Valley of Grieving

CrossOver reflection for Week Sixteen • Beginning March 17, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 29

Rev. Todd Bartlett


This week’s CrossOver post comes in audio and text options. Your choice!

While on a hike after a very painful experience, TJ encountered a sign along the trail that read: “Valley of Grieving.” Curious, TJ headed down the trail. There were others on the trail, some were zooming past TJ, still others allowed TJ to pass them. Eventually, TJ realized that all of them were bent over. The load was invisible, yet the evidence of that burden was clear. TJ’s own condition of weariness became clearer with shoulders slumped and eyes looking at the ground.

After trudging uphill for what seemed an interminable length of time, going past those who had decided to stop, TJ pushed on toward the Valley of Grieving. Finally, the trail crested a ridge and headed downward.  

The trail eventually settled in along a small creek. Tears welled up in TJ’s eyes. This surprised TJ because tears were not something that came easily, nor were they welcomed. The hillside oozed with its own tears. 

Beside the trail there was an overlook from which one could see many bridges reaching across the valley. The design of each bridge was unique, from plain and simple to elaborate and complex and everything in between.  

TJ realized that the bridges were without people. “Why on earth would anyone build such structures and not allow people to cross? At the end of the first bridge were three very strange things:

  • 1) a sign reading “JOY” with an arrow pointing across the bridge;
  • 2) a group of people trying to figure out how to cross the bridge; and
  • 3) no decking on the bridge. 

“Who builds bridges without decks?” thought TJ, trudging on in hopes of finding an answer. Eventually, there was a bridge with one person on it. So, TJ asked, “How did you get out there?” No response came. TJ realized that there was no decking beneath this person!

Someone standing nearby said, “They only paid a little bit. Unlike all of the other material that is provided simply by asking, the deck comes with a price. For some of us the price is too high.” 

Fear began to take hold of TJ. “What price is too high? If others cannot pay the price, surely I will be stuck in this Valley of Grieving, forever.” Doubled over, looking downward, and with a heart full of guilt and shame, TJ trudged on. 

TJ came around a corner and saw someone, coming from the other side, dancing on a bridge without decking! “How did you cross over on the bridge?” called TJ.

“By walking on the decking,” was the reply.  

“But I don’t see the decking, how is this possible? Can you teach me to walk where there is no deck?”  

“I cannot,” the sage replied matter-of-factly.

“Then how?”

“Ah,” said the sage, “the burdens that I have laid down have paved the way for me to cross over. You cannot see them as they are not your burdens.”

“Then how do I get decking? What is the price that so many are unable to pay?”  

“Unwilling,” the sage replied.  

“What?” asked TJ.  

“The others are able to pay the price, at this point they are unwilling.”  

“How do you know?” asked TJ.  

“Because,” said the sage, “I was stalled at the end of the bridge for a very long time before I was willing to pay the price.”  

“And the price?” 

“It won’t cost you a penny. You have what you need to cross to JOY.”

“I don’t get it,” said TJ, “if I already possess the decking what is stopping me from just putting them down?”

“There are many things that keep us from putting them down: pride, comfort with the burdens we know, fear of what life will be like without them, hate, disgust, distrust, wanting others to conform to our vision of who they should be and what they should be like,” said the sage.  

“Ok, so what must I do to cross over to JOY?”  

“It is simple,” said the sage. “Forgive others and yourself. Each time you forgive, you put a piece down. Some relationships will be renewed, and others released can be released. * Eventually, your way is paved to cross over.” 

*The idea that forgiveness leads to renewed or released relationships comes from, The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.


The Reverend Todd Bartlett is the Executive Director for Camp and Retreat Ministries of the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He served as the director of the Collins Retreat Center for 8 years during which he and the staff focused upon Gracious Hospitality to guide their work and lives at the retreat center, before that he served churches for over 18 years.  He now lives in Milwaukie, OR with his spouse, the Reverend Laura Jaquith Bartlett and their younger daughter Megan.  He enjoys a good story, photography, gardening, and being outdoors.

