My heart has been heavily burdened this week since the news of the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The burden increased as responses shifted from concern for the people to politics and gun laws and domestic abuse statistics and the state of mental health reform in the United States. Certainly, all of these discussions are important, but they miss the point and too quickly shift our attention from the horror and pain of the act itself. For me, my heart breaks for the loss of innocent life, the desecration of a sacred space, and the brokenness of a world where violence is quickly becoming the default solution to all our disillusions and discontents. We need a Savior.

So, I offer a prayer, and I implore all my sisters and brothers to join me in prayer:

Healing Light, Healing Lord,

Be with us. Be with the victims of the shooting in your House in Sutherland Springs. Receive those who died into your glory and grant them an everlasting peace. Be with those who were injured and grant them a peace that was taken from them. For those present who survived, may you restore to them a sense of safety and security that they may never otherwise feel. For the family, friends, neighbors, and loved ones of First Baptist Church, hold them in your loving arms and remind them that violence and destruction never has the final word. For the whole family of God, encourage us and raise us above fear, anxiety, outrage, and a desire for vengeance. Help us know that violence is never the way to peace; and that weapons aimed at humans never build up, but always destroy.

Gracious Lord, in a world where there is so much despair, let us never grow weary as we strive for peace. Forgive us for the many ways we fail to be kind, caring, gentle and merciful. And help us to forgive those for whom life becomes so terrible that they see no other way forward but to destroy their brothers and sisters.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16.34:

Thanksgiving – the annual November celebration – is not a part of my Korean culture, and I do not know the full historic and political meaning. I do know that some of our Native American sisters and brothers have deep feelings about its implications, but I believe there is grace in what it can mean – a day and time dedicated to giving thanks to God for the multitude blessings in this life.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the phrase “into each life some rain must fall,” and it would be foolish to deny this is true, but we should never allow our focus to remain on the trials and troubles life can bring. Certainly, there is pain and loss, tragedy and suffering, and times of darkness and despair, but these do not define life. For the vast majority of the people on this planet, living day to day can be an uphill battle, but in my many travels, I am always deeply impressed that so many who have so little contain much joy. Thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation abound. Many who, by United States standards, are among the poorest of the poor find reason to dance and laugh and sing. How can this be?

I believe, quite simply, that we are created in the image of God, and that our God is a God of joy, celebration, jubilation, fullness, and abundance. Perhaps not always in material things – I have never subscribed to a “prosperity gospel” – but in the deepest, spiritual, most meaningful things. We are blessed when we have love of family and friends, when we live in community, and when we care for others as they care for us. We are blessed in body, mind, and spirit, which makes life an adventure, a mystery, and journey of discovery. We are wonderfully made for laughter, for pleasure, for contentment, and for joy. It is part of our human nature to desire good for others, to make sacrifices, to care and to give. Generosity is essential to our spirit, a fruit alongside gentleness, kindness, love and joy. Our hearts soar at the sight of a sunset, a rainbow, a star-rich sky. We resonate at the deepest level with the noble, the beautiful, the right, and the good. Oh, my friends, we have so very much to be grateful for!

The invitation that closes the Book of Revelation – Come, Lord Jesus! (22:20b) – is an invitation to both the first and second Advent. We don’t know the time or place of the second Advent, but again, we launch out into the Christian year with remembrance of the first Advent. So, as we embark on yet another Advent journey, I wish to issue a word of caution: be careful what you pray for; you just may get it!

Too often we allow Advent to be a safe, comfortable, passive time of waiting for the beautiful, gentle, and mild baby Jesus. Our hearts warm to the retelling of the Nativity, with shepherds and kings, donkeys and lambs, angels, and Mary, and Joseph, and the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. What a lovely, simple, pleasant picture.

But I want to invite you to take some time for serious contemplation. Just what are we waiting for? What are we asking when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus”?  Some deep meditation may reveal that we are asking for much more than we think we are. We are not simply asking to see a baby in a manger; we are asking for a Messiah and Lord who will change us at the very core of our being. When we say “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are also saying:

