Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord

The Lectionary readings for today include Mary's song, the Magnificat. So here, have a few Magnificat, with a bit of a Hungarian bent:

Sunday, December 13, 2015


This is what gaudete means to me: to be unable to avoid the joy of movement under Christmas lights in a cold, dark town square, to live full of the warmth of brass, to be unashamed of dancing in public because it is harder to understand stillness than response.

I visited Pécs, a city in southern Hungary, at the beginning of Advent last fall, the night the Christmas market opened. I almost left Pécs after listening to the children's choir sing in the evening (well after sunset), but right as I was walking away the brass band began to play, and so I turned back. I turned back and listened and couldn't stand still, not simply because of the cold but also because the music and the spots of brightness in the midst of the dark required movement. The tall man was dancing, the little girl was dancing, and I was dancing. We danced alone, on different sides of the crowd, but we danced together, publicly, among all the others, and for once it didn't embarrass me. Light among darkness, music piercing quiet, dancing through stillness, community in solitude. It was beautiful, and it was Advent, and it was joy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Very Short Links Dump

Just a couple of things:

Why Partnerships, Sharing Ministry, and Mergers Matter by Ben Gosden
I am so glad this was posted this week because right now, I needed to read this.

There's too much that is still undecided for me to talk in detail about the direction my church is going, but this was encouraging and affirming. Doing a new thing means letting go of the old. Resurrection involves death. There are ways to die gracefully that make way for new life, new ministry.

Why Membership? by Dean Lollis
Yes, all of this. I joined a church, even as a college student, because the responsibilities inherent in membership vows are important to me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Who Leads Us Into Life

Written for my college fellowship's weekly devotional

One week while I was abroad, I went to a Taizé-style worship service. I’d been to Taizé services in the US and expected to know a lot of the songs despite my very poor Hungarian. At the beginning, though, I recognized none of the music until people began singing this tune. The words they sang were in Hungarian, but I recognized them as the translation of the English lyrics I knew:

Bless the LORD, my soul, and bless God’s holy name.
Bless the LORD, my soul, who leads me into life.

Those two lines, based off the beginning of Psalm 103, still echo in my mind in moments of stillness. What does it look like for our souls to bless the Eternal God and God’s holy name? What does it mean that the LORD is leading us into life? With the Spirit’s help each day we can abide (1) more and more in Christ and in Christ’s relationship with the Father, and so we grow more and more in relationship with the One who redeems and creates, the source of all life, the One who does not treat us according to our sins but has mercy on us and distances us from our transgressions (2).

We pray. We read. We listen. We fast. We sing. We share bread and cup. And the “we” is essential; faith is not personal alone but also corporate. As the Trinity is in relationship, so should we be in relationship with each other. And through these things God’s grace works in us, entirely perfecting us and leading us into life, teaching our souls to bless the LORD in any language we speak.

Áldott légy Uram, szent neved áldja lelkem.
Áldott légy Uram, mert megváltottál már.

(1) John 15:4-5, Jesus speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.
(2) Various bits of Psalm 103

Sunday, August 9, 2015

On Bread

The Gospel readings in the Lectionary for the past few weeks as well as the next couple are from John 6. This is all about bread. It's Jesus feeding the five thousand and describing himself as the bread of life. The alternate Old Testament readings for Lectionary match the bread theme, telling stories from Exodus, Joshua, and Kings about God feeding God's people. So I thought I'd write a little bit about places in which I've encountered bread.

Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, bread is sacred. It indicates abundance. Every meal includes bread, and there are many varieties. One does not throw away bread. If there is a bit of bread on the sidewalk, someone will pick it up and move it to a place where no one will step on it. Some people may even kiss bread, and bread is almost never criticized.

Hungary. In Budapest every other street has a bakery. The glass counters are filled with rolls, pastries, and even pizza, and on long, tall shelves behind the counter there are loaves of fresh bread. St. Stephen's Day, the saint's day of the patron saint of Hungary and one of the largest national holidays, is also the festival of new bread. Bread is not treated with the reverence it is given in Azerbaijan, but it is an important part of meals, and in the morning the city smells of bread.

A food bank in Oklahoma. "Bread!" One person yells it; everyone else echoes. We yell one word as we carry trays, throw items onto trays, pack items into boxes, fold boxes, stack trays on pallets, move pallets out of the way -- "Bread!" The back of the Regional Food Bank smells like bread, everywhere you look is bread, and for three hours your one goal is bread. Pallets of bread still good but too old to sell in stores sit in rows, and the bread travels from trays on pallets to trays on a metal table to cardboard boxes to people who need the bread. Loaves of wheat, of white, whole grain, pastries both American and Mexican, tortillas, flatbreads, snacks, biscuits, hamburger and hot dog buns, nearly anything baked and in a package -- "Bread!"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

We Will Walk Hand in Hand: New England Annual Conference, Part 4

The morning of the last day of Annual Conference started with a worship service including the laity address. That service reinforced a lot of my feelings of unity and call from the night before. After that, we finished up the delegations (and alternates) for General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Most of Saturday, though, was problematic and frustrating, and the ending was far from satisfying.

