Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quelling our Own Storms--Sermon from June 21

Quelling our Own Storms
First, I would like thank everyone and the monks for allowing me to have this opportunity to preach to this congregation for the last time as a YASCer.
            While I was mediating on this passage, the terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC has been on my mind a lot.  This event highlights the deeply engraved racial inequality and issues that the US has been dealing with for the past few centuries.  This tragedy shows the current reality of race in America and our lack of effort to address the issue. The context surrounding this horrible attack reminds me a lot of the gospel.
            In our gospel reading today, we have the famous story of Jesus calming the storm.  An early show of Christ's power gives a glimpse of Christ's nature.  But this passage leads me to focus on the lack of the apostles actions than on Christ's actions.  It seems to me that the apostles lost all hope facing the storm that their current reality became the only reality. They could not imagine or conceive of a reality after the storm.
            Life today can feel much the same.  With the many wars, poverty, Climate Change, racial inequality in this country and my own, and the countless other despair bringing news article and clips; it is quite easy for us to lose hope.  To accept the way things are, because we are too overwhelmed to see past these many issues.  It is easy for us to become complacent with this reality because we cannot think of an alternative; it becomes our one reality of life.
The fault in our faith is also much like the apostles. Christ's powerful retort "have you still no faith," to the apostles really made me think.  What did he mean? What were the apostles lacking in their faith for such a retort from Christ? The first area of lack the apostles had was that they could not see past the storm.  They could not picture an end to the storm, just an end to their life.  Their fear blinded them from seeing the hope in God that things can and most importantly will get better.  No storm lasts forever. 
            The second lack of the apostles' faith, they failed to see what they could do with their own prayer and hard work.   These men became so trapped by this storm that they asked Jesus to deal with it.  They knew that Jesus was close with god, and that God seemed to listen to him.  They knew that Jesus could do something about it, and quickly. The apostle’s fear drove them to lay the work on Christ's shoulders.  They placed the responsibility of fixing this reality on him. 
            Today's society can easily mirror the apostles’ situation.  We can easily grow pessimistic about the world and its many large storms.  We all at some point in our life are filled with despair questioning how the world can ever change. Our mindless acceptance of our current reality blinds us from seeing the hope of the future, of looking past the storms. We easily place sole responsibility and blame on our communities, churches, and leaders to fix the world's issues, and fail to see how we can make the change or how we may have caused the storm to occur.  We cannot imagine how to address the issues at hand. 
            Though the apostles could not instantly quell the storm like Christ, they could quell the fear the storm brought. Through their own prayer and their understanding of God’s hope and love for them, they could find assurance of the storms’ end. They could work through the storm to prevent their perishing.   There prayer of hope in the future can help them see past the storm and give them courage to barrel out water; row with the waves, and sail with the wind away from the storm.  By no means is this easy, but their small attempts could help them weather the storm. 
            Of the modern day storms that harass our world, we must keep a prayerful spirit of hope and guidance of how we can help. As the heirs of Christ's ministry and assured by his love for us, our collective duty as Christ’s body should be working through the storm.   In no way can we easily command our issues to stop, but we can see the little places of helping.  Our small little acts in promoting the kingdom go a long way in bringing the storm to an end.  Our optimism in a better future allows us to deny the status quo, and make a new reality in which all can be free and equal: the reality of the kingdom of God. 
            I would like to leave you with a poem that helped me understand this passage, and more importantly helped me find the hope in a better future. As some of you may know, one of my biggest heroes in the world is an 11 year old boy, named Robbie Novak, or otherwise known as Kid President. In one of his many inspirational videos, one in particular fits well with this Gospel. His "Tiny poem to the world" speaks to hope of a better tomorrow that we all can work towards.  KP says,

The world is so big and we are all so small,
Sometimes it feels like we can't do anything at all.
But the world can be better
(In spite of its flaws)
The world can be better
And you'll be the cause
And even though the waves are bigger than our boat...
The wind keeps us sailing
Its love gives us hope
Some days it's dark
But we'll keep rowing, 
Because people like you whisper,
Keep going, keep going, keep going.



Friday, March 6, 2015

Oh I'm Half Way There!

Dear Bishop Ousley,

It has been six months now since I left my home, and moved to South Africa.  It has so far been an absolutely amazing, tough, tiring, but all together rewarding time.
I am mostly working as an ad hoc member of staff.  I do a lot of admin work like writing receipts,  making resources for the teachers, and lately writing school policy (this is not my favorite task, but it is a necessary one).Through my placement, I have also become an expert at negotiation and conflict resolution.
This job is not easy by any means.  First and foremost, if one of the kids in the conflict is crying, they forget or do not care to speak English.  This leads to me needing to find translators.  Once I have a translator, I then have to negotiate and understand their English with many misused gendered pronouns. Their home language, isiXhosa, does not use gendered pronouns, so the kids have a hard time grasping that concept.  This leads to rather complicated sentences, where everyone, regardless of gender, is referred to as “she”.  To say the least, it can be confusing.
I am also apparently the greatest swing pusher on the face of the planet.  Every recess I hear,"Bhuti push me,  Bhuti push." God clearly has it in His plans that I need to work on my upper body strength. I’ve had to limit swing pushing to just Tuesday and Thursday, my arms could not last if I didn't.  
Living with monks and in a Monastic Community has been an interesting experience.  Monks are actually normal people, surprising though it may be to learn.   I must say that before I did YASC training and lived at a Monastery, I thought Monks today were like monks of old.  I thought they were these unapproachable, quiet people, righteous, and above reproach.  While these can be true at given times, the monks can be found to be just as human as you and me. They have the full array of emotions,  they get into arguments, and they can also be quite loud. I am really thankful to be living with a Community.  They have been such a massive support,  having a community here while I am experiencing a whole range of new situations and challenges. It is really nice to have someone to process what I am experiencing.  It is also nice, because they challenge me and my faith all the time. They ask me so many new and different questions about God and what I believe. They have been teaching me so many new ways of getting in touch with the world, and what it means to live in Africa. “Is this normal?” is a fairly standard question for me to ask following encounters with the weird and wonderful ways things can be done here in South Africa.
The biggest thing I have learned though, is the power of love. I know this sounds really cheesy and cliched, but it is so true here.  The school literally runs on prayer and love, that is it. The amazing ministries that the school performs all happen with the prayers of the Monks and the larger community attached to the Monastery and school.   I find it incredibly powerful remembering that the school was founded on the prayer, "What can we do, Lord?"
The greatest blessing I have had from this whole experience is the people I work with and who I am able to serve in the process. The staff is absolutely amazing, and all possess an intense desire to teach their little people.  But the truly great blessing is working with these little people.  These kids have such a joy and desire for their education.
Everyday they come with a big smile on their face and an excitement to learn. Life is not easy for these little people; their lives and families are heavily affected by alcoholism, HIV and AIDs,  broken families or completely abandon,  and many have been affected by abuse in all of its heartbreaking forms.  Knowing just a small portion of what these kids go through, and seeing a smile on their faces; it is literally one of the most powerful and spiritual things I have ever felt. Seeing them flourish at a place where they know they are safe and loved is such an awe inspiring thing.
The people I have met and formed this amazing relationships with brilliantly sums up the South African philosophy that Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks about all the the time: uBuntu. uBuntu roughly means that a person is a person because of other people. Living in this foreign community, I am learning more about myself and my place in God’s creation because of the relationships within various different and exciting communities.  I pray that I am providing the same experience to the people I have met through this journey.
I would like to thank you Bishop Ousley and the Diocese of Eastern Michigan for making this amazing and fulfilling experience possible so far.  I would like to ask you and the Diocese to  pray for this amazing institution that it may continue its work for these kids, and of thanksgiving for the beacon of hope it provides to the local community. I  hope you and the Diocese are doing well, and I cannot wait to share more of my experiences with you and the diocese once I return.

God's Speed in all your endeavours,

Ryan Zavacky

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jesus and Mandela on the Mountaintop: Sermon for the Last Sunday of Epiphany-2/15/2015

Jesus and Mandela on the Mountaintop
The transfiguration of Christ is an important stepping stone and half way point for Christ’s ministry in Mark’s gospel.  This dramatic show to Peter, John, and James is a preview of Christ’s divinity.  This transformative time in Jesus’ ministry we see what the resurrection of Christ looks like.  We see a possibility of the things to come from Christ, and how the world can change.  Though this scene never alluded to the work that it takes to get to the resurrected Jesus; it never showed the Crosses of oppression that Apostles and Disciples needed to bare in order to see the resurrection once they returned to the valley.
Though I am still fairly new this this country, and only beginning to understand the struggle and strife this nation faced. I can still see the strides that this country has made and are making in developing a free and open society. Mandela was not just a hero to South Africans, but to the world.  I have long considered Mandela one of my role models and part of the reason why I wanted to come to South Africa.  
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s election and presidency, in my mind,  is a modern day example of Christ’s Transfiguration. As you all know, Mandela’s ministry as President of South Africa showed this nation the power of nonviolence and the hope of true equality.  He showed the world the power of forgiveness with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and with the help of the unity government made the world’s greatest constitution for the protection of Human Rights.  He showed us the power of love and hope have in changing the world. Madiba’s presidency, though a challenge, still showed what South Africa could be.  It showed possibility of a truly free and equal society if we follow the example of Mandela and associates.
 Jesus’s ministry was devoted to fight  the oppression of the poor through his preaching, He fought the corruption of the Temple elites by showing the their hypocrisy with his parables, and showing the world the power of love through his actions and healings. These acts after Christ's transformation, become more specific gestures to show his disciples the way of continuing his earthly ministry when he knew his time was quickly ending.
But much like the Transfiguration, South Africa had the return to the valley.  The world and South Africa have forgotten the long process that it will take to heal from their wounds of racial oppression and hatred, poverty, and corruption.  Much like the Apostles, South Africans seemed to believe that the work of healing the wounds of this great nation was on Mandela’s shoulders; the seeming sole bearer of the cross. Christ’s transfiguration was not showing Christ’s Divinity to prove to the Apostles that he can solely save the world. The scene on the Mountaintop showed the Apostles why they should listen him, why Christ’s gospel is justified in the eyes of God, and the part the Apostles played in his ministry.  
Mandela never could fully heal the country, but he knew that he could at least try to convince South Africans how to begin the process.  At the transfiguration, Christ knew that his life was coming to an end; his earthly ministry was soon ending.  For Christ’s gospel to succeed in this world, the Apostles needed to take control  of his ministry.  In the same way, Nelson Mandela’s time would end and has ended, leaving his disciples with the responsible of maintaining and continuing his ministry, despite the challenges of the Valley.
 Although I am not saying Mandela can resurrect like Jesus, but we are still waiting for the fulfilment of Mandela’s “resurrection.”  The complete fulfillment of the ideals of Mandela and his companions’ ministry would be his greatest resurrection. Together we, as his Apostles, should continue Mandela’s ministry, just as Christians are called to continue the ministry of Christ: though it is virtually the same thing. Much like Mandela, and Christ, we are actively called to continue to his work in sowing love, hope, and equality of all people.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Happy Anniversary!

Happy two year anniversary to me! Two years ago today, I was baptized into Christ’s Church at St. John’s Episcopal Church in  Alma, MI.
That day was an absolutely amazing  day filled with many friends and family, and at that time, one of the most powerful experiences of God’s love I have ever felt. Now, two years later, I am even more struck by God’s love.  
(My friends who have supported me throughout my faith journey!)
Lately, I have been really struck by the fact that I am living in South Africa. I know I should have probably realized this 4ish months ago, but you know life and things are happening. The great presence of God’s love has been from the amazing people I have met. I have become friends with many beautiful souls in my time in South Africa. Makhulos who give anything to the many children they watch, the strength of the schools social worker and the school counselor to the horrific stories they hear, and most importantly the wisdom of the little people  I watch.  They really are wise little people.  Near the end of last year, I was driving a grade 3 home to a farm about 30kms away.  Her name is Pheliswa.  

On our daily drive down the dirt road, we talked about many things.  One day I thought I would ask her is she was scared leaving Holy Cross next year and going to a new big school.  Having changed many schools in life,  I thought I could shed some light on changing schools.  She told me, “of course I am nervous Bhuti, who wouldn't be. But changing is life.”  I was so profoundly struck by the wisdom of this little girl.     

I have loved the journey my faith has taken me on in South Africa. It is really crazy how  quickly my faith has taken me to the ends of the earth !

(Literally( I cannot go any farther south in Africa)). 

 I can see God’s work in the world first hand. It is really interesting the things that can happen if you give up your plans for your life and let God control it.  I never planned on going to Africa, but  I am so happy I did.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My sermon from November 2nd

Ezra Benson, a former agriculture secretary of the United States and the 13th President of the Church of Latter Day Saints, (I know an odd fella to be quoting) once said" pride is concerned with who is right and humility is concerned with what is right.” Just like my sermon four weeks ago and the rest of the recent weeks' gospel readings, Jesus is calling out the Pharisees for their habitual hypocrisy in their stewardship of God's people.  Their biggest gaffe that these supposed faithful witnesses to God's Holy law, is their false empowerment and pride these men take from their practice of the law. The Pharisees’ were practiced lawyers of the Jewish society, and knew every law by heart. Their superior knowledge of Moses' law gave them a certain pride as they lived their life in perfect fulfilment of the law.  Their pride in this feat lead them to care more about who is following the law perfectly rather seeing the big picture of the law. As Benson would say, the Pharisees were concerned more with who is right then what is right.   
            From this reading, Jesus is clearly telling us that pride is not the correct path we must take as Christians: humility leads to the path of salvation. Jesus cannot be any more blunt about this virtue then when he said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humbled themselves will be exalted.”  As Christians, we should care more about what is right rather than who is right.  We should act selflessly, worrying more about others rather than ourselves. We should grateful towards people's selfless acts to ourselves, and love each other as Christ loves us.  Though I am making an assumption about Christ, but I truly feel that this is how he would want his church act.
            But look at the church today, do we really act humbly, or are we a proud institution?  We have churches who care more about the sexual orientation of a person more than their character, we have churches care more about the gender of a person more than their ability to spread the gospel, and we have churches who care more about being the only one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church than recognizing that there is truth in all denominations and dare I say all religions.  The church still seems to be following the path of the Pharisees, the institution that Jesus seemed to always condemn.  I do not want to be totally pessimistic about the church. We do have examples of churches acting humbly.   Many churches in this country and in my own have been at the forefront of removing barriers of separation and promoting the freedom of all people.  Their example in thinking that maybe God understands things better than I do is an idea that is often said but not really taken to heart. Their selfless commitment to promoting the kingdom of God above their own idea of a perfect world is a message the whole church should take to heart. It is a message of true Christ like humility. As Christians, we must begin to worry more about what is right than who is right.  We must preach a gospel of acceptance rather than exclusion of people, and promoting love at any moment we can.  Only then will we be able to say the whole church is acting humbly.
To quote yet another president of the Church of Latter Day Saints Gordon Hinckley, “Being humble means recognizing that we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others.”  Christ’s church was not called to the most important institution on the earth, but it is called to be the most influential force in changing people’s lives and the world.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Happy Jubilee Diocese fo Eastern Michigan!

Happy Jubilee Diocese of Eastern Michigan! This past weekend, my diocese held its 20th Diocesan Convention, and I sent a video message home.  Thank you so much Katie Forsyth for making this awesome video!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My First Month!

Hello World! Sorry for my lateness in writing this blog post as well, but Life has been happening down in South Africa.  I have been far more interested in experiencing life here than sitting at a computer screen; I know that scared the American in me too.  My life has been very eventful this past month.  I ate the innards of a chicken, I almost made a Grade R (Kindergarten) cry (Note:  it was my second week in South Africa and no one told me the isiXhosa word for bathroom (Not the proudest moment of my life)), I preached at a Sunday service, I met some absolutely amazing people ranging from the ages of 5 to 75, and the most powerful experience I had in my first month was the Heritage Day celebration at Holy Cross School on September 24th.
I tried for days to write a blog post about Heritage Day, but I could not textualize my experience. The words I used in my last four attempts to write a blog post all failed to meet the energy and emotions of this amazing cultural experience.  
At first, I thought the whole day would be ruined by the heavy rain and the cold wind. We were supposed to be celebrating outside, all the guests sprawled out around the playground of the school watching the acts and cooking on the many bonfires. Instead of that lovely day, we received a cold rainy day. We all had to be inside crammed into a small library; we barely had room to move after we found our places to sit.  What really shocked me was that no else really seemed to care. They just accepted the blessing of rain as fact and did not let it ruin their day.
As the acts started, you could feel this immediate connection with everyone in the room.   We were all connected through the beats of the drum, the shouts of joy, the harmonies of the voices singing, and the excitement and joy we all shared in that small room.  No cared about having no leg room, no cared about sitting on the cold floor, and no cared that the weather was bad.

As the festivities came to a close,  I looked outside and saw that the rain had cleared, the sun was out, and there was not a cloud left in the sky.  I pointed this out to Kary (the principal of the school), and she told me something really profound and it fit perfectly for the events of that day.  She told me that the Xhosa people and most people in South Africa see rain as blessing from God. South Africans believe that receiving rain for weddings, funerals, tribal celebrations and any other important holiday or celebration is a very good thing. As I contemplated that culture difference, I could see how we were all blessed that day.  If the weather had been perfect, I doubt all the guests would feel that awesome connection with everyone; we would be too spread out to share our emotions.  The whole day would have had a different feeling to it, and probably would not be nearly as awesome too. I truly hope and pray that all my friends--especially my missionary friends--can experience an event such as this. God truly blessed me with this experience and it literally is one of the best experiences of my life.

Traditional face paint!

Some pumped Kids

The Grade 1's performing their poem to the guests. 

One of the guest speakers for the day, Mrs. Isaac.