  • Come, Lord Compassion – caring for others is no longer optional. When Jesus comes, we are all brothers and sisters. What we do to “the least” we do to Jesus. Caring for others – celebrating their victories and sharing in their sorrows – becomes for us a way of life. We become agents of God’s compassion in the world.
  • Come, Lord Mercy – no longer do we seek vengeance or wish for others that they receive punishment for wrong. When Jesus comes, we no longer seek harm or retribution – we wish the best for all. We extend God’s grace and forgiveness to all.
  • Come, Lord Justice – true justice is much more than mere punishment; it is a commitment to fairness, equity, sharing, and support. Jesus brings with him the essence and Spirit of the Jubilee – a time where everyone is free and fairly treated, where distinctions of rich and poor, have and have-not, are erased.
  • Come, Lord Healing – in Christ, we seek true unity of Spirit and witness. We are made one body, knit together in love, faith, hope, Baptism, proclamation, and redemption. Judgment falls away as we forgive and forget what divides and destroys in favor of the things God calls us to care about. We are healed as we let go of hates and hostilities, and commit to the celebration of the glory of God’s creation.
  • Come, Lord Transformation – we are made new creatures in Christ Jesus. No longer do we suffer insult and injury, low self-esteem or crippling fear. It becomes crystal clear when Jesus is born in the manger of our hearts – we are known by all for the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit that manifests in what we say and do. We become known for our love, our joy, our peace, and our patience. When people think of us, they think how kind, generous, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled we are. People know that we are safe, in that we speak the truth in love, and we embody God’s love and grace.

In our highly individualized, personal and self-sufficient culture, we sometimes need powerful and impressive reminders that we are stronger together than we are apart. United Methodists proudly proclaim that we are a “connectional Church,” but often this is proclaimed at an abstract and conceptual level. While we may say we are stronger together, we often behave as if we think we need no one beyond ourselves.

But when we honestly face the immensity of the needs in our world – needs for food, shelter, education, safety and security, mercy, healing, and justice – it becomes quickly clear that individually we can accomplish very little. The recent rash of natural disasters reveals just how vulnerable and fragile we are. Facing floods, fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes cannot be addressed adequately by individuals, or even individual congregations. This is the brilliance and benefit of our connectional Church.

In this season preparing our hearts and minds for Thanksgiving, let us celebrate our strength in unity together through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Of all our causes to celebrate, UMCOR must rank toward the top. Through unity, solidarity, sacrifice and commitment, each and every United Methodist enters into the divine synergy God produces in our Church – together we truly are greater than the sum of our parts.

I want to encourage you to go spend some time on the UMCOR website at www.UMCOR.org. I guarantee that your heart will be “strangely warmed” by the stories of grace, compassion and service.

We are in Puerto Rico, partnering short- and long-term strategy for response and recovery. There will be a need for volunteers in Puerto Rico for quite some time, and UMCOR ensures that we will be with them for the long haul.

We are present in Myanmar and Bangladesh, engaged in the migrant refugee crisis with Rohingya Muslims. As more and more minority abuses increase, UMCOR responds to provide comfort, supplies and support.

Even when I cry out, “Violence!” I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7)

Again, our country is shocked into silence by wanton, senseless violence. The shootings in Las Vegas are simply the most recent in a long line of massacres and bloodbaths committed by sick and deeply disturbed individuals. Horror mixes with heartbreak. What in the world is happening? We cannot fully fathom the depths of despair that result in such hopeless acts of domestic terrorism. Each and every time we ask, “How could such a thing happen?”

Our inability to understand such levels of brokenness say much about our ability to repress, deflect and deny. Throughout our Hebrew and Christian scriptures; prophets, poets, scribes, priests, and apostles addressed the same questions and concerns about violence and inhumane acts. It is in the fallen and selfish nature of human beings to lash out violently in the face of hopelessness and despair. When there is no hope, no faith, human beings take matters into their own hands. Violence is the lowest form of response to a world gone wrong. As one person hurts, so they wish to inflict hurt on others.

In Genesis 6:11, the author writes, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Perhaps we should reflect on whether these words might apply today? Our American culture glorifies and adores violence. Television shows, such as “Supernatural” and “The Blacklist,” depict weekly images of torture and viciousness. Movies, such as the new remake of “Death Wish,” make heroes of violent vigilantes. Guns are objects of worship; water and fire are made into weapons. We take it all in stride, never batting an eye. An epic tragedy the scope of the Las Vegas shootings quickly becomes a subject for debate by gun enthusiasts who claim that “anything can be turned into a weapon by someone bent on harming another.” One National Rifle Association spokesperson made the claim that a rifle is no more dangerous than a hammer or a kitchen knife, completely ignoring the damage a hammer might do from over 400 yards away. It is an insult to intelligent people everywhere to compare an automatic weapon that kills and injures hundreds in a matter of seconds from a distance greater than four football fields to a hammer or a kitchen knife, but this simply distracts from the horrible tragedy of victims and gunman.

From Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Ph.D., The United Methodist Church

Mr. President, I respectfully write to you with four appeals.

First, I want to appeal to you for exemplary leadership in the case of North Korea. In a volatile and dangerous situation, a calm, cool, well-reasoned response is necessary. Our American media gives a limited, and somewhat biased view of what is happening on the Korean peninsula. Certainly there is evidence of rash and short-sighted decisions; but such evidence demands a more mature and measured response from global super-powers. North Korea needs to be taken seriously, and offered an opportunity to relate on the global stage. Name-calling and angry threats cannot make this situation better. But diplomacy that opens the door to healing and reunification is vitally important. The Korean War is yet to end, and the armistice in place is no substitute for a peace treaty. Further violence and damage is unneeded and unnecessary. Continued diplomatic conversations – such as those with South Korea and Japan – must include leadership from the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). At the very least, the United States must rise above the caustic rhetoric to offer a better way. We must offer a witness of peace, not violence. Jesus Christ reminds us, “blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9a)

Second, I appeal for a commitment to lead the globe, and not just our own country. Economic justice, access to education, open source technology, and freedom of movement provide our entire world with hope for the future. By keeping open borders, we allow those most likely to become enemies to become friends and allies. Young people of all races, creeds, countries, and ethnicities contribute to global peace and security as they obtain greater promise of economic justice and equal opportunity. Our DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policies are a bright and shining hope for our whole planet. The more we support the youth of the world today, the more we lay a foundation for peace and security for our future. We have more than enough to share. We should be the country of open hearts, open minds, and open doors – a visionary commitment of The United Methodist Church. Open hands, as well, are a gesture of peace and hope for the future. This is what makes America truly great. Again, Jesus admonishes, “For if you only love those who love you, what reward have you?” Matthew 5:46a)

Leaders in the Church are often asked to speak about sin and evil. For a wide variety of reasons, people want bishops to declare this act or that behavior as sinful. This is always challenging and charged with great emotion. The condition of sin and the commitment of individual sins are not the same thing. To commit a sin is not equivalent to being sinful. Jesus said, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)  For United Methodists, it is important to reflect on what might constitute the unforgiveable sin?

The most powerful evidence of the Holy Spirit in our United Methodist heritage is the defining and abiding commitment to evangelism, missions, and social justice. These three core principle commitments make us who we are, and we believe they are the God-given, Holy Spirit-driven mandate that defines our mission and purpose. We make disciples – equipping people to share the Christian faith, to give generously and sacrificially, and to stand with the poor, the marginalized, and the stranger – so that our world may more closely resemble the kingdom of heaven. We are a Micah 6:6-8, Matthew 25:31-46, Deuteronomy 10:19; Philippians 2:1-18 Church (look them up) that is blessed in so many ways to be a blessing to others.

I see a terrible sin being committed in our world today – the pending treatment of Dream Act (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) young people through legislative action. Why do I feel this is sin?  The original meaning of the word we translate as “sin” was “to miss the mark,” or to stray from the true way. The true way, as defined for Christian people, is to break down all dividing walls, and to understand that the vision of God is unity, reconciliation, healing, and wholeness. Jesus, and subsequently Paul, spoke against artificial divisions of “us” and “them,” those who belong and those who don’t. Both our Hebrew scriptures and our Christian testament envision a reality where economic, ethical, and restorative justice prevails. Those who have share with those who have not; and those with advantage empower those with less power.

“When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

Genesis 9:14-15

In June of 2008, many regions of Wisconsin were declared disaster areas due to flooding, but few of us can truly relate to what is happening in Houston, and other areas of Texas and Louisiana. It is a disaster of almost Biblical proportions. When we think of the flood of Noah, we often treat it as a myth or fairy tale – a big boat bobbing over waves, carrying clean, happy animals two-by-two. We seldom relate to the terror, anxiety, relentless buffeting, and exhaustion of people enduring a natural disaster. Yet, that is what is needed in this case.

Reminiscent of hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands of lives will never be the same. Oh, for many, property may be restored or rescued, and for the fortunate that escape death or injury, life may one day get back to “normal,” but these flood waters change everything at a fundamental and lasting level. Life will always be different. There will be a before; and there will be an after.