And God's People Said: New England Annual Conference 2015, Part 3

Friday afternoon through evening at Annual Conference was probably my favorite part of all of AC. The business was pretty straightforward; what really stood out was the worship. The afternoon started with the Memorial Service, and we ended the day with the Service of Ordination and Commissioning.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Through Dim and Bright: New England Annual Conference, Part 2

Circle of hope, circle of light
Guiding our days, guarding our nights
Sustaining love, through dim and bright
Circle of hope

Friday was, for me, the most meaningful day of Annual Conference. The day started off with an incredible Bible study with Bishop Gregory Palmer, and there were three really powerful worship services, one of which I'll talk about in this point. However, there was also a lot of frustration and pain, particularly around the conversation about camping ministry.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

With God's Help: New England Annual Conference 2015, Part 1

Listen to the word that God has spoken.
Listen to the One who is close at hand.
Listen to the voice that began creation.
Listen even if you don't understand.

This past week I attended my first Annual Conference. I'd been to an ordination service before and several years ago helped with childcare, but this was the first time I participated in the conferencing. I came in knowing that discernment, particularly discernment in the midst of politicking, can be hard, though I wasn't always prepared for exactly how hard and what form the problems took. At the same time, I wasn't fully prepared for the moments of great joy. This is the first of a few posts about how Conference went and what I took away from it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pre-Annual Conference Reading

New England Annual Conference starts tomorrow! I plan to be tweeting about it here, and the pre-conference booklet is here. Below is some of what I've been reading and thinking about leading up to conference.

Annual Conference and Connectionalism
Eric Little talks about the need for more evidence of our connexion throughout the year, not just at AC. He focuses on clergy but talks a little about how laity can contribute to this by carrying more of the load within the local church. But if we believe that connexionalism is one of the strengths of our structure, then we need laity engaged in the connexion as well.

Full Communion
This was about further conversations between the UMC and the Episcopal Church on forming a full communion relationship. It also mentions that the UMC is also working on entering into full communion with the Moravian Church. I don't have much to say on this, but I'm pretty excited.

The Church is not Glocal, It's Catholic
This semester, one of my Catholic friends asked me what I meant when I said I believed in the "holy catholic church" in the creed, and I responded that I meant the church universal, not just in the sense of all places but also all time. This post (and the three that follow it) talk about appropriate and inappropriate use of other languages and customs in worship, and a lot of the argument is based on that idea of the catholic church: "The Church's historic liturgy transcends time, space, culture, ethnicity, and language. That is, catholic worship is by its very nature multicultural." I'm not a huge fan of his recommendations for languages in the liturgy (so much Latin and Greek), but he makes good points.

The Global and the Local at Annual Conference
David Scott points out here the ways in which AC, which can seem pretty local, has elements of the global (especially with General Conference next May). Again, not much to say here, but I'll definitely have this in mind over the next few days.

And finally, a prayer for AC from Jeremy Steele:
A Prayer for the Methodist Church and Annual Conference

Monday, June 8, 2015

Young People as the Church

I've read a lot of posts over the past few weeks about reaching millennials and whether we focus too much on millennials in thinking about growing the church (probably prompted by responses to the Pew Report). But something that has come up in several places around me recently is how we treat the young people - children, youth, and young adults - in the church.

First of all, a reminder: children, youth, and young adults are not simply the future of the church. They are the present. They are part of the church today and have something to contribute today.

Stephen Rankin wrote about starting in ministry when he was 19, giving sermons weekly and leading the youth group. He comments that this level of responsibility is rarely given to young people now.

Youth should not just be leaders within the youth program but within the church as a whole; they shouldn't be cut off. College students shouldn't just be leading those younger than they are. All confirmed members of United Methodist congregations have pledged to support their congregations with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness. In being part of a community of faith, we take on responsibility to that community. Our confirmed young people (if not younger members as well) need to be on our committees, influencing matters within the church along with other members because they are part of the church. Children, youth, and young adults should be included in all aspects of church life. They should be at -- and be encouraged to participate in -- worship, studies, visioning meetings, church conferences, and mission activities.

The Oklahoma Conference is great in that it has a really active group of youth members at Annual Conference, but very few young lay delegates were elected to General or Jurisdictional Conference. (It was much better on the clergy side of things.) That's partially because people are less likely to know delegates who have been coming to AC for a couple of years compared to someone who has been coming for many years. Jeremy Steele touches on this and makes an argument for electing young people and gives a few suggestions for qualifications for young delegates. Robert E. Haynes responded with a suggested set of qualifications for any delegate and argues against focusing too much on age.

I think both suggested sets of qualifications are good ones, but I do think there is value in specifically considering electing young people. If we do not do it intentionally, then because they do not have all the same connections, they are far less likely to elected even if they have the qualities we look for in delegates. Are those connections relevant and beneficial? Yes, of course, and so is experience, yet there is value in new voices, too. Youth in and of itself is not a reason to vote for someone, but if young people are truly part of the church, then we must give them the opportunity to be active at all levels of the church, and that means not looking to only the familiar, experienced people to continue to lead. (And really, this applies to all new voices, regardless of age.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

God Brought Us Here

I gave the sermon at church this Sunday. When the minister asked me to preach, she asked me to talk about what I believe. The lectionary readings were 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17, and the opening hymn was "How Can We Name a Love." Based on all of that, this is (pretty close to) what I ended up saying. (Also posted on the church blog.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Two years ago today, with most of the Boston area shut down, a friend in the year above me at college asked on Twitter, "Is there a precedent that says Boston will be okay?"

I replied, "Today is the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. As someone who grew up in OKC, I believe we'll be okay."

Today it has been twenty years, and it has been two. April 19th for me will always mean Oklahoma City, will always mean 168 seconds of silence at 9:02 am CDT, but I was far too young to remember. Two years ago, I was here, not so far from Boston. I don't know how I could forget.

It's important to remember. But what came out in my friend's question was hope for recovery, and as Easter people our hope is not only for recovery but for resurrection. I grew up in a city that was and is living out a resurrection story.

We are changed because new life is indeed new. We do not forget, but we grow and we live.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Learn of Christ to Bear the Cross

One of my favorite Holy Week hymns (and I love a lot of them) is "Go to dark Gethsemane" by James Montgomery. At Tenebrae tonight we read from St. Augustine's treatise on the Psalms in which he writes about understanding the trials of the psalmist and joining the psalmist in those trials through prayer:"Let us now see under what evil he lies; and when he begins to speak, let us place ourselves beside him, that, by sharing his tribulation, we may also join in his prayer." That really reminded me of this hymn; the last line of each verse focuses on something we can learn from Christ in the experience of Holy Week.

Go to dark Gethsemane, 
ye that feel the tempter's power; 
your Redeemer's conflict see, 
watch with him one bitter hour. 
Turn not from his griefs away; 
learn of Jesus Christ to pray. 

When Christ went to pray, he told Peter, James, and John also to watch and pray that they would "not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) The disciples fell asleep time after time, but Jesus prayed and grieved through the weakness of the flesh. Christ did not sin, but he was tempted as one of us. One of the readings from the Letter to the Hebrews tonight emphasized this: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Monday

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he 
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way 
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and 
peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who 
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, 
for ever and ever. Amen.
-- Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Holy Monday

During Holy Week, the liturgies do not include a dismissal. We are still sent out, but we also remain in the worship service from Sunday to Sunday. We do not skip from Palm Sunday to Easter or even from Palm Sunday to the Triduum to Easter. The journey lasts the full week.

Blest are those who from this table
Live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.
-- Sylvia Dunstan

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.


It's the cry of a crowd that was horribly wrong about the nature of their Lord and the scope of the salvation to come. But with each Eucharist we nevertheless sing this hymn. Their expectations were wrong, but their song was true. Hosanna. Save us, a praise to the One who will save and a plea for deliverance. They were in need of a savior, and we stand in need of Christ still. Christ is still the One who comes in the name of the Lord, the One who is God Incarnate to deliver us, the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord. We strive for relationship with God who created us and all the world in power and might, the God in whose image we are made. When we turned away and our love failed, God's love remained steadfast. (Service of Word & Table II) Through all our cycles of apostasy, God loved, God loves, and God will love. And so God, whose glory fills all that is, whom we characterize by power and might, became flesh. This is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

We are always in need of God's grace, so we call out, "Hosanna," and God saves.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hungarian Hymns: Grant Me Tranquility

I spent last semester in Hungary, and I have a Hungarian hymnal, "Az Úrnak zengjen az ének." This hymn, "Adj már csendességet" by Balassi Bálint, is the first in the Lenten section of the hymnal. The title translates as "Grant me tranquility." Here's a video of the hymn:

During Lent, I've been singing the Psalms, and something I like about this hymn is that it feels very Psalm-like in topic and tone. It goes from lament about circumstances to mourning sin to trust in and praise of the Lord. Here are some of my favorite lines in both Hungarian and English (translation by Szirtes George):

Sok ideje immár, hogy lelkem szomjan  vár mentségére, 
Őrizd, ne hadd, ébreszd, haragod ne gerjeszd vesztségére! 
Through long years of penitence,
my spirit craved sustenance, desiring salvation;
Shield me and watch with me,
let not your enmity cause my damnation.

