Unfold: Divine Love and Holy Persistence

Unfold: Divine Love and Holy Persistence

By Rev. Phil Dieke
Chapter 3 of our Unfold series is titled: Divine Love and Holy Persistence. This chapter kicks off with Easter Sunday. What better way to express Divine Love and Holy Persistence, than celebrating resurrection. From death to new life. 

I’m writing this chapter’s blog at the end of the chapter. To be honest, I’ve struggled to know what to write about this chapter. Reflecting back on the content of this chapter I think I have finally realized why I have struggled. While the theme of this chapter is all about God showing up, regardless of the situation, no matter the circumstances. God shows up. This has been the messaging, and yet sometimes that messaging is hard to believe. Sometimes the faith we profess doesn’t match up with our experiences.

Right before we began this chapter, we received word that our senior pastor, Rev. Mitchell Boone, will be reappointed to First UMC Dallas beginning July 1 and Mitchell made the decision that June 5th will be his last Sunday leading worship at WRUMC. We entered this chapter processing this news, anxiously awaiting to hear who our new pastor will be, a bit perplexed about the future, reflecting fondly on our past. And, if you’re like me, not quite sure how to feel in the present. 

Though I never heard anybody articulate their feelings exactly in this way, I do think an underlying question from many of us has been:

Where is God in the midst of all this?

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to say that Mitchell is the only person who brings about the presence of God in our community at White Rock. We all carry the divine presence, and God shows up in each and every one of us. The Christ in me, greets the Christ in you. I fully believe that. And yet there is still this feeling of loss, and often when we feel loss, when we grieve, we begin to question God. We need somebody to blame. Turns out God is just as easy to blame as our Bishop (though really it is the work of the Cabinet to appoint clergy, not just the Bishop), or anybody else for that matter. In our sadness, and especially in our grief, we search for meaning. And, if we can’t make sense of the experience, or more specifically our emotions, we start to question everything… even the presence of God.

I think this is quite normal. To ask “Where is God in the midst of all this,” is not only a legitimate question, but also one I think God welcomes. Because in asking this question we are embracing the search. The very act of searching for God is indeed an act of faith. In asking the question we are not giving up on God, rather expressing the pain of our loss and, independently and collectively, striving for God’s presence in the midst of our pain. 

Again, I don’t mean to elevate Mitchell as the only bearer of God at White Rock, but the news of Mitchell leaving is for sure a loss. For nearly a decade Mitchell has been a source of stability in this community. Not only within the walls of White Rock UMC, but also in the East Dallas community. The news of Mitchell leaving means the loss of a pastor, a friend, a colleague, a leader, an advocate… it is also a loss of stability. And I wonder if the loss of stability is one of the greatest losses. Not that Mitchell isn’t a great pastor, a great leader, all those things, but in a world that feels increasingly unstable the loss of Mitchell may feel like a breaking point. 

  • A 2+ year pandemic…
  • A racial reckoning…
  • A denomination at the brink of schism (maybe a strong word)...
  • An ongoing war in Ukraine… 
  • A dropping stock market…

The list goes on and on, and now my pastor too?

Friends, loss is never easy. Regardless if it is the loss of a loved one, the loss of stability, or the loss of a beloved pastor. It is quite natural to question where God is in the midst of all the loss, all the instability. And yet, the faith we profess says God is here all along. Not dictating these decisions like a puppet master, rather responding in the most loving way possible. In our pain, in our fear of the unknown, in our uncertainty God is with us. Divine love continues to surround us.

I believe this, and sometimes it is all I can do to believe it. Be reminded the word “believe” in the New Testament can just as easily be translated “trust.” I believe God’s love persists, even more so I trust it. Sometimes my trust is rooted in theological and intellectual endeavors… I will myself into this trust through my thoughts and my studies. Other times, that is not enough. I can’t convince myself God is present, that God’s love is indeed persisting. In those times I need an experience with God. I need to be reminded that God’s love exists beyond just my intellectual thoughts.

In times like this I typically turn to nature. I take my dog on a walk. And thanks to the advice of my friend Jenny, I allow myself to see the world through my dog's eyes for a bit. I notice every single squirrel, and then I notice the birds. And though I can’t smell what he does, I pay more attention to the smells around me. Taking a walk and experiencing the world with the curiosity of my dog reminds me of the beauty of creation all around me. Sure there’s a whole lot of concrete, but there are also lovely flowers. I walk my neighborhood a lot, yet I continue to find new flowers that exemplify the beauty of God’s creation. A simple flower can sometimes, not always, but sometimes be enough to remind me of God’s love.

Amongst the loss, the uncertainty, the instability… the beauty of a flower, God’s love persists. 

For you it may not be nature, maybe it is music. Maybe a conversation with your lifelong friend. When it seems like the world is falling apart, when it seems like God is distant or not present at all, where do you turn? What practice helps you remember that God is always present? Today I encourage you to take a moment to sit and ponder:

What helps me believe/trust in God’s divine love and holy persistence?

We began this chapter with Easter Sunday celebrating resurrection. Our community, our nation, even this world is experiencing a sort of death. And yet, as Easter People, we believe that new life is also emerging. 

Where are you seeing new life?
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