25 + 29 = Life

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This last week Kevin and I made the mistake of going to see a financial adviser. You see, with 40 now looming large on the horizon we figured we should probably meet with someone who could tell us how we are doing with our preparations for retirement. Yet somehow, this quickly turned into a rude awakening about death.

I reached out and grabbed one of the suckers from the bowl on the desk...watermelon...my favorite since I was kid.

Our adviser, a gentle-talking man with a warm smile that made you feel safe, began by just asking the routine questions you would expect: 401k this, Roth IRA that, and so on. All the while he was typing all this information into his computer that he said would run some calculations and let us know how things were looking. What he was really setting up was a Good Cop, Bad Cop scenario.

You might be expecting this to be a story about how no one ever saves enough for retirement, about how Kevin and I were shocked by the amount we needed to save. But this is not that story. Kevin and I attended our church's Financial Peace University class so that part actually went okay. The lessons we learned here are serving us pretty well. The problem was that evil, disgusting, and rude computer of his told me when I was going to die. 

Yes, in an instant all that gentle-talking and warm smiling Good Cop adviser stuff was gone. Bad Cop computer was taking over now, and it popped it up right on the screen in a HUGE font so I was sure to see it: 25 working years, plus 29 retirement years. Add them up sir...it appears that barring any kind of violent early end or devastating cancer diagnosis that if all goes perfectly well you are still 6 feet under in about 50 years. 

It seems to me that a place designed to deliver such unwelcome news should be accompanied by more than a bowl of dum-dums on the desk to salve your wounds. Have you ever wondered if those bowls of lollipops were some kind of passive-aggressive statement from the office workers? I can imagine there being some real satisfaction after dealing with a difficult person by ending the conversation by saying, "Want a dum-dum?" (you dumb-dumb). 

Bad Cop probably enjoys tactics like that. "These numbers are just math, don't blame me," it says grinning and passing me a sucker. But maybe I am a dumb-dumb? Maybe I am a sucker?

As a Pastor, I know that death is just a part of life and that there are promises from God about what happens next. But as a normal human being, I'm a sucker. I'm a sucker for more years, more laughs, more fun, more...time. 

I'm sure there are many folks who would trade their math for mine. After all, 50 years is a good amount of time to still have sitting on the Bad Cop's screen. 

But I remind myself that I am dumb-dumb only if I fail to realize that the math has been the same my entire life. My current equation reads 25 + 29 = Life. This is nothing new. No reason to fret.

More importantly, I then remind myself (and you) that I am preparing for more than a long and healthy retirement. I'm doing a higher-level math than Bad Cop can even compute. This is not a death sentence. The very last word in the equation tells the whole story. This all adds up to life, not death. 

As I crushed the last bits of watermelon sucker between my teeth, Good Cop adviser looked at us, "You guys are going to be okay," he said with that gentle, warm tone. Kevin grabbed my hand and we smiled at each other. He was right. We are more than okay. 

Yes, in the math that matters, we are all more than okay.

A Time for Prayer

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This Sunday we will begin a new series that will focus our attention on The Lord's Prayer/The Our Father. Revs. Katie and Lillie will be sharing some of the preaching during this series so that you will have a chance to hear all three of us reflect on Jesus's prayer and on the importance of prayer to the spiritual life.

I personally attribute any "success" I have had in ministry to the heartfelt prayers of church saints. Since my first paid ministry job as a Children's Minister when I was just 17 years old until now, I have always felt the distinct nature of the support of daily prayer saints.

At my first church, I knew that people like Mary Scott and Ralph Farrar where praying for me every single day. When I began work at the MCC in Portland, Oregon, I learned to trust in the daily prayers of two couples: Stephanie and Teresa and my dear friends Jeanne and Cory. In Colorado Springs, a faithful former Catholic named Mary Brady prayed for me every day until I preached her funeral. And we have our prayer saints here as well. I trust in the prayers of folks like Jackie Rice, Bettye Babb, Toni Smith, and more. One thing I can tell you but I can't explain: there is a depth to the prayers of those who pray often that is self-evident and powerful.

