Jesus Followers Rewrite Stories of Past Pain

CrossOver reflection for Week 50 • Beginning November 17, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 11

Rev. Jenny Smith


I glanced down at my phone with shaky hands. I found the door code in a text and punched it into the keypad. The door clicked open and I stepped cautiously inside a home turned therapist’s office. As I sat nervously on her couch, I fidgeted with my keys and water, honestly wishing I could head right out the door I just entered. 

But no. I was brave when I made the appointment and I would try to summon that courage again. It was time. So for the next hour, I talked through my feelings and pain from a previous season of life. I cycled through a variety of emotions and my therapist made it feel safe to get curious about them. Turns out they had a lot to tell me when I was ready to listen. And somehow in the listening and noticing, I felt healing rise up. What had previously been a hazy knot of fear was now a pile of loose ropes on the ground that I could gently clear away. 

I went into my fear, lived to tell about it and came out the other side with a little more love, compassion, and joy. That knot of fear, left unexamined, had created all kinds of havoc in my life. I was harsh to myself and others because I didn’t have a language for the pain inside my past. But when brought out into the light, the fear got its turn to speak, and then I understood. The harshness faded. Bringing my pain and fear to Jesus (and a therapist!) enabled me to shift from a spirit of anger to a spirit of reconciliation.

In chapter 11 of “We Make the Road By Walking,” Brian McLaren wonders, 

“How will we tell the stories of our past in ways that make our future less violent? We must not defend those stories or give them the final word. Nor can we cover them up, hiding them like a loaded gun in a drawer that can be found and used to harm. Instead, we must expose these violent stories to the light of day. And then we must tell new stories beside them, stories so beautiful and good that they will turn us toward a better vision of kindness, reconciliation, and peace for our future and for our children’s future.”

We do this work in many ways. We’re invited to explore the stories in our own past that hold pain and anger for us. As we explore and heal, we can write new stories about past pain. 

We’re invited to name past pain inside our faith communities. Left unexamined, these traumas continue for generations. We can give an incredible gift of healing and reconciliation by naming and working through misunderstandings and conflict. We can write new stories for new generations of Jesus followers.

We’re invited to tell the truth about painful realities in our cities, country, and world. We all cope with difficult news headlines differently, but maybe you’re a bit like me, and just want to put your head in the sand some days and ignore it all. Once in a while, that may be a healthy thing to do. But we are Jesus followers. We’re invited to look right into the face of hate, anger, and violence and tell a different story. We can write new stories of goodness, peace, and kindness. 

Our world is depending on it.


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.

Abundant Life Outside the Lines

CrossOver reflection for Week 49 • Beginning November 10, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 10

Rev. Mary Huycke


One of the human attributes that allow us to navigate daily life is the very attribute that enslaves us to unhelpful patterns of behavior and attitude.

A thousand times a day, we are beneficiaries of not having to stop to think deeply about the task in front of us. The simple act of getting a glass of water from our kitchen faucet is simple precisely because we don’t have to stop and wonder, where is there a water faucet in the house? How do I turn on the water? We grab a glass from the cabinet and fill it up all without pausing in conversation. Once mastered, driving a car is automatic. Upon seeing a stoplight, we don’t have to take the time at each intersection, pondering, “hmmm…what is the meaning of a red light, again?” The learned somatic pattern kicks in, our foot depresses the brake, and we stop.

We’d be lost without our patterned responses. But Christian discipleship — the going-on-to-perfection trajectory John Wesley describes — depends on our ability to notice our patterned responses and move beyond them. 

Social scientists say that by the age of two, we each have learned strategies for getting our needs met. Our in-born nature combines with our familial environment to wire us in particular ways. Those specific ways are what we come to think of as “normal,” and lead to us acting and reacting automatically. But what serves us well in one stage of life, or type of situation, is not always helpful, let alone Christ-like, in another. As people trying to follow Christ’s Way, we are called to take on the mind of Christ and the attitudes and behaviors that arise from that. This requires becoming aware of our in-grained patterns and how they lead us in a different direction.

