Spirit's movement across many generations. This brings me great peace and a sense of context. It is not up to me to fix the larger issues. It is my calling to serve the gospel faithfully and trust God for the rest. The future belongs to God.

His grave stone reads:

In memory of
was born January 27th, 1802
died May 5th, 1871
He was a minister of the gospel 50 years
and died in the hope
& Consolation of the same.
"Blessed are the dead
who die in the Lord."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Learning Laboratories of Love

I have been reflecting on this quote from Ken Wilson's book, "Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back." I hope the book blesses others as much as it has blessed me.

Jesus brand spirituality is a path that leads beyond individualism toward community. Community is where we practice the skills of cooperation - of love, mutual respect, forbearance, conflict resolution, forgiveness, the balance between stating our own needs and taking concern for the needs of others.

Jesus is in the business of forming such communities. He came to form a movement, a social network, a corporate enterprise organized around his teaching and empowered by his presence. The Greek word for such communities is ecclesia (translated "church"), meaning "called out" or "gathered ones" ...

Jesus prepared hsi first disciples to participate in these communities by giving them a new commandment: "you must love one another" (John 13:34). The New Testament writings have about forty such sayings, including "love one another," "forgive one another," "correct one another," and "bear with one another." Communities that formed around a shared commitment to Jesus become laboratories where these sayings are practiced.

It's not a picnic. Or if it is, there's plenty of potato salad sitting out in the sun too long. These communities are not the perfect family you always dreamed of. From the earliest times, these communities achieved mixed results. At times, they almost seemed to be little conclaves of heaven on earth; at other times, judging from the earliest records, they were racked with dissension and conflict.

The Jesus communities were never conceived of as utopias. They are learning laboratories of forgiving love. They are messy places where we make mistakes in relating to others and practice the repair mechanism that Jesus stressed so heavily in his teaching ... The primary repair mechanism is forgiveness.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Hymn Text - "Great Incarnation"

A few weeks ago while on vacation, I had opportunity to visit a little church near my brother's lakehouse in Renfroe, Alabama. Shiloh UMC was of particular interest since my grandfather served it 70 or 80 years ago. They had recently remodeled the church and it was so beautiful and hospitable.

As Pastor Ricky preached, the new stained glass windows lit up in the sunlight. The three windows depicted the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Over the years I have often reflected on these three events as the three great mysteries of our redemption. I wrote this hymn as a reflection of my visit and we sang it at Grace UMC a couple of weeks later.

“Great Incarnation”
Suggested tunes: CANONBURY or TALLIS’ CANON

Great incarnation, bring to sight
the presence of your holy light.
Transform the earth, and let it see
God’s love divine enfleshed in me.

Great crucifixion, opening of
the fountain of self-giving love,
reveal the pathway to forgive.
Christ’s new commandment let us live.

Great resurrection, set us free,
complete salvation’s history.
New life upon your people rain.
To live is Christ, to die is gain.

Oh holy God, great One in Three,
who wrote this sacred trilogy,
show to all those who seek your face
the rhythms of redeeming grace.

Copyright 2010 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Spirituality of Hovering

A hummingbird came to visit me this morning, Lord. Just for a few seconds, a long time for one who flits and buzzes so, she hovered. I just knew she was pausing to have a good look at me. She was just four feet away.

Was she asking of me or seeking to share her wisdom? Was she curious or was she poised to teach? She has much to teach.

She is who she is, nothing more and nothing less. And she is beautiful in what she does. She changes the world, one flower at a time. Her mission is to be a very important part of an intricate ecosystem. Her purpose is to be, and to be who she was made to be.

What of me, Lord? Why do I grow anxious about my place in the universe? Perhaps it would be best to hover a while.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prayer of St. Catherine of Sienna

I used this for our pastoral prayer on Sunday. We were reading the book of Hosea and fathoming the incredible, never-ending grace and love of God that pursues those who stray. It is from St. Catherine of Sienna, a 14th century Dominican theologian.

I share this beautiful and passionate prayer with you in hopes that it blesses your day to know the longing God has for us.

“O eternal Father! … O eternal, infinite God! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her within yourself, as if you were drunk with desire for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her. You clothed yourself in our humanity, and nearer than that you could not have come.”