Tag Archives: religion

Defining Moments

Abraham Lincoln had a defining moment at Gettysburg when he began his speech, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…”

Martin Luther King, Jr. had one August 28, 1963 when rallied a nation with his dream.

President Bush had a less than stellar one on May 1, 2003 when he stood on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.”

In my city of Denver, quarterback John Elway had his moment on January 25, 1998 when he led the Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl championship, beating the defending Green Bay Packers 31-24.

Defining moments are interesting and memorable events. They can cut two ways, either reminding us of courage and greatness or of foolishness and failure. I suspect that all of us desire the first and fear the second.

The truth is all of us are more than one moment in our lives. None of us should be defined by a single event. Each of us are far too complicated to be defined by a single act, whether great or foolish. There is an interesting human tendency to elevate those who have done great things to a god-like status and demonize those caught in foolishness.

Although we are at the front end of 2017, it seems that this is going to be a year of giving space for a fuller story. I don’t want to be a person who defines and pigeon holes others based on a particular moment, whether that is a moment of greatness or of intense foolishness.

Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, reflected, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

In 2017 I want to be a person who knows what it means to both give and receive Amazing Grace.

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22 years

At the end of this month I will celebrate my 22nd year of leading DOOR. Back in 1994 my plan was to stick around for 4-5 years and then move on. Very quickly this job became more than a stopping point figure things out. Co-workers became friends and neighbors became family. What follows is one of many stories about what keeps me coming into work every day.

“I am no longer going to be embarrassed about where I come from and who I am.”

Anna Martinez said this was her biggest take-away from her summer as part of DOOR Denver’s Discern summer staff. Anna and her family have been my family’s neighbors for 20 years. We live in a center city neighborhood which has experienced multiple transitions. Some people think of where we live as the “ghetto.” This had been a cause of great embarrassment for Anna.

Over the summer as she lead groups around the city and her neighborhood, Anna took the time to tell stories about where she lived. Anna was instrumental in educating our DOOR participants about her culture, neighborhood, and family. This work planted a seed of self-esteem. Anna, a young woman of 17, had found a sense of self-worth and pride for her culture, neighborhood, and background.

Discern participants from each DOOR city have similar stories. Over the past decade we have hired and worked with over 400 Discerners like Anna. In 2017 we want to expand our Discern program. Our goal is to double our annual participants and expand our Discern program beyond the summer to a year.

Thanks to you, 2,156 youth and young adults were able to participate in our Discover, Discern, and Dwell programs this year. On behalf of them, thank you for making a DOOR experience possible.

Your partnership in this endeavor is key to any success. Would you be willing to make a special donation of $50, $100, $1,000, or whatever you can afford to help us expand the reach and depth of this program?

We simply can’t do it without you. Your financial support will make a real, lasting impact in the lives of young adults like Anna.

Please, click here to make your donation now.

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Anna, 3rd from left, with 2016 Denver Discern team 

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The Road Trip Diaries – Farmer’s Sausage

There are certain smells that I love. Fresh baked cookies, a spring rain, and green chile season in Denver. I have come to love the smell of roasting green chile peppers. 20 years ago I didn’t get this obsession with roasted peppers; today the smell reminds me that my meals will be just a little spicier for the next year.

On August 21 I was reminded of another smell, one that had begun to fade just a bit. We had been invited over to Rita’s aunt and uncle’s home in Surrey, BC. It was Sunday mid-morning and we were about to be treated to brunch. I was especially excited for Miguel because he had never experienced a Canadian Mennonite brunch. I was expecting some Low German waffles, white sauce, and bacon. As we sat down a faintly familiar smell filled the room. A plate of famer’s sausage. Over the years Rita and I have looked for an American version of this delicacy, but is doesn’t exist in the USA. Farmer’s sausage is as unique to Canadian Mennonites as roasted green chile peppers are to people from the Southwest.

On that day as I enjoyed more farmer’s sausage than is appropriate, I was transported back to my youth. A few days later as Rita and I began the drive back to Denver I began to reflect on how my life had changed since moving to the USA in 1988. Neither of us expected to stay on this side of the border more than the three years it took to complete seminary. Now both of us have spent more time in the USA than in Canada. We have raised our boys and made friends. We have found a community and neighborhood to call home. This is where my wife is winning her battle with cancer. Down the street from our house is the church where I was ordained. None of this would have happened if we weren’t open to new possibilities.