What will after look like? My prayer is that after will be the time when those most affected will discover how much they are loved – how much people care about them. I pray that they will be surrounded by circles of generosity and grace, from family to friends to neighbors to communities to churches to systems to faceless millions who give unselfishly to care for the devastated, the dislocated, and the dispossessed. I pray that we will rise in Christian witness to offer caring and support and healing to those broken and battered. I pray that in the face of natural disaster, United Methodists all around the world (and especially in Wisconsin) will rally to be the body of Christ to those suffering and in desperate need.

Remember, when one suffers, we all suffer. But there will come a time to rejoice! Brothers and sisters, please let us join together to give as much as we can to extend grace and healing to those in need. Be in prayer with me – pray without ceasing for safety and comfort, for peace and strength. As the flood waters crest and recede, let our abundant generosity swell and spill over. These are our brothers and sisters, looking for a sign of covenant that God’s grace will shine again. May it shine in and through us! To offer your support, read message from UMCOR.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

We are within one month of this year’s Annual Conference gathering in Middleton, Wisconsin. Time has passed so quickly from last year to this. We are very busy finalizing plans and the packed agenda, distributing all of the materials that contain the business of the Annual Conference session, and confirming all of the many arrangements. Each year, I am deeply grateful to our Committee on Program and Arrangements and our Conference staff for the monumental task they undertake. Annual Conference is a big deal!

Yet, I want to issue a word of caution, challenge, and invitation. While we have much work to do, and many administrative tasks to complete, I want to remind everyone that we are a people of God, doing holy and sacred work to the honor and glory of God. Even in administration, the root word is ministere – humble service. We gather in humility to share our gifts to do God’s work and will. Our focus is much larger than a mere theme – by the movement and power of God’s Holy Spirit, we are made “One with Christ.”

Annual Conference this year was a hopeful and healing time. As a Conference, we face an amazing blend of opportunities and challenges. But for Christians, this is normal. All of scripture recounts such blends of life – the victories and defeats, the successes and the threats, the times of hope and the times of tears. If we are facing the highs and lows of life, we must be doing something right!

At Annual Conference, we worshipped together, ably led by Dr. Marcia Mcfee. This was a time of great praise and celebration, reminding us continuously that in our faith we are “One With Christ.” Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection offered three inspiring teaching times on how we can be more effective together as Church. We celebrated our 13-year sister relationship (stretching back almost 30 years in total) with the Dongbu Conference of the Korean Methodist Church, highlighting that our church is truly global in its reach. And together we reaffirmed our commitment to the mission and vision of our Church as the baptized body of Christ for the world. We were blessed.

Through our time together – in our clergy covenant and in the larger Annual Conference body as a whole – it became clearly apparent that we love our God, we love our Church and our churches, and we seek to be faithful in all that we do. We want to honor and glorify God in all that we say and do. As we continue to “Imagine Wisconsin Anew” – and explore together what it will require for us to “Make a New Wisconsin” – God is revealing an important and essential fact: Wisconsin United Methodists must be a Conference known for justice.

When you give thanks to God in prayer for your many blessings, do you remember your District Superintendent? What, you say? Why would I do that?! I am very serious – your District Superintendent is a gift to your leadership.

In all my experience, I have met and been blessed by many wonderful leaders, but no matter how gifted they were, every one of them had room for improvement and development. A leader can only progress so far by herself or himself. To truly reach one’s fullest potential, guidance, mentoring, supervision, accountability and coaching are needed. Sharing wisdom and journeying in collaboration with a learned partner are beautiful gifts.

This message is mainly for our pastors, but all leaders may benefit by extension. As clergy provide supervision in the congregation, so District Superintendents provide supervision to clergy. Clergy are a part of a covenant community. Yes, we serve a local church or congregations or extension ministries, and we are “the pastor-in-charge,” but we do not do this solo. In our tradition, we are placed “under appointment” and District Superintendents provide leadership, guidance and support to our ministries. They are partners and colleagues, but they are also supervisors who hold us accountable to our covenants of Word, Order, and Sacrament.

Since I came here as bishop, it is the expectation of every District Superintendent to have a one-on-one supervisory conversation with every pastor. Do you see this as a burden or a gift? Our most effective, growing, learning, leading pastors voice deep appreciation for this opportunity and attention. They seek feedback and counsel, and hunger for the encouragement and support that comes from their Superintendent. They also gracefully and graciously receive criticism and critique, knowing that this is necessary for expanded self-awareness and self-improvement. These are emotionally intelligent leaders seeking to become the very best they can be. We are a stronger Conference as we strengthen the relationships of accountability and support.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln stated that "A house divided against itself cannot stand," referencing, of course, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12. This is not a new concept, and for Christians it should be a central belief as we look at our world, our country, our own church, and such tragedies as the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our divisions threaten to destroy us.

