My beautiful Wisconsin siblings, Greetings from El Salvador!  I am here with the cabinet to visit our own Jorge Mayorga’s homeland and to share in a mission trip and relationship building journey.  We bring the love of Christ from Wisconsin to be blessed in return by God’s love in El Salvador.

I am amazed by the leadership and hospitality of Bishop Juan de Dios.  I am also impressed by the missionaries here. We had a wonderful time in Ahuachapán painting a school and getting to know the residents of the area.  We toured churches and ministries, visited Ataco, then journeyed to Entre Nubes for worship and a luncheon.  In addition to more painting, we participated in a food distribution project, and we are preparing for two days of Bible School.

A highlight of this trip was our day in San Salvador at Jose Simeon Cañas Central American University, the Romero Museum and Cathedral, and a glorious visit with Father Jon Sobrino.  If you are not familiar with Fr. Sobrino’s work, I encourage you to read him, especially his book, Christ the Liberator: A View from the Victims.  The Methodist Church in El Salvador is expanding with a strong engagement with the poor and the violent through the churches, schools, and clinics.  Poverty is everywhere, but the ministry of the church is making a vital impact.  And in a society where gangs and violence are very common, but reconciliation and restoration is happening through the Methodist Church.

My humble wish for every Wisconsin United Methodist would be to make a trip such as this.  Our cabinet paid their own ways to engage in this amazing intercultural experience.  This offers such a helpful and necessary perspective on the many things we take for granted in our own daily lives.  In a very different setting, in places where there is great need, there is also great joy and bountiful spirit.  We will all be better people, and better leaders, for our time together here.

Jorge has done a good job showing us his home country.  It is a beautiful land with many challenges (just as we have at home) but we are hopeful and filled with God’s Spirit as we meet people and get to know a place very different in many ways than our own, but with many similarities in our desires and dreams.  This has been a gift – as is often the case with mission projects, we leave thinking we are going to bless others while the fact is that we receive the greater blessing.

As I spend time in personal reflection, I remember my dear friend, mentor, and colleague Bishop Mike Coyner.  His sudden passing on January 8 stunned and saddened me.  He has been such a gift to the denomination and to our North Central Jurisdiction.  He will be truly missed.  A very nice view of his ministry can be read here: https://um-insight.net/in-the-church/finance-and-administration/bishop-michael-j-coyner-dies/

Im and I will attend his funeral this Saturday, representing Wisconsin and sharing all your good thoughts and prayers for Bishop Coyner’s family.

I pray for all of you, brothers, sisters, and siblings.  Our church faces many challenges.  Our church experiences many hurts.  Our church looks to the uncertain future and struggles to live in faith more than fear.  But I trust in the Lord.  I trust in our Savior.  I trust in the God who says to Jesus and who says to all of us, “You are my beloved, my child. With you I am well pleased.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

My sacred and beloved siblings in Christ, our Council of Bishops endorsed the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation proposal that offers an end to the current deep division in our United Methodist Church.  I have mixed feelings about the proposal and what it means.

On the one hand, it not only recognizes our differences, but honors a very broad spectrum of beliefs, interpretations, visions, and desires for the church.  Not everyone will be happy, but that has been part of our dilemma – there is no way forward that everyone will agree with or support.  Our guidance to “Do No Harm,” comes to a place of doing the least harm possible in the short term, that we might do more good in the long term.  The Protocol offers a way for moderate and progressive United Methodists to be in ministry in a fully inclusive church and for traditionalists to continue in a ministry that honors certain restrictions.  This also recognizes that there is no healthy, adequate “one-size-fits-all” polity and doctrine for a wondrously diverse global church.  We have arrived at a place where graceful autonomy is required for different regions of our planet to make decisions that allow for effective ministry and witness.  The decisions most appropriate for The United Methodist Church in the United States are not appropriate for Africa, Russia, the Philippines, or other regions of our church.  We progress, we evolve, we adapt at different levels, in different ways, at different times.  In this case, unity has not been a strength. 

“Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'”

Matthew 25:45 (read Matthew 25:31-46)

What a truly amazing and wondrous time Advent leading to Christmas and beyond to Epiphany is.  Perhaps we have become too familiar with it for it to have the incredible impact it should.  God has been born on earth.  A poor carpenter and a young peasant maiden have been tasked to raise the Christ child.  Lowly fringe characters, shepherds are the first to visit.  After a time, Gentile astrologers visit, bringing gifts and bowing in worship.  This inauspicious beginning heralds the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It is absurd, ridiculous, and sets the stage for a gospel we love, but often choose to ignore:   God sent Jesus to give hope to the least among us.

We live in a heartbreakingly torn and battered world.  About ten percent of the world’s population experiences luxury; another 20 percent experience a large measure of comfort and security; but about 50% struggle with daily necessities and basic needs; and 20% are locked in a constant struggle for survival.  This should not be, and a sacred trust and responsibility rests with those of us called Christian to bring equity, economic justice, and safety to our broken world.

This call comes to us individually and collectively – as growing disciples and as communities of faith.  In our United Methodist heritage, it also comes to us as a Conference and as a Connection.  We never tackle the immense and overwhelming tasks of justice alone; we are in this together and it defines our purpose and the focus of our faith.  Those of us who have been blessed are expected to be a blessing.

Individually, it means to be kind, compassionate, caring, and generous.  Beyond feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners, we can offer comfort and support to those in emotional need, those going through divorce or job loss, those facing financial hardship.  It means finding out what people are going through and joining them on their journey.

Collectively, it means organizing our resources of time, talent, and treasure to make a positive impact on the world.  We live our discipleship in concert, merging our gifts, knowledge, experience and resources to help build God’s vision and do God’s will in the world.

There is simply no place for selfishness, entitlement, inflated ego, demanding one’s own way, judgment and condemnation in our personal and shared faith.  Humility, love and grace define us.  The word epiphany means “appearance or manifestation.”  Some Christians believe our instruction and commandments ended with the closure of the canon of Christian scripture.  United Methodists believe that God’s Word is and living Word, and that the revelation of God is still active through the working or the Holy Spirit.  God is manifest in the Body of Christ today, as we are constantly taught and challenged to be more loving, more giving, more caring, and more generous.  By the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, we come to know some things allowed in scripture are no longer appropriate and valid, and that some condemnations and rules need grace-filled and loving updating.  God is active in and through us “for the transformation of the world.”  Our Epiphany reminds us: God is love.  Our call and charge is to take and share this love throughout the world.  I invite you in this new year to recommit yourself to the vows we make as members – to uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  We who have much also have a great opportunity to share from our blessing and abundance.  Let us honor and glorify God through our gifts and service.  Praise God!

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung 

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
   let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
   let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
   before the Lord; for he is coming,
   for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
   and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96:11-13 (read Psalm 96)

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” My siblings in Christ, what are you doing this year to “prepare him room”?  I cannot reflect on the call to prepare room for Jesus without reflecting on those whom feel there is no room for them in our church.  If we will not make room for those whom Jesus loves, we do not make room for Jesus.

Being a Bishop is a humbling experience.  We are treated with great honor and respect, but we also encounter much unhappiness, challenge, and anger.  We are in a very fragile and hurtful phase in the life of our church.  This focuses on who we should have in our churches.  Do we want paroled criminals in our churches?  Do we want the poor, especially when they are unwashed, pungent, and sometimes disruptive?  Do we want those with mental, emotional, and physical challenges?  We are already struggling with our lesbian, gay, trans, bi, queer, intersex, asexual/ally siblings.  We still wrestle with powerful and repeated vestiges of racism and sexism.  There are many people whom Jesus loves that we are not comfortable with.