Nem kicsiny munkával, fiad halálával váltottál meg. 
Not without labour you saved me, my saviour, through death of your son.

Nem kell kételkednem, sőt jót reménlenem igéd szerint, 
Megadod kedvesen, mit ígérsz kegyesen hitem szerint.
Why should I doubt,
when despair is cast out in trust of your word;
Freely you’ll grant me
the grace not denied me, the faithful’s reward.

Repülvén áldjalak, élvén imádjalak vétek nélkül, 
Kit jól gyakorolván, haljak meg nyugodván, bú s kín nélkül!
Flying, I’d bless you,
adoring address you, my trespass defying,
Thus practiced in flight,
my soul being healed might I rise in my dying.

Taste and See the Grace Eternal

"All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly" is a communion hymn by Sylvia Dunstan. It's in The Faith We Sing, and I love its focus on community and grace.

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering.
Here, in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Glory of These Forty Days

The United Methodist Hymnal doesn't have many Lent-specific hymns outside of the Holy Week section, which is a shame. "The Glory of These Forty Days" isn't in the UMH or any of the supplements, but it's in the Catholic Missal and the Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal).

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

So often we don't think of Lent as a season of celebration or a time of glory. It's solemn and somber, a contrast to Easter following it. We bury alleluias during Lent! Nevertheless, though, a season of introspection and cleansing should be joyful. I'm reading through Mark, and I recently read the section in which Jesus tells the Pharisees that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Lent is a gift to us just as the Sabbath is. Lent is a time to look to the model of Christ, fully God and thus Creator, in fasting and prayer. As we seek to be renewed in God's image, we follow the example of God Incarnate.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teach Us With Thee to Mourn Our Sins

"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" by Claudia Hernaman is one of the few non-Holy Week hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal that is explicitly Lenten. It's commonly sung on Ash Wednesday or the first Sunday during Lent, but it's appropriate for the whole season.

Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.

The first verse of this hymn is probably my favorite, and  "Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins" is without question my favorite line. The forty days of Lent mirror Christ's forty days in the wilderness, and so Lent should be for us a time of spiritual discipline as set forth in the Lord's example. Lent is a season of both penitence and reconciliation, and those require self-examination. But we don't observe Lent alone. It's not within our power to keep our Lenten disciplines alone! The point of Lent is our need for God's grace. Without God's grace we would not know what is sin, we would not be able to repent of sin, and we would not recognize in ourselves the image of God. We would not know God. Only by God's grace can we be cleansed, restored, and go on to perfect love.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Links!

Here are a few links from things I've been reading or listening to over the first week of Lent:

-- Sing the Psalms! They're in an order appropriate for the church season, and each day there's at least one suggested tune. Most of the pieces of music are common settings for hymns, which is helpful. (Today's is to Beach Spring!)

-- Taylor Burton-Edwards, the Director of Worship Resources at the General Board of Discipleship, wrote about not doing Ashes at Home when there were winter storms last Wednesday, leading many churches to cancel Ash Wednesday services. His point is that our repentance is not just personal but corporate and that we gather for penitence.
Drew McIntyre agreed, and he addressed some of the more common reasons given for doing something like Ashes at Home.

-- April Fiet wrote about "Remember that thou art dust," and it's beautiful:
"Ash Wednesday’s earthiness is no accident. It draws us back to the creation of the world and of humanity. It grips us as we recall our own mortality. And it invites us to enter into the places in our lives where we need to get our hands dirty."
"We are following in the footsteps of one who got his hands dirty, who reached out and touched those who needed it most, ate with those deemed unworthy by society, and had no place to lay his head.
Lent is an imperative to go and do likewise."
-- A playlist of St. Louis Jesuits' music. The post is Lent related. The music isn't directly related, but it's all very Lent-appropriate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ashes to Ashes

I love "Sunday's Palms are Wednesday's Ashes" by Rae E. Whitney for a lot of reasons. It happens to be set to my favorite tune, but more than that, it perfectly expresses Ash Wednesday and, in many ways, Lent as a whole. It mirrors confessional prayers from Eucharist liturgies, but despite focusing on our failings, it always turns to forgiveness and hope.

Sunday's palms are Wednesday's ashes
As another Lent begins;
Thus we kneel before our Maker
In contrition for our sins.
We have marred baptismal pledges,
In rebellion, gone astray;
Now, returning, seek forgiveness;
Grant us pardon, Lord, this day!

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

We wave the fronds high and shout for joy. We sing loud hosannas and praise the King. If we did not cry out, the stones would do so in our place.

But Sunday's palms are Wednesday's ashes. The week that begins in a triumphal entry ends in darkness, a darkness that would become light, but a necessary darkness all the same.