There is a very simple, yet important question that every United Methodist should be wrestling with: are those things that divide us greater than the God who unites us? Where does the power lie? Can we honestly call ourselves a people of faith when we act and speak as if our differences are greater than the one who creates us, redeems us, and sustains us?

What purpose is served by self-righteousness? What possible good can come from prejudices and biases and hostility? There is a very fine line between righteous indignation and downright hatred. In a world where ideologies clash, and result in violence and murder, the Church absolutely must proclaim a witness of peace and restoration. The Church provides us with a vision of God’s will, and proposes that we might be one. One in Christ. One with each other. One in ministry to all the world. One baptism, one Lord, one Spirit, one God. There is simply no place for divisions to destroy us when we are the children of God, who is greater than any and all of our differences.

Once again, we must be a people of prayer who set aside differences and divisions to unite around the love and grace that transforms the world. We can LEAD in a world that is lost, and locked into a spiral of violence, contempt and condescension. Let us commit to be light in darkness, hope in despair, and healing in brokenness. Read statements from other bishops.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

On behalf of the families who have suffered damage or lost their homes due to the extensive flooding and tornado that touched down in the North West District, and those who are in ministry in the area, we ask for your prayers. As has been reported, terrible destruction has occurred in the Barron and Rusk Counties due to a tornado that touched down, which sadly also resulted in one fatality. Residents in Ashland, Iron, Buffalo, Jackson and Trempealeau Counties have experienced extensive flooding.

At this time, we ask that you refrain from traveling to the area while emergency relief efforts are underway. The Barron County Sheriff’s Office ask that any relief efforts be coordinated through Michael Judy, Barron County Emergency Relief coordinator, who can be reached at (715) 537-5814. Monetary donations can be sent to the Wisconsin Conference Treasurer, 750 Windsor Street, Sun Prairie, WI 53590. Please write the check out to Wisconsin Conference Treasurer, with NW Disaster Recovery #7775 in the memo line. If you want, you can also submit the check in your local church offering, and your church treasurer can send to the Conference Finance office, along with apportionment payment.

Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Long and anxiously awaited decisions handed down by our Judicial Council pleased some, angered others, and mystified yet others. A full report can be found at UMC.org by Linda Bloom, but the Judicial Council predictably maintained a straightforward and conservative reading of our current Book of Discipline. This is exactly what the Judicial Council exists to do. It does not challenge doctrine and polity; it does not reinterpret doctrine and polity. Our Judicial Council holds the institution of The United Methodist Church accountable to the legislative decisions of the General Conference. So, there is really no surprise, though different perspectives were hoping for different outcomes.

Our denomination continues to navigate through a minefield of differing opinions, beliefs, interpretations, and theological worldviews. During certain times in our history, this grace-space for the broadest spectrum of Christian interpretation has been our strength. Not so much in recent years. Living in the liminal spaces of uncertainty and disagreement is stressful, and the current rulings move us no closer to resolution. Our Commission on A Way Forward is doing the interpretive and generative work. We will see what they offer very soon.

And where does this leave us? It leaves us in the same flawed and imperfect world in which humankind dwelt since Eden. It leaves us “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” in the grand tradition of our Philippian forebears. It leaves us as beloved children of God, living together in grace and compassion, seeking to be faithful to love God and one another. Nothing has really changed. We are the same church today that we were yesterday – but by God’s grace we are becoming the people of faith our world most desperately needs. It is my deepest hope and desire that we can unite in our faith in Christ and our love for God’s church that we might witness to healing love and restorative justice. Our journey toward full inclusion is fraught with perils, pressures and problems, but our God is greater!

This is a time to pray for Karen Oliveto, the Mountain Sky Conference, and our whole United Methodist denomination. Now is a time for intercessory prayer. Now is a time for adoration and praise. Now is a time for confession and petition. Now is a time for us to find our center in our faith as we pray, together, “not our will, but thine be done.”

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14, NRSV)

Too often, United Methodists define themselves by what they are against – we stand against war, against bullying, against racial and economic injustice, against police brutality, against terrorism. The focus on what we are against sometimes causes us to lose sight of what we are for – United Methodists are for peace, for justice, for diversity and equality. We are for reconciliation and restoration, for harmony and unity. Now is a crucial time for United Methodists to communicate what we are for, as we witness the growing tensions and political maneuvering concerning North Korea.