Many people resonate with the concept that “love came down at Christmas.”  If God is love, then God’s Son is love as well, it is in his DNA.  The very concept that we have the right to deny God’s love to anyone is anathema to the gospel and indicates that we are in need of God’s grace and transforming Spirit as well.  We do not judge; we love.  We do not destroy; we love.  We do not gossip and disparage; we love.  We do not accuse and condemn; we love.  We do not spew hate and insult and disrespect; we love.  This is not a hard concept to grasp.

In this Advent and Christmas season we have the opportunity to receive the greatest gift in history.  Not a gift we earned.  Not a gift we deserve.  Not a gift we fully appreciate.  But a gift that will not be taken away, and a gift that is intended by the giver that we share with others.  Our call, our purpose, our mission, and our reason for being is to receive the love God has given us and to share it with every other person we meet.  Don’t judge.  Don’t condemn.  Don’t insult.  Don’t injure.  Love.

We are living is a broken world of violence, hostility, division, and contempt.  This is not the will of God.  This is not the kingdom of God.  God’s people offer something else, something more, something better.  Come to us and you will receive acceptance and welcome.  Come to us and you will experience kindness and joy.  Come to us and you will find generosity, compassion, peace, and grace.  Come to us to find your place in the body of Christ.

It is almost Christmas.  It is almost the time for total transformation.  It is time to shed the former skin of selfishness, judgment, and anxiety, to be clothed with the light of Christ to share God’s glory with everyone we meet.  Let us not just observe Christmas this year, but instead let us become Christmas for a hurting and broken world.  Let us bring Joy to the World in real and tangible ways.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

Romans 13:11-12

Some might say that today we are wandering in great darkness.  Division in our culture, division in our church, division in our politics, division in many communities and homes.  Division equals darkness.  We feel we are living in dreary, depressing, darkening days.

And the ransomed of the Lordshall return,
   and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
   they shall obtain joy and gladness,
   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:10 (read Isaiah 35:1-10)

When I think of all the beautiful people in our Wisconsin United Methodist Churches, I realize that the vast majority of us enjoy a freedom and safety that the majority of people in our world may never know.  Freedom, and the many entitlements we receive, is too often taken for granted.  We truly do not know “how the other half (or two-thirds) lives.”  I have a deep wish that every United Methodist could travel to other parts of the world where the day-to-day reality is struggle, strife, subsistence, and survival.  It is eye opening.  It makes one so thankful for all the blessings we receive.

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
   Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:1-5

It is hard to believe we have arrived at another advent, the beginning of our church year, and the time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  We come again to a new beginning, and while we may be swept up in the holiday festivities between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we should take some time for deep reflection about what this all means.  Think with me, if you will, about what it might have been like in the first century for those awaiting God’s promises.

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength,
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgements he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Israel,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

1 Chronicles 16:8-13

The Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes, year after year, and beyond the bountiful feast, time with family and friends, we may come to take it for granted.  This is an excellent annual reminder to be deeply grateful for the many blessings we receive in life – for God’s providence, for richness, for fullness, for abundance.  All we have, we have received from God.  The majority of people in the United States have more than we need.  We are afforded wonderful comforts, dependable security, and frequent luxury.  We have so very much to be thankful for.  Sadly, this comfortable abundance is not experienced by so many.

He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

This year will be the 101st  observance of Veteran’s Day in the United States.  For some this poses an ethical dilemma – those who oppose war, but honor, value, and support the brave men and women who selflessly serve to defend their country.  It is not always easy to stand against war, while supporting soldiers.  Military veterans sometimes feel disrespected when they hear a pacifist opposition to warfare.

Yet, following centuries of bloodshed it is difficult to agree that violence is the best pathway to peace.  Our Hebrew scriptures are full of battle, conquest, pillage and violence, but our Savior is the “Prince of Peace.”  Blessed are the peacemakers.  Christ offers a heavenly and spiritual peace to the community in John.  In the face of enemy aggression, we are invited to turn the other cheek.