RV Trips and the Invitation to the Unknown

CrossOver reflection for Week Fifteen • Beginning March 10, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 28

Rev. Jenny Smith


When I was finishing up 7th grade, my parents thought it would be a brilliant idea to take two summer months to drive from Alaska to New York and back. Six of us sleeping in one contained vehicle sounded like a fairly awful idea to me. I was just getting comfortable with my group of junior high school friends and couldn’t bear the thought of being away from my newly budding social scene for two whole months. I liked my family, but come on. That’s a lot for a 7th grader.

They registered my complaint but it did not alter our plans. We hit the road and much to the surprise of my awkward 13-year-old self, we had a good time. Shh, don’t tell my parents. We stopped at funny landmarks, explored new cities, visited family and watched 4th of July fireworks at the Statue of Liberty. 

I’ll always remember the moment we got home. We were donewith being in that RV. Three of the six of us were crying as we pulled into the parsonage driveway in Soldotna, Alaska. Someone requested a group picture where we each held a piece of paper that spelled out, “We made it 11,000 miles!” We smiled through our tears.

It was an adventure my 13-year-old self never would have chosen. It was too far from my normal life and routine. It was full of unknown and unusual. The only constant was my family’s presence.

Turns out that was enough.

In different seasons, we’re each invited into a new adventure. It might arrive in the mail labeled as New Job. Retirement. You’re Pregnant. Illness. Engagement. World Crisis. Denominational Uncertainty. Or maybe your invitation is so subtle and sneaky that you almost miss it: Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Disappointment. Stress. Fear. 

Your backpack feels achingly empty when you embark on a new adventure you haven’t traveled before. Your guide simply invites you to gather your energy with a deep breath in. And a long release of a deep breath out. And just when you think you’ll have to make this journey on your own, a noise startles you from behind. You glance over and see your people. Your friends. Your family. Your community. Because they love you, they’re saying yes to your invitation too. They are willing to walk with you on this unknown path. 

Turns out that is enough.

My beloved friend, as you continue to receive invitations to adventure in your one holy life, I pray you would never embark upon those adventures alone. May you pause and look around to see people who are willing to sign up to go anywhere with you. Even if it’s two months in a hot RV across the country. 

Your unknown path may look a little like one you’ve seen before. It may parallel a path you’ve noticed before. It may intersect something familiar. Or just maybe, your adventure will lead you somewhere completely unfamiliar. And maybe that’s the best thing that could ever happen to you. 

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is already present in every single invitation you’ll ever receive. May this hope give us ease to let go of old worn out pathways and to give an enthusiastic yes to the God of the unknown path. 

The Old Path

Something is shifting
I sense it
It’s quiet
Resolute
Expectant

Stepping into a new adventure 
Asks new things of me
It’s exciting
And sad
The old way made sense
The new way feels uncomfortable
Awkward
Unsure

I miss the old path
I knew it’s twists and turns
I knew the outcomes

And yet

You are present in the new thing

I look behind and see your faithfulness
I look ahead and see your faithfulness
Holding out your hand with 
A smile on your face

You know what’s to come
I do not

Am I willing to give up what I know to 
Follow you to where I don’t?

I know the excitement of a new adventure

God, keep extending your hand to me from the new path
I’ll follow
But stay close
I’m letting go of a lot and 
I need you


Rev. Jenny Smith serves as pastor to Marysville United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference. You can find more of her writing on her blog.

Ashes of Sorrow and Resistance

To the People of God in The United Methodist Church,

“Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” – Joel 2:17b

This past week, the special session of the General Conference of our church gathered in search of a way forward out of a decades-old conflict over attitudes toward homosexuals and LGBTQIA people. Rather than finding a way forward, the church chose to turn back the clock and to intensify its exclusion.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky offering a blessing during worship at the 2019 General Conference.

