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; 12the 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.

In the days preceding Jesus and Paul, the Jewish people found themselves living in dark days.  We might romanticize first century Palestine and surrounding areas as “simpler times” but think for a moment all the things we have that they did not.  Electricity for lights, for warmth, for cooking; running safe, clean water; abundant transportation; multiple communication devices covering long distances; public and private schools for all ages; access to all kinds of food, furniture, appliances, equipment.  Today, literacy is high, science and technology have expanded our horizons, good scholarship and research have expanded our minds and our understanding.  All these wonderful things are truly gifts from God, but they were not part of the cultural reality at the time of Jesus and Paul.

 We look at medicine, at science, at language, at history, at almost any discipline we can think of and we have emerged from darkness into light.  We have evolved to understand that slavery is wrong, beating children is not okay, polygamy and stoning people are unacceptable – even though our scriptures not only allow, but recommend these things.  We have come from darkness into light.

We have come to an awakened respect for women, for people of other cultures, for those with physical and cognitive limitations that would have been viewed as demonic in the first century.  Through sound and solid biblical study, we come to see that we must be careful not to impose modern and post-modern, western, moralistic meaning to pre-modern, primitive, and Middle Eastern/Mediterranean writing and thinking.  By God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are continuously moving away from darkness into light.

But this is not of our own doing.  No matter how advanced our thinking and reasoning; no matter how sophisticated and cultured our manners; no matter how technologically and scientifically adept we have become, all this is the natural evolution of the creation by God.  Some rebel against science – but science is a gift from God.  We know about germs and viruses, many of us have excellent health care (though sadly many do not), many have access to amazing medications (while others do not), and most of us will live long, happy lives that the vast majority of people in the first century could not conceive (nor over half the world’s population today).  Dental care, vision care, hearing care – we should never take these things for granted, and wherever possible we should strive to make them readily available to anyone and everyone who needs them.  We live in an enlightened and enlightening time, because God is not finished with us yet.

We of the middle- and upper-classes in the United States have a nearly impossible task of understanding and relating to the concept of living in darkness.  Yet, in every one of our communities there are people living in desperate need of food, clothing, shelter, and basic medical attention.  We have refugees and immigrants living in daily fear that they or someone they love will be deported.  We have a growing population of children and young people terrified to go to school for fear of being shot.  We have people having to fight daily to be accepted, treated with dignity and respect, and to be allowed basic human rights denied them.  Millions of people live under a shadowing cloud of darkness.

How can this be?  Jesus made two amazing statements that we should contemplate during this Advent season.  The first (John 8:12 and 9:5), “I am the light of the world.”  God sent Jesus as light – God “glorified” Jesus (to glorify means “to fill with light) – to dispel the darkness and give new hope, purpose, and meaning to our lives.  No matter how deep and vast the darkness might be, we cannot get lost in it as long as we have Jesus in us and with us.

The second statement may be even more amazing (Matthew 5:14), “You are the light of the world.”  As we live our Christian discipleship in the world, God glorifies us through Christ Jesus to be light to each other! What an amazing concept.  We are God’s glory shining in the world.  We are to be, individually and together, a beacon of hope, care, kindness, forgiveness, and love.  When Christ is in us, there should be no darkness at all.  I ask you to pray with me this Advent time that the glorious light of God in Christ will shine in our hearts, that together we might glorify God, and through our witness to amazing grace and unconditional love God might use us to transform the world.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

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

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Genesis 6:11

As I come home from a wonderful trip to Korea, Bangkok and China, my heart breaks for the victims of gun violence, most recently in El Paso and Dayton, but for those across the country almost daily.  According to USA Today, there have been 250 mass shootings in the first 215 days of 2019.  People are picking up assault weapons to randomly shoot and kill innocent victims.  This is tragic, this is terrible, and this is wrong.  We must acknowledge that many in our society are succumbing to “a corruption” and they are “filled with violence.”