Over the next several weeks as we talk about prayer, I want to invite you into a more active prayer life. Even if you aren't sure how to do it, if it "works," or what might happen, I really want to encourage you to consider testing prayer out and seeing what happens if you pray more often. In the end, prayer is simply talking to God, and I think we'd all be hard-pressed to suggest any reason why we shouldn't try to talk to God a bit more, right?

If you are ready to give it a shot, look for the "Pray With Me" program on the Featured Programs Page to sign up for our email-based prayer group. Over the next six weeks or so, this group will work on praying together each day. In this season of Easter, I'm excited to see what kinds of resurrections we may experience as we talk with our God.


Easter Resurrections

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When I was growing up, I thought of Easter purely as the time when we celebrate Jesus' resurrection. My family was careful to teach me about the significance of this day--especially noting that we don't just celebrate Easter to get an Easter basket full of candy and goodies. I am grateful for that balance that I was given and the spirit that was behind my parents' and my childhood church's teachings.

As I have aged I have learned that Easter is about Jesus--especially about Jesus--but not only about Jesus. There is one big Easter resurrection, but there are many other resurrections, large and small, that we pray for, celebrate, and remember each Easter.

When you've lived long enough to lose some close friends, family members, or worst of all, a child, Easter resurrection is no longer just about Jesus. It is about the eternal hope that we maintain for all those who have passed on from this world. It is about our faith that there is more life beyond this one.

And there are simple resurrections on Easter as well...simple prayers that some of the Good Fridays we've had in the last year will begin to fade in the Resurrection Light of Easter. That relationship that ended, the pet we lost, or the job that laid us off...any of these things are places where we may call on the resurrection hope and power of Easter.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday, I encourage you to take a moment and look inward. As you celebrate Christ, what other resurrections can you also celebrate? As you sing Easter "Hallelujah's," allow yourself to also consider the Good Fridays that God has brought you through this year. Join with Christ in celebrating your own resurrections.

Divide and Conquer vs. Divided and Conquered


The culture wars of the last number of years are really taking a toll on me. I don't know about you, but I can hardly stand to unlock my phone or turn on the TV each morning for fear of what the latest controversy will be. I just can't take anymore.

This week the student walk outs became a battle between those who argued for "walk out" to ask for gun control legislation vs. those who argued for "walk up" to someone who is marginalized and be a friend and a listener. What has me confused is why we keep arguing with each other rather than working together toward the same goal. My simple response to these two groups is, "Why not do both?"

Everyone agrees that we need to avoid any more senseless murder of our kids in schools, our congregants in churches, and our neighbors at the movies or in a nightclub. We do not have to agree about how we get there. We can agree to divide and conquer, wishing each other the best of luck on the path we each choose to take. We need to see one another as partners working toward the same goals instead of enemies. What happened to our ability to be respectfully disagreeing friends instead of foes?

My prayer for each of you in our church family is that you will commit to praying for and blessing those who are working toward the goal of less murder. If you are a "more gun control person" work hard on that and pray for those who are working on addressing issues of mental health. If you are a "mental health person" work hard on that and pray for those working on gun control. And in the moment when either group is at a tipping point and real change is hanging in the balance, we should all show up to push it across the finish line. For we all want the same result of safer schools, churches, and public spaces...even if we disagree on the steps to get there.

The idea of divide and conquer is not new, and yet our failure to live it out will leave us simply divided and conquered. And every time I watch the news I feel a lot more divided and conquered. My soul cries out every day for the unity that Jesus went to God in prayer for on our behalf (John 17:21). 

I commit to working on the area of this issue (and any other) that speaks to me, AND I commit to showing up in support of either group when a tipping point is about to be reached. Will you?

At least here within MCCGSL, can we stand up and refuse to turn our neighbors into our enemies, refuse to divide our churches and families, and choose instead to work together in unity toward any and all forms of growth, progress, and hope? That is my prayer for us that I offer up along with Jesus's unity prayer.