The conference did not create space for United Methodists with different perspectives to live together. Rather, the church reaffirmed its assertion that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” (UM Book of Discipline, 2016, ¶ 161.G). It intensified standards and punishments for bishops who ordain and appoint gay clergy, and for clergy who perform marriages for same-sex couples. The outcome was devastating for LGBTQIA people, whose very self-worth was debated, and for all persons in the church who believe Jesus models and invites us to become a radically inclusive community of faith.

To LGBTQIA persons in our churches and other ministry settings, I say, 

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ– Philippians 1:3-6

I appeal to every pastor, member, and attendee, to be tender and merciful as you extend care to LGBTQIA persons in your care, and their families, and to continue to create opportunities to promote understanding and justice within the church and society.

I join many of you who feel abandoned by your Church home. I am ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called. I cannot abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience. My soul cries out to God, “do not make your heritage a mockery. Why should it be said among the people, ‘Where is their God?’” And I know that many of you also find yourselves adrift. I hear questions like, Is our Church redeemable? Or, is it time to leave the church that has left us and form a new expression of Church that opens doors and affirm people, rather than closing doors and denying or punishing them.

Let me offer you some reassurances. First, none of the actions of the General Conference take effect until January 1, 2020. Practices of candidacy, ordination and weddings will continue unchanged for the time being. Challenges to the constitutionality of some of the new provisions are underway that may overturn them. Regardless of how that turns out, as your bishop, I don’t intend to lead us backward. We have come too far together to turn back now.

Pastors and people from large and small churches across the United States are looking for an expression of Church that affirms LGBTQ persons and recognizes them as full members and leaders. Coalitions of individuals and groups who will not submit to the recent actions are forming to develop plans for full inclusion, either inside or outside the existing UMC. We do know that a majority of the North American delegates to the recent General Conference opposed the actions taken. If you are among them, please indicate your interest in being part of this movement at: OneChurch4All.org

At the same time, I strongly believe that the Church should and must be a place where people who love Jesus, but don’t see eye to eye, are in fellowship, prayer, study, and conversation with one another. I don’t want to be in a church that does not welcome and honor people who hold different opinions from mine. I hope that our love of Jesus, and the people Jesus loves and asks us to love, is stronger than our differences of opinion.  I believe we must stay together in charity, if we can. For, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

With trust in God, who will lead us even if the Church wanders away and loses itself.

Your bishop and friend in Christ,

Elaine JW Stanovsky


If you haven’t already seen it, please watch the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishop’s response to the actions of General Conference that you’ll find below. Please also share it with your congregation on Sunday Morning or whenever you are able.

Download | English Transcript | Version en español

It All Comes Down to This

CrossOver reflection for Week Thirteen • Beginning February 24, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 26

Rev. Timothy L. Overton-Harris

I begin with a confession. When I signed up to write the Crossover Blog for this week, I really didn’t pay attention to the chapter or the date—I just wanted something away from Christmas and Easter. So, I picked February 24, 2019, and Chapter 26. As I was entering it into my calendar (so that I would be sure to complete my homework) I became aware of the fact that I had picked THE week of the year—the week of the special session of General Conference 2019! 

I almost asked for a redo. Who am I to write this blog on the week of such a potentially world-altering event? What could I possibly say that would matter as we all await what will come on the other side of GC2019? How could I offer something significant, even inspirational at such a momentous and potentially devastating time in the life of the UMC and for so many who hold it dear?

Then I heard the Bishop’s voice and remembered what she said about God calling us to mission and ministry regardless of what happens at GC2019. I took a deep breath and I deleted my email pleading for a change of date and chapter and began to reflect and pray.

As I sat with the scriptures for this week, I was struck by the chords that seems to echo through them … faith, forgiveness, authority, breaking with tradition and institution.

Mark 2, Hebrews 11 and 1 John 1-2 are all about looking beyond what is expected, acceptable, and given the stamp of approval by the institution. They speak of faith—by faith we are forgiven, by faith we are healed, by faith we know and experience a new reality, by faith light shines in the darkness, by faith we know what is true and real.