But it is important not to demonize the shooters.  In many cases, these people are suffering a breakdown of sorts.  They are examples of an illness of spirit and mind that is prevalent in our culture.  Beyond the gun violence, hate crimes and violent demonstrations that are becoming the acceptable norm in our United States, there is an undercurrent of anger, fear, rage and resentment.  It is difficult to feel good about a country where so many citizens see violence as their only choice, and where so many live in fear of others.

In a Wisconsin University study, 61% of Madison citizens surveyed feel safer having a gun.  However, in the same poll, 87% feel less secure knowing that others have guns.  I anticipate that this call to pray for healing for the victims, families, friends (as well as shooters and their families and friends) will cause some to be very angry that I oppose gun violence – each time I write a call for prayer concerning mass shootings I receive messages from upset people defending guns – but this isn’t about “guns” in general.  I am not saying people shouldn’t be allowed hunting rifles or even handguns for home self-defense, if that is what people desire.  However, our American culture has gone weapons crazy.  In a New York Times article, it is reported that over 40% of all guns currently in America have been obtained illegally, are automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons, and they are only used for attack.  These are the weapons that I oppose.  Including such things as rocket launchers, grenades, bayonets, machetes, knives, and other weaponry in addition to guns, Americans spend $13 billion each year (NBC News).  Placing this in perspective, in our United States all Christian mission giving combined is about $5.2 billion a year.

But much of this is beside the point.  Guns and the way they are abused in our culture is a huge issue that will not be resolved easily.  Underlying the fact of gun violence is an abject despair and hopelessness, combined often with anger and a sense of helplessness and injustice, that leads people to lash out in hurtful and hateful ways.  In most cases these people aren’t “monsters,” but are merely seriously ill or desperate people who lack relationships that help them cope in non-destructive ways.

Violence, in all its forms, is evidence of the brokenness of our humanity and indicates the deepest meaning of sin – separation from God.  We are failing to live fully into God’s will and God’s vision for all people – unconditional love and acceptance that makes sure there is a place for everyone, and that no one “fall through the cracks” into a dark place of depression and despair.

So, what can we do?  There are many small ways that we can act and do what is within our power to work for a solution.  First, and always, pray.  Pray for victims and their families.  Pray for the communities impacted by acts of hate and violence.  Pray for those who act with violence and destruction and their families.  Pray for people living in fear of violence, and for those who consider violence as an acceptable course of action.  Begin to write to our governmental representatives and to the NRA to ban the sale and ownership of weapons of war.  It is one thing to own a hunting rifle or a handgun.  It is something quite different to have an AK-15 or AK-47, or an AT4 rocket launcher.  When we make ownership of weapons of mass destruction normative in our culture, we cannot be surprised when such weaponry is used. 

Our Christian witness should always be one of peace.  In the face of violence, in the face of division, in the face of aggression, and even in the face of war, Christians call for God’s vision from Isaiah 2:4 –

“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 anymore.”

So, my beloved siblings in Christ, pray for peace.  Pray for healing.  Pray for reconciliation.  Pray for true community and inclusiveness, so that no child of God will lose hope, will despair, and will pick up a weapon to cause harm to another beloved child.  Pray for an end to violence and to every contributing factor.  Blessed are the peace-makers; thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Read the World Council of Churches Statement, Latest gun violence in US poses challenges for churches

“But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:8, 12-17

There is a Coptic phrase that translates pretty closely, “What you tolerate, you embrace.”  This is used in both positive and negative ways.  In the positive case, it means that when we are tolerant of differences, of changes, of new ideas, of other cultures, we will come to accept and even embrace them.  When we are patient and non-judgmental, everyone benefits.

However, there is a negative side which is offered as a caution.  When we are tolerant of hateful, arrogant, hurtful things – like racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia – we can come to embrace these ideas and actions as acceptable and normal.  As Christians, we must be ever mindful and watchful for these behaviors and stand up against them.  Racist, sexist, exclusionary and hostile behaviors are not acceptable.  And this charge to oppose such behaviors crosses all lines of theology, politics, culture, and creed.  Bad behavior is bad behavior, and when we witness it, we should name it for what it is.