The Individual versus The Group


Since starting my preparation for our current sermon series, I have really started to notice how so many of our struggles in life come down to one simple thing. So, read on if you want to know the one thing behind all your problems! 

The simplest way to say what I have been studying is to say that I have been studying the differences between individualist cultures (like ours) and collectivist cultures (like those found in Korea, Russia, or the Middle East during the time of Jesus). Individualist cultures teach us that the most important things are our individual freedoms, our rights, and our ability to do whatever we wish or dream. American culture and the American Dream are built upon individualist principles and values. Conversely, collectivist cultures teach that the most important things are unity and community solidarity. In collectivist cultures individual needs take a back seat to the greater needs of our extended family (which they don't even see as extended), our community, and the honor of all these groups of which I am merely one part. Collectivist cultures do not esteem individual stand-outs.

As I studied this, it caused me to see that so much of who we are and how we see the world revolves around our balance of these two things. The reality is that no culture is purely individualist or solely collectivist. We all exist on a spectrum. Each one of us lands on this spectrum and then weighs our options based on where we land.

For example, I came out to the shame of my family and to the sacrifice of my community. Coming out, for me, then required a decidedly individualist stance. I had to do this for myself. If I were a person with more collectivist values, I might have stayed in the closet to avoid bringing shame on my family or being cast out of my community.

I have read many opinions lately about gun violence and gun control, and I see in these debates the same spectrum of individualist vs. collectivist. The individualist says, "No, you won't and can't take away my gun." The individualist focuses on the individual's right to live in the way they wish. They approach this with the same kind of values that led me to come out of the closet. "It was my right." 

On the other hand, the collectivist perspective says, "We cannot allow our children to continue to be subjected to gun violence." As the collectivist says this, they are not necessarily even speaking of their biological children. They are speaking about "their children" in a much broader sense, meaning any of the kids in my community. We can see in this statement the collectivist view of the the extended family and the community being the greatest values that must be protected.

Hopefully with just these two examples (my coming out and gun control) you can see that at the heart of most of the questions and challenges in our lives there is this "decision kernel" that forces us to prioritize either the self or the community. At the heart of each decision we make, we must first decide to move up or down on the spectrum of the individualist vs. the collectivist.

Knowing this doesn't always make the decision easier because some decisions require us to land on the individualist side of things and some on the collectivist side of things. Still, I share this with you to encourage you to think about the matters that are on your heart and ask which is needed in this situation today? Jesus lived in a collectivist culture and often challenged them to be a bit more individualist. We live in an individualist culture. My guess is that he would challenge us to be a bit more collectivist.

May the God of all peoples and cultures bless you as you consider the nature of the responses that are needed from you in the decisions that lie before you today.

Ashes to Ashes


Ashes, ashes, ashes. Next week is Ash Wednesday the official start of Lent, and this week I am scattering the ashes of my dog Herman at his favorite dog park in Colorado. Ashes, ashes, ashes.

When Herman died last year it broke my heart. He was in my life for 16 years, basically my entire adult life. As I thought about where to spread his ashes, someplace he loved, I immediately thought of his favorite dog park. It is an enormous, fully fenced, off-leash, multi-acre park complete with trails, a stream, toys, and more. When he was young, he would stay as long as I would let him. As he aged, he still pushed himself until my vet started recommending I not let him overdo it so much. He loved it there.

So, this week Kevin's work was taking him to our old hometown, so I decided to tag along to take Herman "home." One of the most surprising parts of the trip was how emotional I became about the simple cardboard box that held Herman's ashes. They weren't just his ashes, they were him. Kevin and I both found ourselves talking about them as we used to talk about him. Do you have Herman? Where is Herman? Let me hold Herman.

As we tearfully scattered his ashes on a hill overlooking the park, in full view of the nearby 14,000 foot-tall Pikes Peak mountain, I was overcome.