Denver was never in my plans. Today I cannot imagine my life without Denver, DOOR, His Love Fellowship, or our neighbors. I still love and appreciate where I came from – those smells are important. I am glad that I have had the opportunity to experience new smells and come to appreciate them as my own.

This personal journey has also informed my faith journey. I am grateful for everything in my past that has informed my understanding of faith and life. I am equally grateful that I have come to enjoy other expressions of the Christian faith. It is only when we are open to a God who wants to do new things in our lives that we can begin to value the vastness and diversity of the Christian community.

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Empathy

In a normal year I like to watch the news and I especially like the political round tables. Lately I have found myself switching channels. Debates seem to be less about ideas and more about bullying. A few weeks ago I watched a debate between some Republican and Democratic pundits. I was intrigued by the Republican who attended a United Church of Christ congregation known for being very progressive. Before long I was both disappointed and sucked in. This man was railing against his church. The Sunday before his pastor had said something about white people being racist, simply because they are white. This is not an unusual claim and from my perspective is also correct.

Whenever I am in conversations where this is brought up the room either gets deftly silent or a slow defensive anger begins to grow. Either way the white men and women in the room do not react well to be called “racist.” Their responses to this take a number of approaches. There is the, “I judge people by how they treat me, not their skin color.” Or the, “I have never said a racist thing in my life.” There is also the friend approach, “I have friends of color, they have never called be racist.” My personal favorite, “I voted for Obama.” If you have been in one of these discussions chances are you could add many more responses. The point to all these responses has something to do with never having joined a hate group or used racist language. From a certain perspective they have move to a place beyond racism.

As I have thought about that pundit and reflected about conversations I have been part of, I wonder if what many white people are lacking is empathy. According to Google, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  More often than not privilege and power becomes a barrier to empathy.

White privilege affords me the freedom to only understand my world, my context, my feelings, my Christian values, and my responses. And all of these “my’s” get to be considered the standard of how everyone else should respond.

So when a person, particularly a person in power, says “I don’t judge people until I know their character,” that says something about privilege. It assumes that the other person will treat me with enough respect so that I don’t have to run in fear. My brothers and sisters of color do not have this privilege. All too often they are judged simply because of the color of their skin.

As a white person I get all the privileges of being white. My world view is the standard. My Christian faith is correct. My freedoms are the first to be preserved. Living in this world means that I benefit from structures designed to make my life better at the cost of making things more difficult for people of color. This is racist.

Changing this system, working towards a world where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin will take a whole lot of work. A good first step is recognizing that “Black Lives Matter.”

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White Privilege

One of my job responsibilities is to have regular check-ins with our City Directors. These calls are usually filled with laughter, frustration, anger, and occasionally the unexpected. This past week the unexpected happened.

We were about 30 minutes into our conversation, when all of a sudden the person on the other end when into a minor panic moment. Like me she was multi-tasking. The call started with her working from home, then she packed up and headed to her car to go to a meeting. In the process she went from talking on her headphones to switching to her car’s Bluetooth system. The crisis happened about 5 minutes into her drive. At first I was worried she had gotten into an accident. This was not the case.

She had forgotten to take out her wallet and put it on the dashboard. Her panic seemed a little unwarranted to me. So in a silly attempt to say “no big deal” I started laughing. For her it was a big deal.  In a moment of grace, on her part, she proceeded to explained things to me. It went something like this:

“Glenn, I am a black woman driving a car, if the police decide to stop me I don’t want them to think that when I reach for my wallet that I am reaching for a gun.”

This staff person is close to my age. Both of us have been driving for 30 plus years. In all of that time I have never worried about where my ID is. To be honest I don’t even panic if I forget my ID at home. Getting a ticket would suck, but I wouldn’t be afraid of the encounter.

For more than 30 years my friend and co-worker has had to think about where her ID is every time she gets into a car. This grows out of a very real concern for her life.

Privilege, particularly white straight male privilege, means that I get to go about my day-to-day life without worry. For the most part I do not need safe places, mostly because the world is my safe place. I don’t always know what to do about my privilege. I didn’t earn it, it simply is. One thing I am slowly learning is to listen to the concerns of my friends of color and those in the GLBTQI community. Their fears are not “boogeyman-ish;” they are real. All you have to do is turn on the news. Somehow I want to find a way to be part of the solution. This is my hope and dream.