There is a wide gulf between the ideal and the real.  God’s will and vision for all creation may be a “peaceable kingdom,” but our lived reality is regularly one of competition, conflict, and attack.  In a day when those who cry “peace, peace,” find no peace, it is reasonable to wonder if it is even humanly possible.

And perhaps it is not humanly possible, but is it possible for God?  Do we truly believe that peace is God’s will for God’s people?  Careful reading of our gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul leave little doubt: peace is a central tenet of Christian faith.  In the face of injustice, Christians stand for justice.  In the face of oppression, Christians call for compassion.  In the face of violence, Christians call for mercy.  In the face of war, Christians stand for peace.

This will not always be a popular position.  But even from a pacifist position, Christians still honor the conscience of the men and women who choose to take up arms in defense of their country, their values, and their liberty.  There is no greater love than that a person would lay down her or his life for another.

I am not aware of a single family that cannot share stories of members who served faithfully to defend nation, state, family or way of life.  To honor their decision is to honor our God-given right to follow our conscience and to live in alignment with our deepest values and convictions.  While we may not all agree on what those values should be, it is not difficult to honor an honest and sincere sense of duty.

So, in the shadow of this Veteran’s Day, I encourage us all to reflect deeply on the values, beliefs, and commitments that guide and shape our lives.  We would want nothing more than each of these to be respected by others.  And so, we remember how important the Golden Rule is for a strong and civil society: “do unto others as we would have them do unto you.”  Some of us may pursue a life in the military, while others adopt pacifism.  Some may support technology, some education, some religion, some business.  All will determine that which is right for them.  Rather than judging, let us adopt a simple prayer: “Lord, may each of us live with integrity, using our gifts and knowledge and resources for good in the world.  Help us to do all within our power to create, to heal, to build up, and never to destroy.  Amen.”

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10

This is an odd time of year liturgically and culturally.  We have created an odd and fantastic cultural holiday called Halloween, which finds its roots in All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day.  It cannot be denied that both Halloween and All Saints Day have gone through superstitious and irrational evolutions throughout the ages.  But they both bring us back to an eternal and nagging decision: do we choose good or evil?

This may almost sound absurd to modern ears, but it has been a religious and philosophical dilemma for millennia.  Human beings are “double-minded.”  Their articulated values – what they say is most important – does not always (often?) align with their lived values – what they give most of their time, energy, and attention to.

I hear some people comment that Christians should not “celebrate” Halloween.  This is disturbing on two accounts.  As it has evolved through the centuries, it is not a “celebration” so much as a public “mockery” of evil.  Laughing at the devil is the surest way to force the devil to flee.  The devil, and Satanic forces (history tells us), is only as strong and powerful as the person allows it to be.  A Christian has nothing to fear from the devil because the devil has absolutely no power over God.  For many centuries, fear of the devil was viewed as a measure of faithlessness: the true faithful had no fear of Satan, because Satan has no power over Christians.

For ourselves today, I would wish a recovery and restoration of a celebration of All Saints.  The mockery of evil that characterized All Hallows Eve “cleaned house” for the spirits and essences of the holy and devout who have gone before.  We honor and praise the men and women who have offered their lives to inspire and to elevate others.  What a glorious party could we throw if we committed ourselves to looking for the good in all those who laid the foundation for our faith.  We should declare a festival day following Halloween where we strip away all the masks and costumes to be fully present to the true “saints” of our churches.  How wonderful to celebrate the ancestors who made life possible today!

This probably won’t happen (unless we give away a lot of free candy) but it is a nice vision and dream.  We often give more time and attention to the things we fear than to the things we truly believe and revere.  We worry about ghosts, instead of celebrating Spirit.  We look for demons when we are constantly surrounded by saints.  We are anxious about evil instead of remembering we are redeemed by an irresistible and undeniable good.