Each year as we come to Ash Wednesday I have to do some extra work to make it meaningful for me. I didn't grow up in a church that honored days like Ash Wednesday, and yet I have found there is a wealth of spiritual depth I missed because of it. I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to things like Ash Wednesday and Lent.

This year, though, it seems clear to me that the famous Ash Wednesday phrase, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust you came and to dust you shall return," will hold a much more powerful meaning. You see, this week I learned that dirt isn't just dirt. I used to walk Herman at that dog park and thoughtlessly wipe the dirt off my shoes and his paws after each visit. But now I realize that Herman (and many other precious pets) are part of that dirt. Our loved ones, our ancestors, all life on this planet is mixed up in the dirt of our lives. When we place God-lenses on our eyes, it is easy to see how every single thing on this planet--every part of creation--is truly sacred.

I won't be wiping the dirt off my shoes today. I'll let Herman walk with me just as long as possible. I hope each of you are blessed as you continue your spiritual walk today.

Message: A Guide for Those Who will Follow

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This week I received a box of books from the library of Rev. Jim Burns who recently passed away. Jim was a long-time MCC pastor who spent a large portion of his career serving MCC of the Rockies in Denver, and he was involved in a wide variety of leadership roles throughout his career. He was a wonderful man of faith.

I was surprised and honored to get a call from the executor of his will offering to send a small part of his extensive library to me. Books are sacred to all readers, and I think they hold a special place in the heart of pastors. As I carefully unboxed the books, I immediately felt Jim's presence. Jim was an avid reader...these books were not in his library for nothing...he read his books. And that fact was so immediately obvious. Coffee stained covers and pages, boarding passes that had been recruited as bookmarks, dog-eared pages, highlights and notes...so many signs of the brilliant mind of my colleague whose spirit and heart had lingered over these very pages.

As I picked out which ones I would start reading now and placed others on my shelves for later, I couldn't help but consider the ways that these books might someday end up on the shelves of some other pastor, how someday it will be my highlights, my dog-eared pages, and my boarding passes that will be discovered like a treasure map by a friend after I'm gone. While some people love a new book, I have always enjoyed being the second or third reader...able to follow the trail marks of the previous travelers who left behind signposts for the best parts and personal additions to the text in the margins. The bittersweet thought of someone allowing my highlights to guide them through some of my favorite books really stirred in my heart.

As the Spirit was moving in my heart, I started to remove one of those boarding pass bookmarks from one of Jim's books. I glanced at where he was going when he read this book. Chicago to Hartford. July 13. No year. "Huh," I thought, "never realized they didn't put years on boarding passes." I turned toward my trash can to throw away the make-shift bookmark, and then I thought better of it, "No. This book is Jim's. The boarding pass stays." I thanked God for Jim and then decided that I'll mark my place with his boarding pass, and someday in the distant future, I hope someone else will use it mark theirs as well.

Whether it is the notes and marks you make in your books or the memories you leave in the hearts of your friends, do your best to leave a good trail guide for those who may one day endeavor to find their way in this life by following in your footsteps.

Your Fellow Traveler,

Pastor Wes

Happy New . . . You, Yours, Them, Theirs, Us, Ours

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As we continue to work on learning about and honoring the pronouns that all of us prefer when giving identity to gender, it occurs to me that it might also be good to start the year giving greater consideration to the ways we balance (or fail to balance) our attention to "me vs. them" and "mine vs. theirs." One thing is for sure, our culture tells us to look after me and mine, not them and theirs.

It is important that we all give attention to ourselves...our well-being, our physical and emotional health, etc. Any attempt at giving attention to others will be thwarted and undermined if we fail to attend to ourselves in these ways. But where is the line? When do we cross over into selfishness, false pretense, and greed? How many material things is enough? When have we done enough self-care? What crosses the line between healthy self-esteem and arrogance?

I certainly don't pretend to know the answers to all these questions, except to the extent that I am trying to understand them in my own life. What I do know is that our obsession with the self threatens our ability to have empathy for others and be of true service to them. So what do we do with this? How do we reflect on our own tendencies to overlook "them" because we are so entangled with our own needs and desires?

One of the things I am challenging myself to do is take a deeper look at an old quote I've seen a million times: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather, we are spiritual beings having a human experience." It occurs to me that I can get caught up in paying so much attention to my human experience that I forget to nurture my spiritual nature! In my life, once that happens, I am no longer authentically "tuned in" to the experiences of others.

Ultimately, this is not a pronoun issue is it? More accurately, it is an issue of working as hard on our spiritual being as we do on our human experience. The imbalance of these adds to the mess in the world, but the balance of them is a true miracle. I invite you to join me in the search for our authentic spiritual selves as a way to do our part in making the world a better place for everyone.

Happy New Year!

Hope for the New Year!

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Christmas presents to us an opportunity afresh to be born within the Good News - that God entered the world as a baby to reset what has been broken. Upside-down divine logic sends God to live and die as one of God's own creations in order to save and redeem them. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus's first act of public ministry is to proclaim that his mission is to "bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captive, sight to the blind, release those imprisoned, and proclaim the time of God's favor." This time of God's favor, a year of jubilee, was not something Jesus made up but was a known concept to the hearers of Jesus's teaching. The idea of a jubilee year comes from Leviticus, a Hebrew Bible book of laws and regulations. At the end of seven seven-year cycles (7x7=49), the fiftieth year is proclaimed to be the year the slaves are sent home again to their families, captured properties turned over to their original owners, and all debts forgiven. Jubilee makes space for all of us to experience life-giving renewal in our ordinary, day-to-day lives.

I am so longing for a jubilee year. I long for our world to moved to act against injustice in any form. I long for those I love and care for who are imprisoned (literally and metaphorically) to be free. For many of my millennial peers who are ensnared by mountains of debt and for end-of-career age people unable to retire because of debt, I long for debt to not be the measure by which we are forced to order our days. I know I'm not alone in these longings. I hear many in our congregation express specific anxieties and general worries about the future.

Metropolitan Community Churches is entering the fiftieth year of ministry as a denomination, and I pray that as a church body rooted in the values of salvation, community, and Christian social action that we take seriously what jubilee might mean for us. This Sunday's sermon will discuss our shared history and explore what jubilee might mean for us as individuals and church community. I pray we can join together to proclaim next year as the year of the Lord's favor and feel the security and hope that Christmas assures us.


Tori Jameson

Christmas Countdown!

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This weekend marks the beginning of the final Christmas countdown both here at the church and for all of us who still have some Christmas shopping to do. I hope that you will take advantage of all the wonderful programs that are coming up in the next 7-10 days. From Christmas Choir Concerts to beautifully sung "Silent Nights" by candlelight, there are going to be some wonderful opportunities to embrace the Spirit of Christmas.

More than just an invitation to a nostalgic or cheerful holiday moment, I want to make sure that you know that these events (and really all our programs throughout the year) are really opportunities to connect with our family of choice and our family of faith.

This season has been one in which several people I know and love from our church and in my personal life have faced serious health diagnoses. These scary words from the mouths of men and women adorned in white coats instantly changed the nature of this holiday season. For each of these folks I am thinking of, every moment deeply matters. I can see this in the way they are moving through this season...taking nothing for granted. 

Really, we should all do the same. Why do we ever hesitate to say, "I love you?" Why do we sometimes let words of thanks and gratitude get caught in the backs of our throats? For some reason, it can be very hard, even at the holidays, to express how we truly feel. Maybe it is because we equate feelings with weakness or maybe we sometimes struggle to know how we are really feeling. Whatever it is, I encourage you to show up for these precious holiday moments by giving the people you love the gift of being fully present. Make this a part of your work gatherings, family gatherings, and family of choice gatherings. Make this a part of your gatherings with the family at MCC for music, Santa, and Christmas services of various types so that we can share in your fully-present Christmas.

I pray blessings on all your holiday gatherings over the next 10 days. May they be blessed by Christ and be a blessing in your life and in the lives of all those you love.