As the beloved of God and Christ, we know that which claims our loyalty and allegiance—the grace, acceptance, and love of God made known to us by Jesus Christ. We know that institutions and religious authorities are often restricted in their ability to see beyond the borders that have protected us and kept us faithful. They cannot see the possibility that is being birthed because they are so focused on maintaining what is.

The Hubble Telescope has allowed us to look deep into the universe and back in time. We have been allowed to see new worlds being birthed and new stars exploding into life. If we look back in time, we can see that Jesus was such a moment of birth and light—the birth of a new cosmos. Where once peace came only through violence, now peace comes through justice. Where once rules excluded, now grace includes all. Where once forgiveness resided in the mythical hands of God, now forgiveness is available to all.

As we emerge from General Conference, we will be different. We must rely on the words we all know from Hebrews—“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1, CEB)—to help us move into the new road that will be created. I, for one, am not willing to give up hope that the new cosmos birthed in the life and teachings of Jesus will continue to grow and expand so that the grace and love of God will shine light over all people, places, and creation—even The United Methodist Church!

Pray with me for General Conference 2019 and for the road we are and will make toward God’s light and love.


Rev. Tim Overton-Harris serves as Superintendent for the Cascadia District in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is the current dean of the OR-ID Cabinet.

Credit: Original image by ESA/Hubble (M. Kornmesser), cropped.


Jesus, Violence, and Power

CrossOver reflection for Week Twelve • Beginning February 17, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 25

Rev. Mary Huycke


Jesus, Violence, and Power – what a perfect title for the chapter I’m to reflect on as I prepare to head to General Conference next week. It names so clearly what we are to crossover from. The chapter begins, “Once Jesus took his disciples on a field trip. There was something he wanted them to learn, and there was a perfect place for them to learn it.” McLaren is referring to their trip to Caesarea Philippi, first a site for worshippers of Baal, later of the Greek God Pan, and then a stronghold of the Roman occupation.

It was there, “in the shadow of the cliff face with its idols set into their finely carved niches” that Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say I am” followed by, “and who do YOU say that I am?” I can imagine them seeing Jesus in that place and wanting him to tear down the idols and throw out the occupiers and rise in victorious rule. When Jesus explains how different his path will be, they are horrified. “God forbid it, Lord.” Peter exclaimed. “This must never happen to you.”

A week later he takes the disciples to the top of a mountain where they are shown Jesus, shining like the sun, talking with Elijah and Moses—a Jewish triumvirate: the lawgiver, the prophet, and the Messiah. Peter offers to build tents for the three that they might dwell there, together. What would there be to fear with these three together? How could the empire withstand such power? This time it is God who rebukes him, “This is my son. Listen to him.” Jesus then leads them down the mountain, back into the chaos and towards his death, instructing them to tell no one what they saw until after he is raised.

Violence and Power – we are hard-wired for them. When we are afraid, when we are angry, when we feel protective of that and those we love, violence and power whisper, “This is how you can make things right, keep things safe, get things done.”

So if not through manipulation and force, how are we to contend with what feels wrong or even evil? Finding a new way is a major crossing-over in both adult and spiritual development. As in so many other areas, Jesus leads the way.

I’ve always been bothered a bit by that section of Ephesians 6 (verses 10-17) that talks about putting on the “whole armor of God.” Such a war-like image, it didn’t fit for me. But as I read through it recently, I understood it in a way that turned my earlier reading on its head. I see it now as saying that the way to withstand the evil in this world is neither through defensiveness nor aggression, but through the power of authenticity and vulnerability. “Take up,” it says:

The breastplate of righteousness: Righteousness is best interpreted as being in right relationship with God, with others, and with self. The protection the heart needs comes not from shielding it, but through opening it and being in relationship as Jesus practiced it – authentic, caring, differentiated.