I have great respect and regard for the position of the president of the United States, regardless of the party he (or perhaps, one day, she) represents.  I have been shocked and dismayed by racist and sexist comments made by our current president.  It does not matter what party is in power, no one has the right to tell United States citizens, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”  Let me be clear, the president of the United States has the right to disagree with, and even criticize, those who make comments about how the country is being run.  But to attack, to demean, to disrespect, and to deny their citizenship is unacceptable.  It sets a standard that cannot be tolerated – for to tolerate it is to embrace it.

We can do better.  We must do better.  We must be better.  And we need to call our leaders – of every party and political perspective – to exemplify the kind of behavior that befit a civilized and healthy society.  While there is a separation of church and state, there are still some basic tenets of common decency and respect that people of any faith, or no faith, can share. 

Most of us are taught from childhood to be kind, to share, to refrain from hitting, to not call people names, to be respectful of the feelings of others.  We have a basic grasp of what to do and what not to do.  Being kind, considerate, patient, loving, helpful, and tolerant are all signs of maturity.  Few people rank bullying, being abusive, being disrespectful, insulting, or intentionally hurtful as mature behaviors.  We all know better.  And as a people who follow a savior who instructs us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) we cannot be tolerant of such things as racism and sexism, regardless of the source.

I invite us to pray for our president and our politicians.  Our government leaders are not in a good place when it comes to treating one another with respect.  Our culture has become tolerant of many of the behaviors Jesus and Paul warned against.  There is much angry, malicious, abusive, and slanderous language used by our political leaders.  And as our leaders lead, so do we often follow their example.  But let us offer a different way, a better way.  Let us turn aside wrath and malice and slander and abuse.  Let us call for a new rhetoric and a new language – a language of grace and peace and hope and compassion and love.  Take time to let your representatives – at all levels – know you are watching and listening.  Let them know when they do well but hold them to account when they abuse their position and engage in hateful, hurtful, and damaging talk and behavior.  In time, as we become more tolerant of each other, perhaps we will embrace a gospel vision of kindness and love for all.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

“Thus, says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”

 Zechariah 7:9-10 NRSV

I want to invite us all to do something very difficult.  I want us to think about the current immigration issues from a spiritual and theological perspective rather than from a political perspective.  The media and our governmental leaders exert great influence in shaping our thinking and feelings about immigrants, both documented and undocumented.  The focus is often on concerns about strangers and fears about criminals and threats to security.  Sometimes these are valid concerns, but more often than not, they are exceptions rather than what is normal.

But set aside the political debate and the media hype.  Let us reflect on our Christian faith as people of God.  Here we find a completely different approach to immigration.  First, we must acknowledge the most famous and important immigrant of all, Jesus the Christ.  Closely following, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Miriam, Deborah – many prominent figures from our Hebrew ancestors fit our definitions of immigrant, in many cases undocumented.

Second, we have Jesus’ teachings.  Who is our neighbor?  Who are we responsible for?  Where does our responsibility end?  For widows, orphans, the alien, the stranger, the poor – we are instructed (through the words of the prophet Micah in 6:8) “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah is speaking very clearly to an immigrant people.

Third, Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus in many places, none more powerful than his message to the church in Ephesus, that through Christ Jesus God is making one new humanity – destroying all the dividing walls and uniting all people.  (Ephesians 2:15-16)  Jesus and Paul preach diligently that the divisions of “us” and “them” are erased by faith, and that for Christians we are called to care for the least of these among us: “Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)

Fourth, our United Methodist tradition, and the shared values of our antecedent denominations, clearly favor care for the stranger, the alien, the dispossessed, and the immigrant.  The commitment to social justice, global missions, and relational evangelism make welcoming the stranger a cornerstone of our covenant community.  John Wesley sought to help Methodist leaders envision our world at the kingdom/kin-dom of God.  The realm of God and the risen Christ welcomes all who believe, regardless of class, race, culture, ethnicity, economic caste, education, or theological nuance.  In Christ, we are made one.  Through faith we are the incarnation of Christ, and we exist to offer Christ to everyone we meet.