My friends, it is not a terrible thing to participate in Halloween activities, as long as we don’t give it power.  For Halloween is not the end of the story.  Beyond death, beyond decay, beyond ghouls and witches and monsters and boogie men, beyond even evil – there is God.  We have nothing to fear, ever.  God is with us.  God goes before us.  God follows after us.  And God has been present in the saints of our faith and our church from the very beginning and for all time.  Celebrate with me all the men and women who in their living and their leading have shined Christ’s light throughout the world.  In all ways, at all times, in all places, my beloved Christian siblings, choose the good!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

 

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.*Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Luke 10:38-42

This is such a familiar passage of scripture that we might think we have nothing new to learn from it.  Seemingly, this story preferences the devout attention of Mary to the many tasks of Martha.  For the Martha’s in this world, there is a sense of injustice.  Isn’t service and care as important as devotional attention?  Aren’t we called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only?  Shouldn’t Mary bear part of the load in order to free Martha to sit devoutly at the Lord’s feet?

This is a classic example of meaning and message getting lost in translation.  Latin, Greek, and Coptic translations offer subtle, but significant differences to this passage that I believe are important for us today.  In a basic and fundamental way, this is not an “either/or” story (being like Mary – good; being like Martha – bad), but a “both/and” story (two ways to relate to the Lord).  You see, the problem is not that Martha is doing anything wrong, and that Mary is in the right, but the key relates to another teaching of Jesus; that of Matthew 7:1-3, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’  Mary is perfectly happy and at ease with the choice she made.  But Martha is judging that Mary should choose differently.  Martha tries to impose a Martha standard on Mary.  Jesus in effect is saying to Martha, “Mary has chosen what is right for Mary, you Martha have chosen what is right for Martha.  Stop trying to make Mary into a Martha.  Be at peace with your own choice for yourself.”

What a necessary message for our day and for our church!  We are spending so much time trying to impose a “one size fits all” morality and ethics on a widely diverse, richly textured, and radically unique tapestry of people and perspectives.  Let those of us of one mind be at peace with our own mind and let us offer grace and space to those who relate to God and their own faith in uniquely different ways.  This is the heart of our gospel.

This nuance celebrates Marthas as Marthas.  Hospitality is a cornerstone gift of Hebrew and Christian culture.  Those who “live to serve” are beloved children of God.  But when we resent those who do not serve (or who do not serve like we do, or think like we do, or behave like we do) the grace-light goes out of our hearts and spirits and we are left feeling burdened by our faith.

What a gift, joy, and liberation it is to be able to celebrate everyone, no matter how different their approach and perspective might be.  To love all the Marys for being Marys, and loving all the Marthas for being Marthas (and the yous for being you, and the mes for being me) is a grand and glorious revel in the unconditional love of God.

Judging others robs us of the precious time to get to know them as beloved and valued children of God.  Finding fault denies us the opportunity to discover gifts, talents, and blessings.  Resentment undermines the joy that God intends.  Let us seek not to judge or condemn, but instead let us covenant together to seek, and to find, the Christ in each other.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

Matthew 8:23-27

In the wake of hurricane Dorian and in the midst of hurricane season, stormy seas provide a vivid image and a metaphor for life.  Throughout our world, throughout our country, throughout our church, and in our individual lives, storms are raging.  Some are physical.  Some are actual natural disasters. Some are emotional, some relational, some institutional, and some spiritual.  In tempest tossed times it is well to remember we worship a Savior “that even the winds and the sea obey him.”

As physical flood waters recede, I am amazed and impressed by the compassion and generosity of people.  Throughout our denomination, people set aside differences and disagreements to rally together in mercy and relief efforts.  And not only in the immediate response time.  I lift up and celebrate the ongoing and faithful work of ministries such as that at the Winding Rivers UMC under Deborah Burkhalter’s fine leadership, partnering with community, conference Volunteers in Mission, and regional relief organizations to help rebuild and restore community life following fall and spring flooding.  Natural disasters have long-term effects, and it is easy to think the need passes as quickly as the event.