The sword of truth: While caring deeply for others, Jesus spoke honestly. He didn’t soften his words to please others nor did he sharpen them to wound. His “yes” was yes, his “no,” no. He was open with his opinions, but was also open to learning from others. (Matthew 15:21-28 – the Syrophoenician Woman)

Shoes that make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace: There’s an inner attitude that allows you to see not just the difficulty of the situation in front of you, but to stand firm in God’s hopes and possibilities for it. Jesus embodies this in the healing stories and in facing his own arrest and death. Living, dying and in resurrection, he proclaimed peace. “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This vulnerability in the face of conflict and difficulty is a crossing-over that I aspire to. Of course, it gets dismissed as naïve. I’ve had people tell me, “you’ll grow out of it once you learn how the world really works,”  (usually followed by the unspoken, but implied, “little girl”).  

I pray I don’t.  


Rev. Mary Huycke is the clergy delegate to General Conference 2019 from PNW and currently serves as the District Superintendent of the Seven Rivers District. Mary has authored several books on leadership and church renewal and is a founding partner of Courageous Space Coaching & Consulting.  She lives in Yakima, Washington with her husband David and their three cats.

Heaven! Hell! Oh, the places you’ll go!

CrossOver reflection for Week Eleven • Beginning February 10, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 24

Jan Nelson


I guess I could be called a nerdy church kid.

When I was growing up, I did Sunday School, confirmation, and youth group. When I was in high school, there was a group of us who got together on our own and did Bible study. We didn’t have any adult leaders or any commentaries. For that matter, we pretty much just had the Revised Standard Version of the Bible to work from. But we spent time together wrestling with tough questions.

The question I remember the most was about heaven and hell: If you have to be a Christian to go to heaven, then how is that fair for people who might never have heard about Christ? It just didn’t seem like a loving God would send people to hell who never had a chance.

As the years passed and my understanding evolved, I questioned whether God would send people to hell if they were Muslim or Hindu. Or atheist. Or even if they are a really bad person. Would a God who loves everyone really punish someone forever?

Clearly, there are many people who believe in that kind of heaven and hell. I received an anonymous piece of mail this week trying to make the Biblical case that homosexuality really is a terrible sin. It was full of bad biblical scholarship and worse science. It also contained this zinger: “Will you go to heaven when you die?” If you have broken any of the Ten Commandments, “…the Bible warns that one day God will punish you in a terrible place called Hell.” Of course, you can “repent and trust Jesus” and you will be saved. The threat of hell is still alive and well in some parts of the church.

As Brian McLaren points out, Jesus’ teaching gives us little help in understanding what heaven and hell are like. But he does give us a lot of teaching about who goes where. He pretty much shoots down the “if you’re nice and don’t break any of the rules, you’ll go to heaven” theory. In Jesus’ teaching, those people we tend to look down on may be the very people who will be in heaven. The people our society holds up as “blessed” may be the least likely to be there. 

The bottom line here is not about who is going to heaven or hell, or each is like, or if these places really exist. It seems like a waste of time to speculate too much on this. What we really need to do is ask ourselves and our churches if we are we treating everyone like people who are worthy of spending eternity with God. Doing so may allow us to be pleasantly surprised to discover that God is working in places, and in the lives of people, we’d never expect.

And those surprises could turn out to be real blessings—even offering us glimpses of heaven here on Earth!


Jan Nelson is the lay leader of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and the lay delegate to General Conference 2019. In her previous life, she was a middle school math teacher.

KonMari for Ministry with the Multitudes

Left: Before the church moving sale. Right: After Trinity’s version of KonMari. Photos (and much of the work) by Pastor Aaron Strietzel of Trinity UMC: Ballard, WA.
CrossOver reflection for Week Ten • Beginning February 3, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 23

Marie Kuch-Stanovsky


Standing in the laundry room, I take each unmatched sock into my hand.  “Thank you… thank you…” I mutter gratitude to each as I place it in the donation bin.