Last, I would encourage all of us not to demonize immigrants.  The vast majority are not villains or enemies.  And even should we choose to view them as enemies, Jesus has very clear instructions for us: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)  So, I encourage all of us to be perfected in God’s holy love, by praying for our immigrant brothers and sisters and children as we do for our family at home.

This wonderful country of the United States is a nation of immigrants.  Our diversity is our strength.  Should we hold people accountable?  Yes.  Should we encourage all to be lawful observers of our customs and codes.  Yes.  But, should we be making it possible for all to receive adequate food, lodging, safety, opportunity, shelter, and protection?  According to the prophets of old – from Zechariah and Micah and Jeremiah to Jesus and Paul – there is no room for debate. God is working through us by the Holy Spirit to make “one new humanity.” So, let us all remember, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:12-17

Our Annual Conference time this year was time together in the wilderness.  The wilderness theme was reinforced as we faced temptations, challenges, threats, adversity, and we confronted some hard and dangerous truths.  In our wilderness experience, we discovered many areas for change and improvement.  We met real and honest feelings about racism, homophobia, white privilege, and distrust.  Our Bible study leader, Peter Miano, warned us of ways we misuse and abuse scripture for harmful and destructive purposes – and invited us to respect our Bible more, using it as a tool for building a relevant and inclusive church.

It would be easy to see all of these monumental issues as overwhelming and discouraging, but the Apostle Paul offers us needed inspiration – we are not going to be defined by our past and present deficiencies, but in every way possible we are “moving onto perfection” as we address these things head on.  We elected a delegation of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference members who will represent our Wisconsin Conference and the clear mandate to be inclusive, repentant of any and all discriminatory practices that are doing harm to our racial/ethnic and LGBTQIA+ members.  We are not a Conference anchored to an irrelevant past, but a Conference committed to becoming pertinent and faithful in a constantly changing world.

Our Task Force on the Wisconsin Way Forward will continue to fine tune and improve our Wisconsin Option – an option of renewed healthy connectionalism that rejects schism and calls us to stay joined as one body in Christ.  It is my commitment, and the commitment of our cabinet and staff, to work hard to rebuild trust, to heal relationships between congregations and conference ministries, and to build lasting bridges while tearing down dividing walls.  Conference leadership will not “do this for” the Conference, but in large and small ways we will do this together.

We will continue to work on living the General Rules – doing no harm, doing good, and attending to the guiding Spirit of God.  We will not tolerate bullying, hurtful speech, mean-spirited gossip, and injurious attacks.  We will strive to speak the truth to each other, but to speak the truth in love.

I cannot help but be excited about our future.  Yes, healing must happen, but we have such great opportunity to become the church God needs us to be.  We are partnering with our Minnesota Annual Conference neighbors to cross borders and create new models of effective and transformative ministry. We have the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI)and the Impact program to strengthen our existing ministries.  We have the Institute for Congregational Development (ICD) and the Spanish language equivalent (IDC) for church planters and new ministry launches.  We have vital health and welfare ministries, camping ministries, campus ministries, and missionally focused projects within and beyond the Wisconsin Conference, including some amazing disaster response efforts.

It would be so easy to get stuck in all the things we are NOT.  But Wisconsin Conference is not failing.  We are not losing ground.  We are not going to let the divisions and hurts destroy us.  For we are a people of great faith, redeemed by God’s amazing grace.  Together, we are going to dream God-sized dreams for our future.  In many ways we may not see eye to eye; we may deeply and seriously disagree.  But in the most essential ways, we seek together “the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We proved at this Annual Conference that we can struggle together to seek and do God’s will.  I believe we are turning a corner and heading toward better days.  We reclaim our mission and purpose to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.”’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”’

Exodus 16:9-12

My blessed brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ Jesus, I give you my thanks and appreciation.  I am honored and proud to be the bishop of this great Wisconsin Conference.  Together this past weekend we spent time wandering in our wilderness of confusion, disagreement, discernment, and desire to be a faithful church.  It was not an easy time.  There were ups and downs, times to celebrate and times to repent.  We struggled in our work to be civil and respectful, and I was reminded to say clearly what behaviors would be acceptable – respectful disagreement and civil confrontation – and the unacceptable – bullying, disrespecting, and injuring.  But we came through it all together, and we saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud.  Everything may not be clear, but we see God in our midst!