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A time to weep

In Romans 12:15 the Apostle Paul calls us to, “weep with those who weep.” Like many I first heard about the tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida Sunday morning as I got ready for church. 50 people killed and 53 others injured. The worst domestic act of terror since 9-11. This is a time to weep. 50 people, 49 victims and 1 hated filled perpetrator, each one created in the very image and likeness of God, gone. This is the kind of stuff that breaks God’s heart. Then to find out the shooter was acting as both judge and jury towards our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, added an additional level of pain to an already heart-rending day.

If there was ever a time for people of faith to stand shoulder to shoulder, this was it. Sunday was a day when every worshipper in every church, mosque, and temple needed to stop, pray, and mourn.

Now, a few days after, I am also bothered by a conspicuous silence by some in the faith community; the leaders, pastors, and lay people who are uncomfortable. Without a doubt this is a moment to lay aside our theological and political differences and stand together. Our common humanity negates any theological, religious, lifestyle, or political differences we might harbor.

If people of faith cannot find a way to stand together and be present, supportive, loving, and praying, our faith really doesn’t have much significance.

My role at DOOR affords me a tremendous amount of contact with young people. One of their major frustrations with the church and people of faith is hypocrisy. They hear sermons about a loving God, then watch their leaders condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They are told about a pro-life God, then instructed to buy guns to protect themselves. They hear the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world,” and are then told to hate the gays, the Muslims, and anyone who doesn’t respect our way of life.

I am tired of religious expressions that are constantly looking for ways to exclude, hate, and judge. I claim a faith that rejoices with those who rejoice, mourns with those who mourn, and steadfastly believes that everyone is created in the image of God.

Today I stand with Orlando, Florida. Today I stand with all my brothers and sisters who have been judged. Today I choose to believe that love wins and hate loses.

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Simplicity, Complexity, and Fairness

In my role I quite often receive both solicited and unsolicited advice. There is something about working with people that always leaves room for improvement. Interestingly enough this is a source of tremendous joy and frustration, all at the same time.

In April of this year I turned 51. Somehow I always figured that by the time I got to this age most of my time would be spent sharing my wisdom with those around me. That hasn’t happened. In my more hopeful moments I am pretty sure that I have learned some life lessons. The hopeful moments are not the majority of my moments. Most of the time I find myself in the role of a learner.

Last month that was made clear to me again when one of our yearlong Dwellers sent me an email. Each of our DOOR cities hosts three unique programs – Discover, Discern, and Dwell.

Our Dwell program is for individuals to spend a year living in intentional Christian community while serving in a local agency placement, worshiping in an urban congregation, and reflecting together as a community.

Additionally being a Dweller also includes a commitment to living simply for the year. This means our Dwellers live together in community, and receive a small food, transportation, toiletry, and living expense stipend each month. When we first conceived of this program 20 years ago asking everyone to live on the same budget was our way of creating fairness.

Last month one of our Dwellers pointed out in an eloquent way that “same” and “fair” are not the same:

DOOR should reconsider the monthly amount they give their Dwellers and volunteers, especially if they are wanting to further create diversity. One of the prime examples I can think of is the difference in the products that I use as a thick curly haired Latina versus my straight haired anglo female housemates. I use about four times the hair products to take care of my hair than they do and the products tend to be more expensive. The stipend we receive, in my experience, is not enough for toiletries, food, and the essentials for my hair. I have been managing this year with the help of my mother and father. However, if the goal of our service year is to live simply and within our stipend, then we should receive enough where I shouldn’t have to ask my parents to cover a basic need. If as a program, we want to have diversity in all areas like race, economic status, gender, and perspectives then I think this matter should be brought to the table. Thank you.

There is a popular saying within the social justice community that encourages people to “live simply so that others might simply live.” I am beginning to wonder if this well-intentioned one liner is a bit misleading. For those of us committed to diversity, inclusion, and justice maybe we need to recognize that the world is complex. Simple answers and simple living work when everyone looks the same, thinks the same, and believes the same. Quite frankly a mono-cultural world seems a bit boring. Maybe it’s time to live complexly so that everyone can live fully.

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Change

About once a year I go to a DOOR recruiting event. These are always good reminders about why we have a recruiter on staff. This year I attended a denominational gathering in Portland, OR. One of my favorite things to do it to walk the hallways between seminars and business meetings. This is how an outsider can get a sense of the big issues. As I walked the conversations around the water coolers were all too familiar. Who do we include in the life of the church? What disqualifies someone from ordained ministry? Can we expand our shared understanding of who can be included?

These discussions about inclusion always seem to be closely tied to a particular understanding of sin on the exclusion side and grace on the inclusion side. It is much easier to be a detached observer when it isn’t my denomination having the discussion.

There was one conversation that stopped me in my tracks. I was in line waiting to order my morning coffee. There were two pastors behind me, one from North America and the other from Africa. Just before I was about to order one of the pastors, clearly frustrated, asked, “Do you even want the church to change?”

I have been reflecting on this question ever since. If I am honest, I want church to be stable and predictable. I want the pastor to preach a sermon that inspires me. I want worship to recharge my batteries. There is a sense in which these ideas open me to the possibility of change. Really I just want church to reaffirm my convictions, beliefs, and perspectives. This means I want to be challenged and inspired to reaffirm my understandings of God, faith, and life.

The problem with change is that it forces me to accept the possibility that I might be wrong. I have spent years studying theology and serious amounts of time developing a solid theology.

Do I, Glenn Balzer, want the church to change? If I am honest, not really. The church is not about me. It is a place to worship God. This God I worship is dangerous. God is not all that concerned about our carefully constructed theology. Is it possible that one sign of maturity is a willingness to have our ideas of church, theology, and life deconstructed on a regular basis. In doing this can we create the possibility for the church to change, to be refined, to better express the heart of God?

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Cancer – 24 hours

In Matthew 6:34 Jesus tells his followers, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” As a husband who is watching his wife live through cancer, I am learning the truth about this.

It started Wednesday afternoon when Rita went in for her ultrasound check-up. The procedure was supposed to be a routine step along the road to radiation treatment. In a moment it all changed. The medical staff saw something and ordered tests. We were going to have to wait 3-5 days to find out if this was a bump in the road to recovery or a major change in direction.

That was Wednesday. The sun set and the sun came up. I started the 500 mile drive from my meetings in Kansas to Denver. 8 hours, alone in my car, switching between NPR, the best of the 1980’s, and silence. Then the call came, about 24 hours after the first call. They had fast-tracked the biopsies. Instead of 3-5 days, it was 24 hours. The news was good! They didn’t find any cancer.

In an instant I moved from fear to joy.

For anyone who has been touched by cancer or loves someone battling this disease you are well acquainted with moments that seem to spin on a dime. One moment everything seems to be going well and then something unexpected happens. A moment of joy turns into anguish.

I am slowly learning the wisdom of living in the present. Too often I have put important things off until later. I have let the business of life get in the way of loving, caring, and spending time with the folks most important to me.

Take some time today. Call that friend or family member you have been meaning to talk to. Let them know how important they are. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

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Great Again

I am writing this on an airplane bound for Washington DC.  It’s hard not to think about elections and the future.  In politics, finding good tag lines is important. Regardless of where you stand politically there is no denying the power of “Make America Great Again.” As I travel the country I have seen signs, shirts, and red hats promoting this message.

Like many I have also begun to wonder about the word “again.” When exactly was America great? Spending too much time reflecting on this question can be somewhat depressing. There are certainly great moments: the moon landing, the 1980 miracle on ice, and King’s march on Washington with his “I Have a Dream” speech. I suspect that each person reading this can come up with many moments of their own.

I am also someone who has worked with youth and young adults for the past two decades. I worry that all this emphasis on “again” is interpreted as a critique of emerging young leaders. Making America great again says something about going backwards and reclaiming a mythical past glory.

Is it possible that greatness is already present among us? When we talk about “again” what we are really doing is discounting and disempowering what makes this country great.

If you want to see the possibility of greatness, find out what our young adults are doing, particularly young adults of faith. In my work I have the privilege of a front row seat, watching greatness happen every day.

There young adults working for change at all kinds of levels. They seem to instinctively know that the past cannot repeat itself. There is a sense in which the world is both bigger and smaller. Isolating ourselves from one another is not going to work. Our common humanity will have to outmaneuver our political differences. Shared resources mean life and the pursuit of happiness for all. Advantages for the few are destructive and just plain selfish. Our young people know that intolerance, whether for religious or political reasons, only leads to hate, mistrust, and violence. If we want safety and security we are going to have to do the hard work of loving and forgiving each other.

I agree that I have the privilege of living in a great country. If we really want to move from greatness to awesomeness then let’s find a way to follow the leadership and vision of our young people first.

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