Kindred in Christ,

Have you ever felt utterly abandoned or forsaken—maybe even by God? Perhaps it was a time you found yourself alone in the hospital facing uncertainty of health. Perhaps it was after the untimely end of a friendship or marriage. Perhaps it was during an economic hardship that you never imagined you’d have to face. Whatever the case, the twists and turns of our human journeys can sometimes leave us feeling defeated and alone.

In the opening of The Cross and The Lynching Tree, the founder of Black Liberation Theology, James Cone, insists to us, “The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hopes come by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last (Pg. 2).” As we journey toward the cross this Lenten season, we are all invited to contemplate our own human experiences of defeat, suffering, and even death. Rather than pretending that these pervasive parts of our lives do not exist, we can meditate upon them and find that God is with us in solidarity though as the Crucified One. Lent has the power to invert our understanding of human vulnerability as the site where we can encounter God. Indeed, the gospels reveal that God enters our world to share in human suffering and oppression, in order to inject healing, salvation, and liberation into our lives.

As we will see on Sunday, Jesus did not shy away from reflecting upon human tragedy and untimely death (Luke 13:1-9). He even went as far as to raise the question if the victims of calamity were being punished by God for their sins (which was the stigma of the day). Jesus answers this hypothetical question with an unequivocal “no”. We are not being forsaken by a punishing God in our experiences of human suffering. This is a false theology that denies God’s nature of solidarity and love. As we will reflect further on Sunday, Jesus offers us an image of a God who is with us through the totality of human life (the joys and the pains) always nurturing us toward resurrection. This is good news in a world of twists and turns! Join us as we continue in our worship series, The Path Back to You. See you on FB Live!

Kindred in Christ,

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. This is a forty-day period of introspection and preparation as we journey toward the cross and Easter. Each year we are invited to focus on our inward journey to our center and back again. Lent is also symbolic of the time Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and struggled in his own human vulnerability. During this season, I’d like to invite you to consider your own human journey and great need for God by joining me in the practice of a prayer labyrinth. I offer you the picture of the labyrinth above to use as a tool for prayer at least once a week during Lent—perhaps designate the same day each week and incorporate it as a morning or evening routine.

This ancient method of prayer labyrinth is a perfect metaphor for our human journey through life. If you take a moment to visually follow the labyrinth’s intricate design, you may initially perceive that the path seems incredibly random. But look longer. Yes, there are twits and turns, blind curves followed by relatively straight stretches, and then more twists and turns, but unlike a maze with dead ends, there is only one path to the center and back again. You can liken walking a labyrinth to trusting you are being Divinely cared for and guided though life’s seemingly random events. And perhaps one lesson of the labyrinth is that we need to keep moving in order to be guided by God.

There is no right or wrong way to “walk” (or trace with your finger) the labyrinth. But here is some suggested guidance:

The walk from the entrance of the labyrinth to the center

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “releasing.” (The classic term is “purgation.”) Let go of what burdens you. Let go of the details of your life. This is an act of shedding thoughts and emotions. Allow your mind to empty and become quiet.

The time spent at the center

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “receiving.” (The classic term is “illumination.”) Spend some time and be open to what you may hear, feel, or experience. Stay there as long as you like. The center is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.

The walk from the center of the labyrinth to the exit

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “returning.” (The classic term is “union.”) Express gratitude for the walk and for the insights you received, whether you are aware of these insights or not, at this point. Be open to thoughts or intuitions concerning how you might integrate the labyrinth experience into your daily life as you leave the sacred space of the labyrinth.

If you add to these steps some time for preparation before beginning a walk (e.g. reading some scripture, reading a meditation or a poem, reading a script for the walk, etc.) and some time following the walk for integrating your experience (e.g. journaling, doodling, sitting quietly beside the labyrinth, etc.) you really have a five-part walk.

  1. Preparing
  2. Releasing
  3. Receiving
  4. Returning
  5. Integrating

My prayer is that this will be just one way we journey closer to the Divine and our true selves this season. Also, join us this Sunday as we begin our Lenten worship series, The Path Back to You. See you on FB Live!

– Rev. Paul Ortiz

Kindred in Christ,

This Sunday, February 14, we’re wrapping up our series Reignite where we have been looking at the early sparks that started the movement known as Methodism. We have been exploring what these sparks might mean for us today as we move into our own future of doing church in new and relevant ways. This week, we consider the spark of evolving faith. For Wesley, our lived faith is never stagnant. Rather, God is intimately involved in our personal, real lives, moving us toward “perfection [or wholeness] in love.” This is a dynamic way of being open to God in every given moment. And it grants me hope, for it insists that our lives and the world is not yet finished. And we can partner with God in moving toward greater perfection in love. This is what it means to be more fully alive.