As president of the General Board of Global Ministries, and my time in leadership with UMCOR, I am privileged to see our efforts at a global level.  I can hardly express the appreciation and gratitude I feel for United Methodists all around the world.  Where needs are great, The United Methodist Church responds – in every place, at every time, facing every challenge.  Be proud of the mission and disaster response of our church.

In our own Wisconsin Conference, we owe a large debt of gratitude to Bud Budzinski and Lynnette Jordan for their exceptional leadership in disaster response.  To our VIM and IVIM (Volunteers/International Volunteers in Mission) we owe our thanks.  In every church and every district, we have relief efforts and response teams offering faithful Christian service in the face of disaster.  This is our church at its very best!

Some may say that we would respond regardless of whether we were Christians or not.  On an individual basis, that might be true from time to time, but it is a source of pride and commitment in Wisconsin to serve those in greatest need.  I am inspired by the level of dedication to being Christ’s hands and feet, heart and voice to our communities.

There are two significant ways that we all can support the ongoing efforts of our United Methodist Church as it continues to engage in mercy and restoration work.  First, pray.  Do not discount the power and effectiveness of prayer.  Pray for victims and responders.  Pray for communities and governments.  Pray for relief efforts and resources.  Pray for healing and restoration.  And, please, don’t stop praying.  Many people need prayers six months after a disaster as much as, if not more than, they needed it immediately following tragedy.

Second, support UMCOR, our Advances and Advance specials, and our Special Sundays – particularly World Communion Sunday (which supports the education, training, and support of the leaders we will need to continue to be faithful into the future).  Our mission giving is a key element to our discipleship that transforms the world. 

We are a generous people in Wisconsin.  It is sometimes so easy to be distracted by the thunder and lightning crashing all around us, causing us to forget – Jesus is in the boat with us.  And as long as this is true, we truly have nothing to fear.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung 

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.

Psalm 104:16

I have been reflecting on the imagery from scripture concerning trees, especially the “cedars of Lebanon,” mentioned so often in scripture.  The mighty cedars were planted by God.  They represent the sound, the solid, the enduring –in essence the very will of God.  Repeatedly, the historians and prophets point to the destruction of the cedars of Lebanon as the sign of disobedience, disrespect, and disregard for God’s creation and covenant.

I find the metaphor of trees in a forest compelling, especially the redwood tree.  Redwoods grow to amazing heights, though they do not lay down deep roots.  Instead, the root system stretches wide, and the roots intertwine and fuse together with other redwoods.  One 350-foot redwood has roots stretching 100 feet from the trunk, creating an interconnected network of roots that gives strength and stability to the entire forest.  This interdependence is an excellent image of what our strong United Methodist Church system should be.  As each tree grows, it strengthens the system; what affects one part of the system, affects the whole.  Very similar to the Paul’s image of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 – where one member suffers, all suffer; where one is honored, all benefit.

Equally important is the integrity of the system, rather than the value of the parts.  It is impossible to uproot one tree without devastating other parts of the system.  The interconnection goes so deep and stretches so wide that to do damage to one part causes massive destruction to the whole body.  When I hear people talking about “amicable separation,” and “gracious exit” from The United Methodist Church, the imagery of the redwood root system always comes to mind.

I do not believe there is a path to separation that will not cause irreparable harm, both to the members and to the system.  Those individual parts who want what they want, no matter the cost cannot achieve their ends without doing deep harm to the system.  If indeed our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can do this so much more effectively with the system intact rather than in tatters.