January was a month of huge transitions, both for my church family, and for me, personally. Last week, Trinity United Methodist Church held its final worship service in the building it has occupied for 90 years in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Our ministry will continue into the future in new spaces. On Thursday, my husband and I finished moving the last of our belongings to a new home. Moving always means confronting the true—sometimes overwhelming—weight of one’s possessions. I used Marie Kondo’s method of thanking and donating each unwanted item (including mismatched socks*) to let go of possessions that were no longer useful or meaningful to me.

A Japanese native, Kondo introduced her KonMari method of de-cluttering to a US audience in 2014 with a New York Times bestselling book. In January her new Netflix show went viral and Marie Kondo’s reach expanded to the multitudes, helping so many shed their clutter that thrift stores around the country have seen a significant uptick in donations.  

Kondo uses deliberate process, gratitude, and ritual to help people keep what “sparks joy” and let go of what prevents them from living examined, meaningful lives. (I would directly quote Kondo here, but I gave away her book last week.) It is easy to become numb to the detritus we accumulate in our consumerist culture. The KonMari practice awakens us to release the glut and the guilt that so often lead us to keep unnecessary items.

KonMari found its way into this reflection because I was inspired by the stories of Jesus ministering to the multitudes; time and again contradicting the custom of his time to impact lives; letting go of the religious laws that might have prevented his ministry. I hope that we as a church might let go of what is keeping us from living into Jesus’ example. McLaren notes that “In addressing the social realities of his day, Jesus constantly turned the normal dominance pyramid on its head…” Kondo offers modern tools that can literally be applied in our time and place to work toward the equity Jesus preached and practiced.

At Trinity UMC each week we ask God to help us “discover how much is enough for us to be truly fulfilled, neither rich nor poor, and to consume only that.” With this prayer, we pledge to align our hearts and actions with Jesus’ example. As a church we decided to leave our stuff behind and to embark on a journey to discover how to best serve our community. For our local church that means letting go of a beautiful, landmark building that housed nearly a century of ministry in Ballard. Much of the accumulated furniture and items—in fact, the deteriorating building itself—no longer serve the needs of this justice-focused community.  

Our prayer of dedication continues with a pledge, to discover “how much would be enough for everyone not just to survive but to thrive, and to find ways for all to have access to that.” Rather than spend millions on renovations and upgrades for a vast space that we don’t need, we chose to invest our love, energy, and resources to continue serving the community. When we push back against consumerism, we begin to undermine the violent social and economic structures that enrich few through the pain of many. 

Now that we have left so much behind, it is beginning to dawn on me that we might have more than we did before. By turning away from what dominant culture tells us to want, will we free ourselves to serve God more fully—to be “Alive in the Adventure of Jesus”?


*Used, single socks, I’ll admit, aren’t the most useful items to donate.  Some thrift stores, including my local Goodwill, accept all garments of any condition to be recycled or repurposed.

Marie Kuch-Stanovsky is the head of the PNW delegation to the 2019 General Conference and serves on the Rules Committee of the Commission on General Conference. She is the interim Campus Minister at the Wesley Club in Bellingham, Washington and the coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, as well as a designer and letterpress printer.

More Than Cheesemakers

CrossOver reflection for Week Nine • Beginning January 27, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 22

Rev. Dan Wilcox


In a memorable scene from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian,’ several individuals are so far back during the Sermon on the Mount that when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” they mishear him, hearing instead, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” One woman responds, “Ah, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?” Another responds, “Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.” While I would only recommend this movie if you happen to be comfortable both with cursing and sacrilegious humor, it offers uncomfortable truths to people of faith.

As we worked through McClaren’s chapter on Jesus the Teacher, this scene came to mind because of how easy it is to misunderstand Jesus’ teaching. Sometimes, it is not Jesus’ teaching that we miss but rather it is a cacophony of tradition that makes hearing and understanding Jesus’ story and life more difficult. Voices from across millennia have interpreted, commented, sermonized, and reflected on Jesus’ words and life so much that it can be difficult to hear Jesus the Teacher through all the noise.

Sunday School teachers, pastors, church leaders and parents have taught us, mentored us, and strengthened us in our faith journeys. What we hear and learn about Jesus comes through the filters of their experiences, expectations, prejudices, and hopes. If we try to work past these voices and hear Jesus on our own, it can feel like a betrayal of these to whom we owe so much.

This moment, for me, was the first time I heard someone suggesting that the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus kept talking about was not just a place where we go when we die. Rather, it is the reality that Jesus desired to see happen here and now; one that we are invited to both be part of and work towards in this life. The parables, teachings, and even the declarative actions in the miracles and healings were Jesus pointing to a world that could be different than the world that is.

For me this ‘discovery,’ came after college, seminary, and even several years of ministry. Reading the Gospels again, I wondered how I had ever missed this. Even more so, how had all of my teachers and mentors missed this? Or, had they been saying it all along, and I was not hearing?

And then one Sunday I was leading the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It was right there! This wasn’t safely sequestering God in heaven and making certain we live right so we can be there in the end. This was inviting God into the messiness and chaos of our lives and desiring to see something new happen.

Beginning to hear and see Jesus more clearly leads to other fresh and exciting discoveries that were there all along.

Jesus the Teacher quoting Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus the Teacher inviting us to see others,

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

These are grit and grime missional callings, not a metaphysical goal for the afterlife. We don’t care for others to get another notch in the belt of eternity, but rather because we desire to see God’s kingdom here and now. Jesus the Teacher offers grace as we are invited into the world that his stories, life and ministry begin to reveal.


Pastor Dan Wilcox is serving with the congregation of Christ First UMC, in Wasilla, AK, his third congregation in Alaska over the past 12 years.  He lives in Wasilla with his wife, Kris-Ann, and their four children.

The Stories We Need To Tell

CrossOver reflection for Week Eight • Beginning January 20, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 21

Rev. Jeremy Smith


We see the stories we want to see. Lin-Manuel Miranda was sitting on a beach reading Ron Chernow’s historical biopic Hamilton and he said to himself “this is a hip-hop story.” Adapting the historical narrative into a new musical framework formed the basis of the Broadway smash by the same name. Amidst the historical narrative, Miranda saw a story that was familiar to his world, and he brought it to life.

We also see the stories that we are trained to see. We see the same story again and again in many forms of storytelling. The “Hero’s Journey” is found in many stories, from Star Wars to Lion King to Grimm’s fairytales. Ten Things I Hate About You is a 1999 remake of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before recalls parts of 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love. Blockbusters often offer only small variations of stories so familiar to us. We see the same story so often that we don’t realize how unoriginal it really is.

So which stories do we see in Scripture? The ones we want to see, the ones we are trained to see, or the ones we need to see? 

Brian McLaren, in Chapter 21 of his book We Make the Road By Walking, writes about miracle stories in the Gospels. He doesn’t focus on whether they historically happened—what matters more to McLaren is the reason for telling the stories. Why tell that Jesus turned vats of water into wine? Why tell that Jesus cast out a demon? Why did the followers of Jesus consider these stories important?

I’m partial to the healing miracles. I want to see them as true so I can find healing for my ills. I also am trained, as a theologian, to see them as testimonies to a God interwoven in the brokenness of humanity and caring about the afflicted. 

But maybe these were stories that needed to be told by those communities: stories whose maladies were emblematic (a blind man was healed because his community is blind to the marginalized, and so on). Telling these stories was a witness both to the familiar communities of the present and to the eternal truths to which Jesus offered his eternal compassion. The particulars don’t matter as much as it was important they were told. 

So it is with us. It’s not enough to read stories about Jesus. I believe we are stories too. We tell stories by our words, our actions, our deeds, and our character. We bring heroism or tragedy to our everyday life, to our mundane choices that teach others about us and about our faith.

We are called to live and tell good stories. Stories of justice and peace and perseverance that point to a God whose love and faithfulness is unmatched and unrelenting. To live as stories of people who stand with the marginalized and confront the powers and principalities. In the words of Riverside Church’s Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, “We have to preach a radical Gospel because no one else is.” 

In a world where a psychology of enmity, fear, and hatred of enemies rules, a world where polarization is lifted up and a hostile imagination is inflamed, it is up to the dreamers, the idealists—us!—to foster a heroic imagination where a hero appears, where Jesus returns, where the Spirit moves, where courage conquers fear, where love bears all things. 

What stories are you telling today? Tell them and live a life that tells it too. 


Rev. Jeremy Smith is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Seattle, and a blogger at HackingChristianity.net.

My Walk with Jesus and his LGBTQ Followers

I’ll be offering a few reflections in advance of General Conference 2019. In some, like this one, I will share memories of my own journey alongside LGBTQ siblings in the Church. In others, I’ll work to answer questions that I am hearing in my role as your bishop. I hope each will offer you some insight into my thinking as we walk this road together over the coming months.


I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:10-6   

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Let me take you back to 1971, when I was a 17-year-old high school senior at Bellevue High School (go Wolverines!). It was two years after the Stonewall Uprising which protested a police raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village and marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement in America. But I didn’t know anything about that. It was a year before the General Conference of The United Methodist Church would adopt language stating that it considers the “practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.” I would attend that conference as a young adult observer. But that’s a story for another time.

I was just an awkwardly tall, unusually curious, teenager. A member of Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF), I served on the district youth council. We planned retreats and fun events and studied the issues of the day. As I got to know youth from many backgrounds, life experiences, races and cultures, my horizons expanded quickly, and my faith was tested and stretched in a thousand ways. I never felt far from God during these years. I never felt I was being pulled away from faith. I always turned to my personal faith, and the community of faith to help me understand what I was experiencing, and to respond as a follower of Jesus.

One day I was on the phone – you know (or maybe you don’t), the one-and-only-heavy-black-dial-phone that sat in the living room, where anyone in the family could hear your side of the conversation and speculate about the other side. I was talking to a 16-year-old boy from a neighboring church on youth council business. We were both sexually inexperienced, but through youth ministry, we had become aware of the emerging struggle of lesbian, gay and transgender people to be understood and accepted. Somewhere in the conversation, Michael said, “I think I might be gay. And I don’t know if there is a place for me in the Church.”

Michael didn’t find his gay identity outside the Church. He didn’t come to the church as an invader or a reformer, trying to change the Church. He grew up in the Church. He was baptized in the Church. He was formed and shaped by the Church. And as he began to understand himself as a sexual person, before he had been in a sexual relationship, it was within the church that he searched to find his place in God’s good creation. I didn’t know how to respond, but I knew that in the Church we embrace one another, and we stay in relationship, and we walk together. So, I found Michael some gay Christians to help him find his way. And I knew from that moment on, that I would work in the Church to understand and to welcome, and to learn from brothers and sisters who did not fit the sexual norms I had grown up with, but who loved God, wanted to serve God, exhibited life-giving loving relationships in their lives and were members of the household of the Church.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

I hear people claim that the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people is a secular movement, driven by outsiders who want to control the Church. I don’t know many secular people who care very much about what the Church thinks or teaches. But I know lots of LGBTQ Christians like Michael, whose sexual identity unfolded right alongside their Christian identity, as they grew into adulthood as members of the Church. Because I know this, when I go to a General Conference, and I see people with anguished faces, mouths taped shut with rainbow duct tape in protest of the Church’s persecution, I see Michael, and other dear sisters and brothers in the family of Christ, weeping and yearning to be heard, understood, embraced, treasured, included.

Michael taught me that the Church’s struggle to understand God’s will regarding human sexuality is not a struggle of US vs THEM. It is a struggle of US with US. It is a family struggle. Baptized children of God talking to other baptized children of God, with Jesus as mediator.

greaternw-map

Our Address

Office of the Bishop 816 S 216th #2 (Street Address) PO Box 13650 (Mailing Address) Des Moines, WA 98198-1009
© Copyright 2019, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. All Rights Reserved.