Also, this upcoming Wednesday, February 17, we’re gathering for a time of prayer and reflection on Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of Lent (Zoom link below). While unintentionally placed in the same week, I find that the Wesleyan spark of evolving faith and the upcoming season of Lent have much in common. For Lent is a time when we are invited to self-examine and begin to give up the things that get in the way of our true selves and God. Lent is an evolutionary journey where we are invited to be open to God bringing us into greater wholeness in love. I look forward to beginning this journey with you, even as we gather across spaces and screens. I invite you to bring your whole self and I will, too. See you on FB Live and Zoom!

– Rev. Paul Ortiz

Kindred in Christ,

As Methodists, our connectionally has always been one of our hallmarks. The idea that God connects us to all people and all creation is one of the reasons Methodists have sought to be anti-slavery and be inclusive across racial lines since our inception. Yet, sadly, white supremacy also been present throughout our history and worked to put out our spark of connectionism.

Richard Allen, born enslaved in Philadelphia in 1760, came to the faith at 17 years old after hearing a Methodist itinerant preacher proclaim a gospel that all where equal in Christ and that slavery was sin. He later bought his freedom and became a Methodist preacher and teacher. Allen was hired at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, a congregation that prided itself to be progressive and inclusive. Yet they only allowed Allen to preach at the 5am service that was mostly attended by Black members. And when Black membership began to grow, segregated seating was instituted at the main service. Frustrated with the white supremacy of the congregation, in 1787 Allen and the Black congregants ignored the segregated seating rule and took up space at the center of the sanctuary. They knelt down to pray and refused to stand up until the prayer was over (even though the trustees where physically trying to remove them). After the prayer they stood up in one mass and left the church never to return.

Historians suggest that this event, which later became known as “The Great Walk Out,” is the first overt protest action by African Americans against racial discrimination in Philadelphia. Allen and the Black congregants went on to start a new congregation in a blacksmith’s shop named Bethel Church. Bishop Francis Asbury (consecrated by John Wesley) consecrated Bethel church in 1794 and ordained Richard Allen as the first Black Methodist Elder in 1799. Eventually, Bethel became the start of the first ever Protestant denomination to be founded by Black people in the United States—the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.).

Join us this Sunday, as we learn more about Rev. Richard Allen and the blessing and the challenge that it is to be a connectional church that resists white supremacy and strives to live into collective liberation. See you on Facebook Live!

– Rev. Paul Ortiz

One of the defining marks of John Wesley’s own faith and the eighteenth-century Methodist revival was that it involved not only the emotions but also the intellect—the head as well as the heart. This is of course was partly due to the fact that the leader of the revival was, after all, a faculty member of Oxford University. When I first joined the United Methodist Church as a young adult, I was drawn to the fact that I was encouraged to think critically about my faith and the world. It was okay to have questions and doubts. I didn’t have to “check my brain at the door.” But I also appreciated not having to check my heart at the door either!

Tragically, many vocal expressions of Christianity today seem to be anti-intellectual. There is a sense among many religious “nones” that I meet that the only way to be a follower of Jesus is to reject modern science, adopt a narrow world view, interpret the Bible literally and woodenly, and to refrain from asking difficult questions. Yet Wesley, the Oxford fellow and preacher, had a way of holding together a passionate faith and a rigorous intellect. I believe that approach to Christianity holds the greatest promise for reaching an increasingly secular society today.

On the flip side, many of us that lean more toward the “head” have difficulty embracing heartfelt worship and connecting our faith in God with our real-life experiences. Indeed, I was discussing the “head and heart” balance with someone from our own community this week and they reflected that, “Our commitment to antiracism must be more than just an intellectual pursuit. But a lived heartfelt reality.” As a community with much heart and head, we are challenged to discover the balance between both of these in order to forge a new Methodist reveal of sorts today in the U District and beyond.

As we will consider this Sunday, Christ comes to us full of both truth and grace, head and heart (John 1:14-18). Join us this Sunday as we explore further the early sparks of the Methodist movement and what they might mean for us today as we continue in our Reignite worship series. Hope to see you in the comments on Facebook Live!

– Rev. Paul Ortiz