I understand the depth of passion, commitment, emotion, and even the wide range of interpretations of scripture and theological perspective.  We are not of one heart, mind, or spirit on many things.  Yet we are call connected.  We share a common baptism.  We share a common covenant.  We are, all of us, recipients of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love.  We are reconciled beyond our own individual weaknesses into the body of Christ; not by our own doing, but by God’s.  Our roots are intertwined.  Our roots are fused.  We can no more go our separate ways with no harm or damage than we can uproot a single redwood.  “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” is a beloved refrain from “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” and this is more that fanciful poetry.  We are all fed, nurtured, cultivated, and cared for by God.  We are the product of God’s will, God’s vision, and God’s purpose.  We are the cedars of Lebanon that God planted, and it would be nothing less than sin to see our mighty forest torn apart, burned, and destroyed.

My constant prayer is a prayer for unity.  My ongoing desire is that we embrace fully the General Rules; doing no harm, committing ourselves to doing all the good possible, and attending cooperatively and compassionately with the many uniting and unifying ordinances/practices of God that open us constantly to the means of grace.  There are things that bend us, but I pray they might not break us.  There are things that threaten us, but I pray they don’t destroy us.  And there are things that cause disagreement, but I pray they do not ultimately separate us from each other and from the will of God.

Let us pray faithfully and fervently together: God, thy will be done, in us and through us.  Amen.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung 

It is my joy to invite Dan Schwerin, facilitator of our Task Force on the Wisconsin Option for the future, to share his thoughts and reflections in this week’s Soul Food.

Bishop Jung,

Thank you for your thinking in the last Soul Food message and your commitment to a ‘do no harm’ unity that engenders radical inclusion. I wonder if I can offer a response that is not meant to be a last or better word, only a word from a fellow hand in the field.

Some of us experience unity as being partnered in an abusive relationship with the Church. This partner abuses power and seeks silent assent. This partner lacks insight into its own behavior. The vessel of covenant becomes an instrument of abuse. That said our entire human condition is in a state of mutual incomprehension that requires covenant community for discernment. More than that, the corruption we share—whether it be human nature, or self-interest, or the inherent limits of having eyes on one side of our heads--means we must welcome God's wholeness for us to taste a healing wholeness. Your article reminds me we need a God whose nature is One, especially now.

With each passing day each of us moves toward surrender into the Wholeness of a Shalom that already is, the Wholeness that is our death and resurrection. At any moment an accident or angina could reveal the whole that is always present but easily forgotten. The healing nature of Wholeness is lost among us when unity is a bully stick. Unity is part of the sacred flow of righteousness that is the good of our life together.  We enjoin the good and enlarge it, and reveal the kin-dom of God when we can dismantle structures of racism and sexism and abuse that we might make the stream of wholeness larger and undivided.

Whatever measure of unity that remains after 2020, a harvest is ready now in Wisconsin. We cannot have some siblings live in fear of trials or reprisal. I feel urgency to make progress with the Wisconsin Way Forward and to choose a preferred future rather than have a lesser one dumped in our laps.

For those who may not have heard about the Bishop’s Task Force and the Wisconsin Way Forward, a new task force has been assembled with an inclusive composition in order to:

  • Increase among us just resolution practices rather than resort to trials.
  • Work with GCORR (the General Commission on Religion and Race) and the Connectional Table to dismantle racism/exclusion in our systems.
  • Deepen conversation about human sexuality and action a do no harm culture than can reach each of our people.
  • Engender a radical inclusion lived in our structures and the moral documents of our budgets.
  • Free our systems of Egypt that we can be led by love and serve those God is giving us to love.

This will take time and prayer—and call forth a healing unity—which is frightening to us now.

I have heard disappointment that persons who identify as LGBTQIA will be marginalized if we work on racism, and I have heard that if we work on LGBTQIA issues, our Persons of Color will be marginalized. I believe in our efforts to get Egypt out of our bones, we are most free when we are led by love, not fear. Bishop, I pray that we discover unity alive among us by means of love that dismantles the unjust systems before us.  

As you know, I have tried often to withdraw from service in our life together. I tire of the attacks of Christians. I think you, too, must tire of the attacks. That said, I am tired, too, of seeing others hurt—and the hurt we share. Too much is at stake. Your letter reminded me we cannot withdraw from the body that gives us life. The unity we enjoy in the life of God is a gift and our healing. Thank you for your leadership in making disciples loving enough to transform the world.

Yours in Christ.

 Rev. Dan Schwerin

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

The word that leaps out of this passage of scripture is “one.”  Bear with one another. One body. One Spirit.  One hope.  One Lord.  One faith.  One baptism.  One God.  I shake my head when I hear people question and challenge the concept of unity in our scriptures – “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  My blessed siblings in Christ, this is why we are here.  This is why we exist.  We are the one body of Jesus Christ, incarnate and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to participate in God’s holy work of the transformation of the world.  We do this together.  In the spirit and teaching of John Wesley -- Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. (Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739)– where he explains that we cannot be truly Christian in isolation from a faith community, we need each other.  The trend toward personal and individual holiness so prevalent and popular in recent times is completely foreign to the understanding of ancient Hebrew culture, early Christian culture, and our Wesleyan heritage.  We are Christian together.

In recent months, unity in the church has become not only a topic for discussion, not only the battleground for debate, but the focal point of a real effort to divide the church.  Again, John Wesley offers clear and precise opinion on the matter: “Itis evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christians with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren.” (On Schism, 1786)  There is no goodness or grace in separation, only an admission that we lack the love that can unite us together.

United Methodism proudly offers an open communion table.  We do not deny the grace and acceptance of God to anyone who wishes to partake of this holy meal.  And in our standard liturgy, we proclaim and request together that “through the power of your (God’s) Holy Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”  This is who we are.

But I am concerned about how different our actions are from our words and our core values and beliefs.  Do our racial and ethnic minority people feel they are one with us?  Do many women feel they are truly one, with equal voice and power and respect as many of their male counterparts?  Do our gay and lesbian siblings feel they are one with us?  And even because of our theological and political differences, I question how many of our same culture, same background, same gender baptized children of God feel they are one with each other?  In a Christian fellowship where God works constantly to forgive, redeem, unite, and reconcile people, we choose instead to focus on our differences.  In a denomination defined by prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, many choose instead to focus on sins, and faults, and failings.

My distress over these realities led me to create a Bishop’s Task Force on a Wisconsin way forward – leadership dedicated to discerning a Wisconsin Option as alternative to schism and split.  We cannot solve all the challenges and problems facing our church today, but we can work together to create a space for prayer, discernment, humility, and hope – a grace margin – that allows us to slow down, not be overly reactive, and to engage with one another in mutual respect and regard, to hold each other accountable to the highest standards of civility and dignity, and to put our Christian faith and values into action.  We want to be a people who do not attack, do not insult or assault, and who “do no harm” in the ways they treat one another.  We are making a commitment to “do all the good we can,” embracing a Golden Rule code of conduct, and seeking to think the best of one another instead of the worst.

Make no mistake, the Task Force is not doing this for the conference.  They will be leading the conference – all of us together; clergy and laity, younger and older, of every status of education, economics, ethnicity and heritage – to make a fundamental paradigm shift.  The Wisconsin Option is a choice of unconditional love and forgiveness.  We will live faithfully into the Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace for all who confess Jesus as Christ and Lord.  We will hold our disagreements as a sacred trust – to love those with whom we disagree and formerly judged as beloved children of God.

Let us pray for God’s presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we truly, deeply, and honestly seek healing, wholeness, and oneness as the body of Christ.  Let us spend time in contemplative reading of our scriptures and the teachings of John Wesley.  Let us enter into true and faithful Christian conference and conversation – both with those with whom we agree as well as those with whom we don’t.  By God’s grace, God’s will is done in us, and together we can witness to God’s miraculous work of grace.  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peacce, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung