Grace from Gary

grace ɡrās/noun
  1. 1.
    simple elegance or refinement of movement.

Evolving Faith: Religion and Science in the Information Age

posted Jul 31, 2017, 8:02 PM by Sue Fried

by Pastor Gary Walpole

"When I have a terrible need of—dare I say, ‘religion’? - then I go outside at night and paint the stars.” 
          --Vincent Van Gogh
“It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
          --R.E.M “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”

What Christianity has done to form Western Civilization, science is doing today to form a new global culture and civilization.

Over 2,000 years ago, during a time of many religions around the Mediterranean basin, a reform movement within the Jewish religion was started by a Galilean from the village of Nazareth named Jesus. Within 500 years this Jewish reform movement had become the dominant religion in Northern Africa and all of Europe, Christianity. Within another 1,000 years Christianity had become the dominant religion of the dominant culture in the world, Western Civilization.

If we define religion as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”1 there are now four large world religions: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism; all of them with significant cultural influence where they are in the majority, but none have obtained the same cultural and social dominance as Christianity.

What Christianity has done to form Western Civilization, and other world religions have done to form civilizations they have influenced, science is doing today to form a new global culture and civilization. With the addition of the Information Age2 pace of this movement toward a global culture and civilization is significantly increasing. What used to take centuries is now taking less than a decade, what used to take decades is now taking years, what used to take months is now taking hours, what used to happen in days is now taking minutes, what used to happen in hours is now taking seconds.

With the coming of the Information Age the pace of change has become astronomical. My five-year-old nephew knows more about the workings of the human body, the physical dynamics of the world, as well as the age and size of the universe than my grandparents could have ever known. He will grow up in an era which will see the end of religion as we know it and he’ll be fine. While he will be infused with all that is scientific at a pace that will only increase in the Information Age he will still experience wonder and awe that call him to go outside of himself and “paint the stars.” This will remain true for all human-beings.

The key concept to understanding this new perspective of religion within the context of a new global culture and civilization is the scientific theory of evolution. Can we begin to explore an evolving God? An evolving Christ? Can sociocultural evolution3 help us understand the Bible, and all religious sacred writing, more effectively as sacred story relevant today?

We live in an awe-filled, wonderful time to be a people of faith. “In (an evolutionary) Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, italicized phrase added for your reflection.)
2 The Information Age is a period beginning about 1975 and characterized by the gathering and almost instantaneous transmission of vast amounts of information and by the rise of information-based industries. (
3Sociocultural evolution is the process of change and development in human societies that results from cumulative change in their stores of cultural information. (

Against Indifference

posted Apr 29, 2017, 3:07 PM by Gary Walpole

The Judicial Council, the supreme court of the United Methodist Church, ruled Friday, April 28. 2017 that the first openly elected lesbian Bishop, Karen Oliveto, is in violation of church law barring the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” But rather than removing her from her office of Bishop or invalidating her ordination credentials they referred the case back the Western Jurisdiction who unanimously consecrated her to be a Bishop. This is an administrative geological area of the United States made up of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Her consecration was immediately challenged by the South-Central Jurisdiction made up of the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

This is just the latest in an intensifying conflict about the inclusion of LGBTQ with the United Methodist Church.

During this Easter Season, I have been reflecting on a quote by writer, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines indifferent as “marked with impartiality: unbiased.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines indifferent as “the quality of not caring or being uninterested in something or someone.”

The United Methodist Judicial Council followed the letter of the United Methodist law and in doing so is trying to remain unbiased, indifferent. Resurrection screams as loudly as possible, “the time for indifference has past.” It is time for the United Methodist Church to proclaim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Resurrection are for all of God’s children!

Once again, the United Methodist Church has found a way put up a road block of injustice against people within the LGBTQ (LGBTQ stands for - lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer) community.

In a United States that is quickly realizing a person’s sexual orientation is a gift, the United Methodist Church has found a way to deny “God’s work of justice, reconciliation, and healing” to transform the world. A world that is infused people of faith from the LGBTQ community; gifted LGBTQ people participating in our United Methodist Churches and even serving as ordained leaders and a bishop within the United Methodist Church.

If you wish to read more about the Judicial Council’s ruling and articles from the Denver Post and Washington Post, or New York times you can click the links below;

Faith on Earth: Looking for the Galilean

posted Mar 31, 2017, 8:36 AM by Sue Fried

“It is the right time to turn toward the sovereign authority of God.” Mark 1:15a
          -Translated by Gary Walpole

First Affirmation: Jesus is a Galilean Jewish person of faith.

While we move into the 22nd Century, exploring the life of the historical Jesus has begun to play an important role in understanding what it means to “place our faith in God through Jesus Christ.” As many of the traditional titles for Jesus lose their power they are being replaced by insights about his life. As we journey toward Easter at Peace Community of Faith I have offered a new way of understanding Jesus the Christ.

One of the most important and respected Christian thinkers of the 21st century in the United States is Richard R. Niebuhr. He considers the structure of human faith, the association between interpersonal faith and faith in God, and faith in everyday living in his book Faith on Earth: An Inquiry into the Structure of Human Faith. For Richard Niebuhr faith is a combination of trust, confidence, commitment and loyalty in a common cause. How does this apply to Jesus?

Our first step in looking for the Galilean is acknowledging Jesus is a person of faith, not an abstract person but one living in the ancient Roman province of Galilee as a Jew who is confident, committed and loyal to God’s sovereign authority.

The core phrase that expresses who Jesus is and everything that Jesus says and does is the “Kingdom of God,” which I have translated as the “sovereign authority of God.” His life is an effort to live this out in all his being.

I place my faith in God through Jesus Christ because I see Jesus as the One who shows me how to live by faith and the One who shows me what the faithfulness of God may look like.

Using the tools of Modern Biblical Interpretation, we can explore the life of Jesus in canonical Gospels as a Galilean Jew who walked the trails of Galilee living out his faith in the sovereign authority of God, how his faith affected others and eventually it got him arrested, tried and executed as an opponent of the Imperial Roman Rule in Israel.

But before all of this he asks himself, “who is speaking and acting on behalf of God?” His answer draws him to a person clothed in camel’s hair, eating locust and honey, by the Jordan River leading a baptism movement. A man named John.

Choosing Happiness/Defying Gravity: Longing for Enough in a Culture of More

posted Nov 5, 2016, 7:53 AM by Sue Fried

by Pastor Gary Walpole
Paradise Job Description
“I’ve got two tickets to paradise. Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight.”
                                                     --Eddie Money
“God planted a garden in Eden.”
                                                     --Genesis 2:8

When you think of paradise what comes to mind? Palm trees? White, sandy beaches? Cool breezes? Gentle waves? Picture perfect!

Let me ask you something: Is there work in your picture of paradise? Wait! Before you dismiss this question out of hand, hold it for a little bit and consider this.

The Garden of Eden, remember that story – Adam and Eve and all that stuff. Well, a close look at the story tells us the “original paradise” is more about work than paradise. I’m not talking about the “punishment” part of the story with the snake, apple, and sweat of the brow stuff. I’m talking about work as being an important part of the story.

You know, the whole story, the story that reads like a job description.

Imagine the Divine logic. It goes something like this: God gets creative with life--trees, bushes, grasses, flowers, rivers; then living, moving companions called animals. Then THE companion. Here comes the charge--to be caretakers of the garden, you know watering, planting, weeding, pruning, harvesting. You know, like a farmer’s life--24/7, something  with purpose and meaning.

Here’s the job description of paradise. Wanted: creatures created from dirt willing to get dirty. Requirements: a sense of beauty, wonder, and creativity; a willingness to till, tend, and care; a combining of work, leisure, joy and pain. Outcome: it leads to all kinds of fruitfulness--most of it out of your control. The ability to work with others and a sense of humor are required. An appreciation of wondrous sunrises and sunsets is helpful. Benefits: everything under and over the rainbow.

Now that’s a job description! God plants, we care-give. My grandma used to tell me, “Gary, make yourself useful.”

Some paradise! What that word picture seems to paint for us, among other things, is a common phrase I remember: it’s not all about me. Work, career, life--it’s all about an artful balance. Remembering that the value of work is not about the pay check.

We have other options of course. It IS all about me. Give me the money! Paradise is all about chocolate-covered cherries and bonbons rather than doing something meaningful with our lives in the world. We think that chocolate-covered cherries and bonbons paradise leads to happiness. The reality is, it doesn’t.

Autumn Leaves

posted Oct 3, 2016, 4:08 PM by Sue Fried

God formed me from the dust of the ground, and breathed into my nostrils the breath of life; and the I became a living being. (Adapted from Genesis 2:7)
Many people think tree leaves fall and die during the fall season because of weather changes, but studies have shown the real reason for leaves falling is drought. This is because the primary function of leaves is photosynthesis, and photosynthesis requires the use of water, carbon dioxide and light to create food in the leaves to generate organic compounds and oxygen. In order to induce a suction force, however, the leaves will need to constantly sweat, and in the fall shed them so as not to get dried. As daylight gets shorter during fall, however, the leaves will gradually suffer thirst because of the reducing absorption of water with the shrinking daylight. This means even when trees live in wet climate with abundant snowfall and rainfall or even when in the warmest of falls, the trees will still lose their leaves, triggered by the shortened length of daylight.
Many changes occur in the leaves before they finally fall from the branch. According to Joe Lamp’L of DIY Network who wrote an article on ‘Why do leaves fall in autumn?’ at, changing colors of leaves during fall is part of an important and complicated process which ends in the leaves being shed at the end of each growing season. The trees, in protecting themselves, purge diseased, damaged or dead leaves, while they seal the point where the petiole connects to it. As the climate and light conditions of autumn evolve, tree hormones change as well, the most notable of which is auxin, a hormone in trees that promotes root formation and bud growth. The balance of auxin levels between leaves and branches is the key to determining if and when the leaves drop.
Much like the processes that end in the fall of tree leaves during the autumn season, a life of faith requires attention to our spirit in the way we live our lives. Like the leaves of autumn, we often fall under the dry spell experiencing a disconnection from God who is the Spirit of Life, forgetting that our very breathing is an act of spiritual connection with God (Genesis 2:7). Spiritual drought can happen when we are too caught up with the entanglements of this world and if we are not careful, we may, like the ‘photosynthesis,’ gradually fail to absorb the necessary energy from the light of the sun to produce food from water and carbon dioxide. When that happens, we will eventually lose our ‘leaves’ of a close relationship with God, who continuously gives life, triggered by the shortened length of ‘daylight’ because we neglect the source of all Life.
Many changes can occur in our lives if we spend too much time in the entanglements of this world which can lead us to finally fall from the ‘branch’ that connects us to God. The author of the Gospel of John has Jesus telling us of the importance of connection, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” (John 15:5). Embrace the way you nourish your life, give life in our world and realize these are natural connections for you with God, the giver of life.

Call God, God

posted Sep 5, 2016, 5:02 AM by Melissa Navratil

Within the cosmos now,
and maybe a universe then,
and maybe a universe yet to be
comes Spirit gliding on the cosmic wind.
It touches all with a sense of intent,
with a sense of creative power,
it whispers, “let Life begin.”

In an eternal moment this creative Spirit
swept over and within the waters of Earth
with a whisper, “let Life begin.”
It swam through the oceans
it crawled into the dirt
it flew into the air.
Life, above all and through all and in all.

Life evolved and evolved and evolved.
Then through water
through dirt
through air
comes Spirit gliding on cosmic wind.
Life is breathed into the One called Humane.
Then Spirit called god whispers, “let Love begin.”

The 2 Questions Neither Convention Is Asking

posted Aug 1, 2016, 1:14 PM by Melissa Navratil

By Ken Chitwood 07-26-2016


It is rare to hear a U.S. political party convention theme couched as a question. Conventions, for good reason, are typically oriented around statements — grand and bellicose, rallying and inspiring.

Last week, the Republican Party’s convention centered on the theme, “Make America Great Again.” This week, the Democratic Party’s theme is, “United Together.” Each is meant to galvanize the party’s base and entice voters with their vision for the United States. But what if they circled around a question? What if our political process — particularly in this poignant moment — started with a set of queries?

Instead of “Make America Great Again,” what if we asked, “What kind of America do we want to make?” What if we asked, “Why are we together?” rather than saying we’re “United Together”?

Asking these basic questions may seem silly, but it’s a powerful step we can take in such a divisive political climate, and in the midst of such a momentous election cycle. Good questions can disturb or comfort, motivate and guide — they can foster understanding and stimulate critical awareness.

Jesus knew the value of questions. Throughout his ministry, he used close to 100 different questions to provoke his followers and challengers. He confronted the hard issues of his day with queries that moved the conversation forward.

We might learn something from his example.

In this case, these questions can invite American voters to deeply contemplate what it is that is great about the U.S. and in what sense we are actually, or actually not, united.

If we are to move forward, we have to ask: What is so great about America, and what are we making of our nation today?

It’s good to question what exactly it is about America’s past that is so great. In a video from The Daily Show, correspondents asked Republican National Convention-goers when America was great. Respondents answered with various eras — the early 20th century, the Revolutionary War era, the 1950s. Daily Show correspondents then replied with challenges about slavery, women’s rights, and the extirpation of indigenous peoples. The clip would be hilarious if it weren’t so plaintively accurate.

While wistfully yearning for a bygone era of America’s supposedly-significant past and making it our mission to get back there may seem harmless, it also displays remarkable ignorance and a woeful lack of historical consciousness.

Optimistic visions of America’s future that are founded on idealized constructions of America’s past overlook the presence of America’s great contradictions. The darker realities of U.S. history regarding race, religion, equality under the law, abuses of power, ethnic cleansing, and systems of oppression must be confronted with hard questions, not nostalgic gloss. This is especially true when so many of these conundrums continue to haunt us, whether we like to admit it or not.

If we are to move forward at all, we have to ask: What is it that so great about America, and what are we making of our nation today?

While looking back with rosy reminiscence can be dangerous, it is worthwhile to peer into our history. By doing so, we can rediscover our core values as a republic. Especially when we consider why we are together in the first place.

Asking why we are together as a country with so many divisions, instead of simply stating that we are “United Together,” involves a choice — one to not falsely claim our unity when divisions are palpably present in our streets, our homes, and our congressional chambers. If we are to remedy these conflicts, we have to consider what unites us in the first place. We have to ask the hard question — why do we remain united at all?

Americans are a mixed bag of plural persuasions and principles. We come from myriad spiritual, economic, social, ethnic, and political backgrounds. We cannot take our unity for granted. Asking the question, “Why are we together?” challenges us to consider and define our core values. What is the fire in the American belly that inspires us to be united together for a greater goal? Is it freedom? Equality? Democracy? Defense against tyranny and oppression? Capitalism? Strength? Independence? Righteousness? Manifest destiny? God? Family? Entertainment? What unites us? What divides us?

What kind of America are we making, and why are we united in this together?

Conflict rises quickly when we consider these values. Capitalism and strength have made America great in some ways, but have also generated untold inequalities. Freedom is fine, except that it also permits money-obsessed pursuits of entertainment and happiness that dull our senses, fatten our self-indulgence, and replace meaningful news with infotainment. American wealth is peerless, but Jesus taught that our faith should make wealth meaningless.

In asking these questions, we’ll discover that there is no simple answer to our present spiritual, economic, social, or political angst. But our conversations over these questions will lead us deeper into discovering and articulating the deep questions that lie at the heart of our current soul-searching.

Before we can look forward with a compelling vision for America’s future, we have to confront the deep and disturbing realities of America’s past and present. Neither a false romanticism for what was nor a naive belief in the progress of humankind will do.

If the U.S. is in crisis, then we must treat it as such — we must ask the hard questions of what it means to be Americans together, today.

While questions may not serve as effective campaign platforms, they can spark a conversation and reveal what our missions, values, and visions truly are. Americans from all backgrounds and political parties should take the time to ask: What kind of America are we making, and why are we united in this together?

Ten Things to Understand About the Bible

posted Jun 30, 2016, 7:48 AM by Sue Fried

Here are a few things that may be helpful for understanding an ancient sacred writing like the Christian Bible in the modern age that can inspire us to be transformed and transform the world by the Power of Love.

1. We can take the Bible seriously but not read it literally. The Bible is not concerned with what or how it really happened historically, but with people’s or communities’ effort to explore their relationship with what is THE most important aspect of their lives together.

2. God did not write the Bible. We can think it was written by fallible human beings who were inspired by their encounter with what they considered THE sacred or divine. Hence, the Bible is not infallible.

3. The Bible is a story and as such it involves all the aspects of what it is to be human. It contains inconsistencies and contradictions as well as acts of horror that we rightly abhor. But like all great stories it engages our emotions as well as our intellect to move us to compassion.

4. We can read the Bible prayerfully and mindfully yet with an aspect of suspicion asking who has benefited from the way the Bible has been and is being understood.

5. Understanding the Bible today can be done in the context of understanding how it was read in the past, Christian Tradition; it is important to read it within the context of the modern sciences, Modern Reasoning; no one person has a corner on the truth of the Bible but it is best understood as an ongoing conversation within a present day Communities of Faith.

6. There is no “objective, one right way” to interpret the Bible. Everything we read we interpret. A person’s or communities’ social location, education, upbringing, socio-political context, and more affect how we read the Bible.

7.  We can consider the best available Biblical scholarship from those who study it academically and professionally.

8. We can seek to read the Bible with consideration of the historical, economic, socio-political contexts of the ancient world, frequently a time of oppression and occupation, in which the Bible was written.

9. We can employ a hermeneutic of compassion, love, and justice. A hermeneutic is “an interpretive lens” and intentional filter. Such a hermeneutic allows us to see the big picture of the forest rather than focus on a few trees that we may think are the most important in the forest.

10. Reading the Bible can be an art of engaging in a continuous millennials long conversation that is happening among people all over the world of many different faith perspectives. We can read with a sense of humility and hope that the conversation ignites acts of compassion, love and justice inspired not by the Bible, but by the Spirit of Love that infuses the Bible.

What Does This Mean?

posted May 31, 2016, 4:12 PM by Sue Fried   [ updated May 31, 2016, 4:14 PM ]

Some of you may be familiar with the term “confirmation.” Confirmation is seen as the sealing of the covenant created when an infant is baptized by young adults. In some denominations, it is the primary way individuals are educated into a specific, institutional understanding of Christianity such as the Lutheran, United Methodist or Catholic Church.

This was the experience when I went through Confirmation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the early 70s. Our text was a small book called “Luther’s Small Catechism” where we memorized such things as The Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. But what I remember most is memorizing the correct understanding, the Lutheran understanding, of each sentence of these important religious statements under the heading “What does this mean?”
What I did not understand then and support now is a significant change in the Christian faith that has caused me to rethink Confirmation. I have moved away from teaching the basics necessary within the United Methodist denomination to inviting young adults to explore some basic aspects of the Christian faith, from providing the answers, to affirming young adults to engage in their own faith journey.

The aspects of the Affirm Program at the Peace Community of Faith is a two-year commitment to be part of a group during the school year that engages and explores four basic aspects of Christianity: faith, the Bible, God, and Jesus.

The first three units are the topics for the first year. The first unit explores the basic structure of faith, engaging how beliefs and values fit into our faith bucket. The second unit on the Bible, engaging the Bible as story and exploring how a story can be inspiring and sacred. The third unit explores how the understanding of God has changed throughout the millenniums, engaging God as Spirit in this transitional time of Christianity.

The second year is devoted to exploring the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. We engage the Gospel of Mark as a story of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 through 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, and Resurrection as the power of Life that infuses us and the whole known universe.

The Christian faith is in the midst of millennial transformations. Many have a better idea of what we don’t believe anymore, but we are not quite sure what we do believe, what affirms and nurtures our soul and spirit. This is a time for us all to affirm exploring and engaging a new kind of faith within a new kind of church. Oftentimes, living the questions is more important than finding the answer.

Naming Our Thin Spaces

posted May 1, 2016, 5:19 AM by Melissa Navratil

I have a friend who loves St. Patrick’s Day. She prepares stew of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots for dinner that will have simmered a good part of the day in her slow cooker. She invites friends over for the evening and along with the dinner they will have Irish beer and soda bread from a local bakery. The same friend will bring an Irish Cream Chocolate Cake for desert. At the end of the day her soul has been filled not only with food but with love.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of Saint Patrick. Patrick was an English youth enslaved by the Irish, who, after escaping, returned as a priest to live among his former oppressors. In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill asserts Patrick was “the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery.”

Yet even more I love the Christianity he helped blend into what has become known as Celtic Spirituality. Instead of a male hierarchy, sin filled, and after life focused life, a model developed that reflects the beloved disciple in the Gospel of John whose head rested on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper “listening for the heartbeat of God.” Celtic spiritualty offers a model of faith that reflects more equality between male and female leadership, less differentiation between clergy and laity decision making, and it innovated the use of soul friends/guides, and recognized that everyone was a child of God, created in God’s image.

Central to Celtic spirituality is the natural presence of “Thin Places” in people’s lives. Thin Places are locations where the ordinary and the spirit seem to embrace. It may be a walk in the woods or sitting by a lake. It may be sitting alone or with people who are special to you. It is the time and place that nurtures your soul. We all have them but we seldom name them.

Take time to claim Thin Places in your life. Where are the everyday places and what are the ordinary activities that nurture your soul? Can you name them as Thin Places where you are embraced by the power of Love?

For my friend St. Patrick’s day is a Thin Place.

We all have them; can you name yours?

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