I am still processing all that happened, but I rejoice again in our worship celebrations, the excellent and challenging Bible study provided by our brother, Peter Miano, the energy and faithful spirit of our young people, and the obvious, widespread desire to do justly and rightly to all people.

Our Annual Conference indicated in clear terms its dissatisfaction with the actions of General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan.  Together we strategized ways to be faithful with our apportionment giving, to witness to our desire for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ peoples, to bring the language of our Book of Discipline in line with our lived reality, and to move forward into a more loving and grace-filled church.  It is clear that we have a long way to go, that we must make amends and apologize for hurtful actions, but that there is deep commitment to work together for a better, more loving church.

This is true not only of the LGBTQIA+ people who question whether The United Methodist Church really cares about and for them but is equally true for many of our racial and ethnic people who deal daily with destructive acts and attitudes of racism.  In some of our Christian communities, hurtful and hateful words and actions communicate to both clergy and laity leadership that they are not welcome, not respected, and not supported.  This is not true everywhere and of a majority of people, but racism in any form, in any place, and at any time is not an acceptable expression of Christians.  Part of our wilderness is particular and institutional racism, and it is a priority for Wisconsin Conference to work to eliminate racism in all its forms.

We elected a slate of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates that reflect our desire to change and move forward.  We elected a diverse and future-focused delegation of thoughtful, faithful, and dynamic clergy and laity.  Pray for your delegation as they prepare for General Conference 2020.  We have an amazing bunch of people to represent us.

We are committed to work on a Wisconsin option – a Wisconsin way forward to be a faithful and loving church, with great vision for mercy and justice ministries, for reaching new people in new places, and to strengthen our existing ministries, we reaffirmed our desire to be good stewards of all we possess.  Our Launch Out! campaign is still very much a priority, but we voted to “pause,” to give time for local churches to address their response to our general church decisions.

We affirmed our desire to stay in Sun Prairie and to own our Conference Center.  In the midst of massive and disruptive change, we still hold our Conference Center.  By God’s grace, we will find new and better ways to address our administrative needs.  We still face severe budgetary challenges.  We still have less than we need to fully fund all our key ministries.  We are in different places in our desire to financially support the denomination and connection.  But we are in all these things together, and are working together on a Wisconsin way forward.

We are in a time of turbulence and change.  This is wilderness at its wildest.  Tempest and storm, intense heat, high winds – together we acknowledged that we cannot get through without God’s help and guidance.  But God makes us strong.  God keeps us strong.  What looks so overwhelming at the moment will seem less intimidating as time goes by.  We have dynamic young leaders.  We have powerful cross-cultural leaders.  We have clergy and laity leaders committed to the faithful ministry and witness of the Wisconsin Conference.  Is everyone happy with where we are?  No.  Many are unhappy.  But we are still faithful.  This is a measure of faith – following Jesus, serving God, loving neighbor whether we are happy or not.

Wilderness time is not fun time, but it is rich time.  Wilderness time is not comfortable time, but it is valuable time.  Wilderness time is not stable time, but it is essential time.  Our deepest desire is not just to survive the wilderness, but to thrive. We come through wilderness stronger, wiser, better prepared and more confident.  I am encouraged by our time together.  As a Conference, we have spoken.  As a Conference, we have witnessed to inclusiveness, justice, and a place for all at God’s table.  Do we still disagree?  Yes.  Is there still pain? Yes.  But do we believe – truly know – that God is with us?  Undeniably YES.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung