Re-connect

Kindred in Christ,

I was very much looking forward to switching over to broadcasting/streaming live our worship services starting this Sunday, 9/12. I was anticipating connecting with each of you in this new way, and beginning our new worship series, Re-connect! Yet, despite best efforts from our hardworking tech team and worship team, we will not be able to do so until the following Sunday, 9/19. Ironically, we are experiencing some internet connectivity issues as we attempt to launch a series on connection—which has been all too common during this time of pandemic.

Since at this point it is also too late to put together an alternative, prerecorded service, we will instead be connecting in a very different way this Sunday, 9/12. Please find the Zoom link for Sunday morning worship gathering below, and click on it for a time of spiritual reflection and discussion. Also, I invite you to have some bread-like substance and coffee or juice ready, so we can commune and connect in the way of Jesus across space and screens in real time!  Zoom Meeting: https://greaternw.zoom.us/j/99933282457

Here are the prompts for Sunday’s Zoom gathering:

What does connection mean to you?

When have you felt disconnection?

When have you been surprised by connection?

What might it mean to think of God as connection itself?

I pray that each of you are experiencing deep connection during this time of continued social separation. And I hope to see you in real time, this Sunday!

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

Blessed are the Queer

Kindred in Christ,

The above graphic is a picture of the linoleum stamp my partner Kim carved for our Printmaking Pop-up booth tomorrow at PrideFest Capitol Hill. Volunteers from both inside and outside our congregation will come together to invite people from the festival to create art, celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride, and have fun!

As you might make out, the linoleum block above has been carved with reversed letters stating, “Blessed are the queer.” Stamps must be carved in reverse, so they print the image correctly. Yet, when I first glimpsed the stamp Kim had created, I was deeply reminded of the reverse nature of Jesus’ image of the kin-dom of God. “Blessed are the poor (Luke 6:20),” Jesus proclaimed in the face of a world that understood the wealthy and powerful as blessed and saw the poor and sick as cursed.

For a long time, the term “queer” was strictly used as a slur or curse word toward the LGBTQIA+ community. Indeed, I have been called this term when I was bullied in high school. And sadly, it is still used today in this despairing way by some. However, the term has also been reclaimed or reversed in recent years, as a statement of Pride by the very community it was intended to harm. Subverting and reversing ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and fear is what the kin-dom of God looks like in our midst. The reclaiming of the word queer always makes me think of the reversal nature of the kin-dom of God and the many ways it is all around us.

I hope that you will consider stopping by our booth (more info below) and perhaps catching a glimpse of God’s counter cultural kingdom. In the meantime, I share with you what Jesus’ blessings might sound like in our day:

Blessed are you who are queer, for yours is the kingdom of heaven!

Blessed are you who are undocumented, for papers and borders are not real and will not dictate your lives!

Blessed are you who are Black, for you are beautiful, powerful, and in the kingdom of God your lives will matter to the system, as well as to one another!

Blessed are you who feel crushingly alone during this lockdown, for God’s company has come near to you!

Blessed are you who are seasonally depressed, for the sun will shine upon your sorrow!

Blessed are you who are indebted—to the hospitals, to the schools, to the credit card companies—for there is more than enough to forgive your debts!

Blessed are you who are poor, for God is with you and Jesus has joined you in poverty.

Blessed are you.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

What is mine to do?

Kindred in Christ,

During my three years in seminary, I had a very old laptop. Whenever I dared to open multiple browsers or run various programs as I worked on my grad school assignments, I would find my computer dramatically slowing down and even crashing—sometimes tragically causing me to lose several pages worth of writing! Each time I would be reminded that my computer could not handle focusing on so many things at once. I would thus be forced to discern what was the central task I needed to focus upon in a given moment.

Lately, with the continuation of the global pandemic, the wildfires on the west coast, the decimation of Haiti, the horrors we are witnessing in Afghanistan, the degradation of the environment, and the countless other sorrows, injustices and tragedies we are hearing about in the news and on social media each day, it can cause our spirits to become overwhelmed and to crash. For many of us, spiritually crashing either looks like spiraling into despair or become callous. Yet what if each of us are not being called to place our emotional and physical energy upon all things equally at a given moment? What if we are called to discern what is ours to focus upon each day, and pray for and encourage others who are called to focus upon other things?

This is the practice of realizing that we are not at the center of all things, nor can we hold all things equally at the same time. This is the wisdom the Apostle Paul speaks of when he reminds us that we are all different members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The eye cannot do the tasks of the mouth, hand, foot or any of the other members, but rather must focus upon its own task of sight while supporting the other members who do a very different and equally important task of the body. What is the task you are being called to this day?

A two-part breath prayer that helps me with this daily discernment:

Inhale:

What is mine to do?

Exhale:

What is mine not to do?

Inhale:

God, bless my work this day.

Exhale:

God, bless the work of others this day. 

May this simple spiritual practice empower you to do your part for the sake of compassion and justice in our hurting world, while supporting others doing different work as well. And may it help keep you from spiritually crashing.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

 

Creation from Chaos

Kindred in Christ,

During these uncertain times, I have been reflecting upon the ways the Spirit creates beauty out of the chaos of our lives. Indeed, I remember in seminary, I learned that the creation story of Genesis speaks of the Spirit of God creating everything from the tohu wabohu, which is the Hebrew phrase commonly translated as “formless void” but can also be understood as “chaos” (Gen 1:1-2). While the idea that God can create something out of nothing is powerful, I have lately been orienting myself toward a spirituality of creation from chaos.

As the Delta variant increases and our reopening plans diminish and shift, I need a God that can bring order and life out of all the mess. As your Lead Pastor, I have been discovering beauty in connecting with you online and socially distant, gathering for online worship, meeting up with new people for coffee, hosting Printmaking Pop-up booths at our local farmers market, and being open to the many things I could not have imagined I would be doing before the pandemic. My prayer for each of you is that even through the chaos of your lives, you too will be accompanied by the Spirit to be safe, responsible, and open to the creation of unexpected beauty and encounter.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

The Interests of Others

Kindred in Christ,

This past week, I got the chance to meet up with a young woman over coffee that I had originally met a week before at our first Printmaking Pop-up outreach event. Along with talking about ideas for future art events, she shared with me how the pandemic has affected her life. At one point she told me, “I find myself so much more aware of how my actions affect others; how my small choices can infect or protect my community.”

While I certainly do not believe that God causes bad things to happen, I do believe that God will faithfully lead and form us through even the worst circumstances, always moving us toward greater love of neighbor, love of self, and love of God. With all the disappointment, grief, and loss during this continued time of pandemic, and with the uncertainties we are now facing in light of the emergence of the Delta variant, my continued prayer is that this experience will force our attention outward to the suffering of the most vulnerable among us. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. Love always adapts to the needs of those around us. And adapting is something that after a year of pandemic we have gotten pretty good at! While I am uncertain of when it will be safe to meet fully in person, I have come to discover a spiritual foundation that casts out fear through the divine call of loving our neighbors. May you be blessed by giving and receiving this love through the many ways we gather as a church, and the many ways you show up to the community around you.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz