Transcript – Get Your Spirit in Shape: Living Our Faith Daily
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Joe: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
In this episode, we’re talking with Paul Gomez. Paul is an amazing young college student who is active in his local United Methodist congregation and has served at many levels of the church. When we got a chance to chat, we talked about his work in the church and at Starbucks.
Paul: Some customers just go to talk to us. I appreciate those customers because they’re looking for something deeper than just that cup of coffee.
Joe: We talked about his friends.
Paul: My friends are about 80 years old. They’re all 4 times my age. I golf with them all. I have a blast golfing, but we also have some amazing conversation out there.
Joe: And we talked about his love of singing.
Paul: I don’t think I can sing very well, but that doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, I still get to go and worship God. And I make the choir a little bit bigger.
Joe: Paul also shared how Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors is not just for our congregations to live up to, but something he and every United Methodist should live in to.
Paul: Open your mind, open your heart and open your doors to anybody and learn more about who they really are.
Joe: Enjoy this conversation.
Joe: I’m in the studio today with Paul Gomez. Paul, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Paul: Yeah. I live in Mesa, Arizona. And I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. Currently I’m a student at Arizona State University. I also am a shift supervisor at Starbucks in the early mornings. And I moonlight as a professional sound designer with a Broadway showcase production company that travels across Arizona. I’m also a United Methodist. And I think by trade that’s what I can call myself in everything that I do.
Joe: You talk about you are involved in the United Methodist Church not only in your local church, but also on the district and conference level, right?
Paul: That’s right. As well as the jurisdictional and general levels.
Joe: Tell us a little bit about that. What are some of the roles that you have had and currently have?
Paul: Well, I started back in Las Vegas, Nevada at the district level and more so the local level at University United Methodist Church, across the street from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. And I grew up there ‘til I was 16 years old when I moved out to Mesa, Arizona just a little bit (maybe about 15 miles) east of Phoenix. My dad actually, he got an appointment by the bishop and he’s an associate pastor now at Red Mountain United Methodist Church.
Since I moved out to Arizona I’ve taken an extreme liking, I guess, or maybe service to the church. I started working at the conference level with the jurisdictional delegation and the general delegation to the General Conference in 2016. I’m a lay person. And I’m also 19 years old. So a lot of the stuff that I’ve done has been very strange for me, none of my friends can relate to. And everybody I hang out with has gray hair. I hate to admit it. I’m sorry, ladies. But I also serve on the general level at United Methodist Communications. I serve on the General Commission on Communications. I also serve on the Foundation for United Methodist Communications. And I make tons of trips out here to Nashville. I also will be serving at the General Council on Finance and Administration later on today.
Joe: Wow. That’s a lot. And for those who aren’t familiar, just so we get the idea of how things work in The United Methodist Church, there’s local congregation, district, jurisdictional (which is kinda bigger than the district), well, no: annual conference, jurisdictional, General Conference. These get bigger. And you’ve been in all of those areas on some level. So…
Get Your Spirit in Shape
Paul: That’s right.
Joe: It’s really good to get to talk to you today. You and I had a brief chat yesterday that I want to build on.
One of the things on Get Your Spirit in Shape is we try to focus on our lives of discipleship. I’m interested in you as a college student and with all of these jobs and being 19, how do you continue to grow in your walk with Christ?
Paul: Well, I think it all starts at home, and it specifically starts with you. I could say that every Sunday I go to church. I tell people…because I have about 13 or 14 retired elders inside of my congregation, which is a wonderful blessing. They all understand what I’m talking about when I tell them that I was hanging out with this bishop and I went out to lunch with this Director of Connectional Ministry, and this General Secretary and I have a meeting later on today, which a lot of people will never be able to say. I’m blessed to be able to have the opportunities to meet the people that I associate myself with.
But it all starts with my decision of accepting the nomination to General Conference, and it’s this practice of being humble, which is so difficult. I hear often that Saint Francis of Assisi was asked by multiple monks, way back when. The monks asked him, “Saint Francis, what are the 3 most important virtues for any human being? What gets you into heaven properly?” He responded, “Humility, humility and humility.”
Joe: Wow. I hadn’t heard that.
Paul: It’s something that I have to struggle with every single day. It’s rough. I think all of us…we work with a lot of different things.
But going back to the question, this all starts with my own practice at home. I mean, it’s a service that I have to others in my neighborhood like going across the street and asking my neighbors, ‘Hey, how ya doing? How’s your life? What’s church like? Can I bring you some lemons from my lemon tree?’ Just taking care of them because building those relationships outside of your home in your own neighborhood go a lot further than the relationships I have with a few people I’ve met for a couple of days in Nashville or in Washington, D.C. Then it just grows from there.
Outside of my family, which we’re all a pastor’s family, and our church, they kinda got the five-for-one deal where they got my mom, who helps sing, and she’s just one of the best lay people. She is just astounding. My brother, my older brother Ezekiel, he plays drums for the 10:30 worship service, the contemporary service. And he also helps serve in any way, shape or form. My younger brother Eli, he always runs lights or PowerPoint and he helps out with all kinds of the children’s ministries, which for Mesa, Arizona…. We’re known to be a snowbird congregation. And we’ve got 101 kids or something. I mean, it‘s just ridiculous. So, yeah.
Joe: That’s awesome. Do you have aspirations of going into pastoral ministry at some point or working in the church professionally? Or where do you see yourself after college?
Paul: Well, you know, that’s a really difficult question. A lot of people tell me that I should go into ministry and after serving the church the way I’ve done for the last couple of years, I’ve known and I’ve come to realize that leadership and ministry look very different today to many people.
It’s interesting because I don’t have to be a pastor to make a change in the world. At UMCOM, just the amount of laity here that are dedicated to making the church be the church is astounding. So, I think I’ll wait on that one and keep praying on it. I need some…maybe some helpful deliverance from God selecting that career.
Joe: You’re a communications major.
Paul: That’s right.
Joe: So you’re on the road to communications whether that’s professionally in the church or someplace else, but your connection is deep to the local church and beyond.
When we spoke a little bit yesterday, you said something that really intrigued me. Lots of people are familiar with what we call our aspirational promise of The United Methodist Church: Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors—the People of the United Methodist Church. My guess is that when most of us hear that we think, well my church should have open hearts, open minds, open doors. My congregation should aspire to have those values. But I heard you say we need those individually.
Paul: Well, I really think that that whole, you know, that motto…it really does start with you, whoever you are, no matter where you are, no matter what church you serve in, whether you’re in a church or not. It goes beyond United Methodism, and it goes beyond politics. It goes into human kindness and being a good example of somebody who’s going to further the lives of others.
Paul tells us this slogan in Galatians in chapter 3, verse 28. He says, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.’ I think that’s where this very simple slogan comes from. He’s talking to the Jews, who at the time they think they’re above everybody in society. And they think they’re the epitome of what God’s people look like. And yet, here they are discriminating others for not being Jews. And so what they’re doing is being exclusive.
Paul tells us right then and there that this is not what Jesus has called us to do. It’s to be more inclusive, more welcoming to anybody—whether it be a Gentile, whether it be a Muslim. People are people. And at the end of the day everybody, every single person, has a wonderful story to tell us. So I kinda practice a lot of this stuff at school. I was in an interfaith club at ASU. And I met 66 different people from 66 different churches or denominations. I mean, it’s incredible.
I met pagans. Isn’t that something? And you know, these people are some of the coolest I’ve ever met. They’re young people who are devoted to a tangible future.
Joe: How does that enrich your personal faith?
Paul: We actually held our meetings at a United Methodist Church. And I got to give everybody the whole spiel on my church and where exactly our global church is at. It really defined me as a person more so than a Methodist, but I have the values of a Methodist in that I’m working well with others, and I’m praying with others, even with the agnostics and the atheists in the group. They’re welcome to pray with us. And we’re welcome to respect them for who they are. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to.
I guess in a way made me a little more tolerant. I hate to admit. But, I mean, I can sit with anybody on a plane and talk about religion, hopefully, and if I can’t, that’s okay, too. Because there has got to be something else I can talk about that we have in common. That guy might like a dark roast coffee. I love dark roast coffee.
Joe: The Starbucks in you is coming out.
Paul: Exactly. You know, and that’s probably one of the biggest things. I mean, I talk to thousands of people every single day at work. I make hundreds of drinks. I lead all of my team members. And you would not imagine how some people can treat a barista. But at the same token some people come up to me and they’re some of my favorite customers ‘cause they’re understanding, and they choose to look past that apron I have on and see the person that’s wearing it.
I think churches should be like that and understanding that everybody has their own story. Some people go to work to pay off their school. Some people go to work to spend time doing something else. Some people work for benefits and some customers just go to talk to us. I appreciate those customers because they’re looking for something deeper than just that cup of coffee. They’re looking for the creation of fellowship and partnership between a company and a community. That’s exactly what we do at Starbucks.
I think our church has a lot to learn from a lot of coffee shops. Opening your doors, letting anybody come in, and serving them with a smile, sounds like a good business strategy. It’s a ridiculous idea, but what if we did that in church? You open your doors. You welcome anybody who’s walking outside. And you welcome them with a smile. And you say, I’m so glad you’re here. Let me tell you about what we’re doing here. And invite them to come back. But build something deeper than just your body sitting inside of that pew. Who is wearing those glasses and why? Ask questions like, Where are you from? What do you believe in? What does transformational faith look like to you or your parents, your grandparents? Where do your grandparents come from? There’s so much to learn from people. Having a simple prejudice just stops all of that. It closes so many doors. And that’s exactly where it leads us back to.
Open your mind. Open your heart, and open your doors to anybody and learn more about who they really are.
Joe: So let’s get a little more concrete and dig a little deeper into that. So, let’s start; let’s take it into thirds. Open hearts. So what would it look like to live an open-hearted life at school or at work or in our everyday living with our family?
Paul: I think open hearts are probably one of the most difficult ones for people to explain. One thing I like to paint as an illustration would be driving in traffic. And I mean, it’s bad traffic. You’re late to work. You know, you’re 5 minutes late. It’s just not late enough to be dangerous, but you never know if you’re gonna make it there just in time; so you’re really stressed. You spill coffee all over yourself. You didn’t get to eat breakfast. It’s just the worst morning ever.
Now you pull up in the traffic to a guy who just about slams his brakes in front of you. And the next thing you know, boom. You accidentally hit him. Well, that’s terrible. But instead of getting out and starting an argument, you know, some people choose a different approach where they get out and they’ll resolve it hopefully as a Christian. They speak kindly and say, You know, I’m really sorry. I’m late. Let’s work on this together. Or, people will get out and just kinda be a little rude to each other.
You see it all the time, when people are just stressed. And that’s when you have to stop and think to yourself, I might not be going to church, and I might be going to work, but what if this person who I just accidentally hit shows up at my church next Sunday? What am I gonna do? Do they want to see my angry side? No. Instead, I think it’s just about being kind to each other. I think open hearts are based fully on kindness and love. And I think right now more than ever we need to love a lot more.
Joe: Yes, that’s something we can do any place we are. So, let’s do that again with open minds. So what does it look like to live open-mindedly?
Paul: Well, I might scare some people with this one. Like, I am, you know, a target for a lot of people.
Joe: Tell me more about that. What do you mean by that?
Paul: Well, in United Methodism I got a lot of minority, I guess, tokens that I wear that scare a lot of people. I don’t use them and I don’t like to use them to my advantage. Number one, I’m from the Western Jurisdiction. Run! But don’t worry. We’re not all crazy. I promise you we’ve got amazing people just like every single church, denomination, local church and jurisdiction has amazing people, and some people who really need to work on being amazing.
I’m also Hispanic. That’s a humongous minority inside of our church. It’s kind of ridiculous to think that…. And then another thing is I’m a young person. I’m only 19 years old. I do all these things. And I might be seen as a little bit too open minded on some things, and with my age.
Paul: So I’m pretty sure that open minds it kinda is self-explanatory to a lot of people. Read the Bible responsibly. I mean that with all due respect to anybody and any preacher. But sometimes verses need a second look, or sometimes people need to really think, ‘Is this what we’re supposed to be interpreting?’ Then keeping an open mind to anybody who’s walking by you past the street. Like maybe that person almost rear-ends you when you’re driving. And you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna get out and tell this guy off.’ Well, maybe he’s got a family at home who’s probably hungry and he’s running home. Keep an open mind to giving people the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best in others.
Joe: To keep it going. Open doors. What does it look like to live an open door life?
Paul: It starts with your neighborhood, I think. Back in the day, all my friends tell me, (and I’m telling you my friends are about 80 years old.) They’re all 4 times my age. I golf with them all, and I have a blast golfing, but we also have some amazing conversation out there. And they tell me, Back in my day we used to never lock our doors. Our neighbors were always invited to walk in and that’s the way it was. You can walk in, have dinner, have some communion or fellowship time.
Now I guess we’re just afraid of what’s out there. I can guarantee you in my neighborhood in Mesa, Arizona our crime rate is extremely low, and I have no problem leaving my door unlocked. Sometimes I’ll just go visit with neighbors just for the fun of it, to catch up and learn about each other more, and to build deeper relationships. So, I think the church needs to start unlocking its door, open it up, and not just at the local church, but on a global level. Invite everybody. In the Central Conferences in Africa, what would it look like if our Muslim brothers and sisters started attending our services? Maybe not for theological conversation, but for a banquet to share in communion with each other and fellowship.
Now that’s a very broad statement, I realize. I really don’t know what it’s like in the Central Conferences. But I do know that something like that would really work for me at home, opening my church doors to the community.
Joe: Say more about that.
Paul: Well, at my church in Mesa, we have an annual barbecue and we’ve always held it at church. One thing that our bishop has challenged us with in the Desert Southwest Conference is growth and vitality. We have decided that next year, 2018, we’re going to take the barbecue out to a public park and see what kind of response we get. Because it really works to have everybody coming to the church, but the biggest problem is we don’t have enough parking. I mean, this used to be a small, tiny, little barbecue of maybe a hundred people. It was just church members. Today I think it’s about 900, maybe a thousand people attend. And we give away too much food. It’s all free. And we provide entertainment. People just have a blast for a couple of hours in May before it gets hot again. It’s a blast.
So it’s little things that you could imagine doing outside of your church. Just stop and think. This circle that we’re meeting at church, like the Dove Circle at church where the women pray together. You know, it doesn’t have to happen at church. It can happen out at a Starbucks, or a bookstore. You can be seen in fellowship in public. It’s crazy.
Joe: One of the things I hear you saying is that we should be mindful of living our lives every day as if the world was our church. Right? So it’s as if our sphere of existence, whether it’s work or school or whatever, if we entered into that as we enter through the doors of the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, that would change the way that we relate to the people around us. Is that a fair characterization of what you’re saying?
Paul: Precisely. Church can happen anywhere.
Joe: Yeah. Another one of our…another one of our slogans or taglines.
The other thing that occurred to me was that we… This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, right? …that we need to do this individually. We all know that the church is not the building. We’ve sung that song. We know that the church is not the denomination. The church is the people, and every one of us makes up the church. So we all need to have those expressions of open hearts and open minds and open doors. And it’s not always an easy to find. I imagine when you start this it’s a very conscious effort. It takes some real work on our part to do that.
One of the things on Get Your Spirit in Shape that we like to do is to offer spiritual exercises—things that we might do differently. And so I’m wondering, is there some spiritual exercise, something that you do in your life that helps you grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ, that you would recommend, that we could go and try and see if it works for us?
Paul: Well, one thing I love to do is sing in choir. That’s my favorite thing to do. That’s how I worship God. It’s sacred for me because I’m singing words and harmonies that really just bind all of my faith. When we sing hymns about the church is not a steeple, it’s a lot more than just lyrics on page. It’s a whole melody that somebody’s poured their heart into. So going to choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights I sit with all my friends with gray hair, and I actually lowered the average age of the choir, oh it must have been like 56, which is…
Joe: Careful. Careful.
Paul: Yeah. All the way down to 29. I’m the youngest person in my choir. And I love to sing. I don’t think I can sing very well, but that doesn’t matter because at the end of the day I still get to go and worship God and I make the choir a little bit bigger. And my choir director loves it. That’s how I imagine fellowship looks like for me.
Joe: One of the things that we forget often, too, is that I love that our little supplement to the hymnal is called The Faith We Sing. I mean, take that literally. That’s what we do. I mean, it’s amazing that the Methodist Movement started with John Wesley, the preacher, and Charles Wesley, the hymn writer. We sing our faith. So being part of a choir is a way not only to share it, but also to let it sink in. I think music has a way of getting into our hearts and like people who’ve listened to the podcast before have heard us talk about Charles Wesley before. And music sinks into our hearts in ways that maybe a sermon might not… might take a little longer to do that. So you have…what a great…what a great spiritual practice. And you can do that while you’re driving in the car and in traffic…
Paul: That’s right.
Joe: You can sing and worship and do that just about anywhere.
I’ve really have enjoyed this conversation. Anything else you want to share with us?
Paul: No, I think we hit just about everything.
Joe: Thanks for being with us today.
Paul: Thank you so much, Joe.
Joe: That was Paul Gomez, a remarkable young man in the United Methodist Church who has a lot to teach us about what it means to live our discipleship every day; to see every place as a church, and every moment as a gift from God.
You can learn more about Get Your Spirit in Shape and other United Methodist podcasts by going to UMC.org/podcasts. Also, to learn more about the United Methodist Church and its structure, be sure to go to UMC.org and click on the link at the top of the page labeled Who We Are. There’s some great, useful information there.
Well, that’ll do it for this time. I’ll be back soon with another conversation to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.