That’s why studying scripture and practicing spiritual disciplines are so important. They re-pattern us. To paraphrase McLaren in this week’s chapter, God invites us out of slavery, but slavery still has to be gotten out of us. Each of us has attitudes and behaviors that make perfect sense for us to have given who we are, how we were raised, and what we’ve experienced. Yet, they are often harmful to ourselves, to others and to the world. Each season of growth in faith reveals new ones to be addressed – that’s why it’s a going-on-to-perfection and not a done and done thing.

As a leadership coach and process consultant, one of the phrases those working with me hear often is, “we can’t manage what we don’t see.” And truly, we generally don’t manage what we don’t hold as important to ourselves or those we care about. 

This week’s chapter in, We Make the Road by Walking, is coming at a perfect time for me. While in the ordering of chapters, it’s at the beginning, our Area study of the book puts it at the end. After walking this road for the past year, this chapter now asks me the right question, “Given what you’ve said you’ve wanted and longed for and been committed to, take a look at your life again – what has you enslaved to walking a path you say you don’t value or want?” 

And even as my heart sinks at seeing those things, and the seeming impossibility of moving beyond them, I hear a voice gently saying, “Come.”


Rev. Mary Huycke 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.

Rivalry or Reconciliation

CrossOver reflection for Week 47 • Beginning October 27, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 8

Nancy Tam Davis


Chapter 8 of Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking addresses the choice of rivalry or reconciliation. When faced with a loss, or even the fear of loss, we make a choice. Sometimes that choice is conscious; often, it is not. The loss can be something I would consider trivial, like losing a game of checkers. Other losses can be life-threatening. What is a substantial loss for me may be insignificant to you. The issue is that we reach a point of choice, a decision to enter into rivalry, or we find a way to reconcile the loss.

I am reminded of a visit to an aquarium many years ago. I was wandering through a cool, dark, cave-like hallway displaying various sea creatures in dimly lit, glass windows. In one such tank lived the longfish. This tiny fish was about 2 inches long and ¼ of an inch at its widest point. Each fish lived in one of the many parallel trenches on the bottom. It looked as if a careful gardener had passed a fine rake across the bottom of the tank. Only one fish occupied each trench. Each one waited patiently until a tiny pebble rolled down the side of a trench, and the occupying fish would immediately pick the pebble up and spit it into the neighboring trench. The neighbor fish would then gather the stone and spit it back, with what I imagine to be a sense of satisfaction. 

If fish could talk, I believe the dialog would be simple. “Oh no, you don’t, I don’t want your rock.” “Here, take that.” “How do you like them pebbles.” And the game went on all day. Their reason for living seemed simple. Keep your own trench clean, and don’t worry about your neighbors.

I recognize the longfish in me. The impulse I had today when a car passed too close for comfort was to let that driver know they had made a poor choice. I could teach him. Then I could return to my lane (or trench), knowing that I had once again balanced the scales. There have been times when the words of another caused pain, and quickly there arises the impulse to hurt back. That nanosecond of decision-making is almost preconscious and can initiate a chain of rivalry that destroys a relationship. 

Throughout history, rivalries have not ended well. For some, it has caused irreparable divisions in families. In the worst cases, it has sparked never-ending wars until no one remembers or even cares about the igniting issue.

I also remember those times when I did stop and think about the choice ahead of me. I have both received and given the grace that moves into reconciliation. With reconciliation, we can hear one another, understand and learn from one another. The seemingly endless game of rock-spitting can be ended. I believe God calls us to all be people of grace and reconciliation. It is a choice.


Nancy Tam Davis serves as the Conference Lay Leader for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Accept or Question?

CrossOver reflection for Week 46 • Beginning October 20, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 7

By Dave Burfeind


I grew up going to church. It was a part of our family life to attend church every Sunday. I have even provided photographic evidence (zoom in, I dare you!). It shows the Bible I gave myself from birthday money I received when I turned nine along with a “Certificate of Attendance” for 13 quarters of perfect Sunday School attendance — over three years without missing a Sunday School class! I assume summers were exempt since we did go on a vacation each summer.

These years of formation were a valuable time to learn Bible stories, scripture, and church rituals. Obviously, I was very young, so developmentally, I was gaining knowledge and establishing my faith, not questioning the information I was receiving. I am sure one of the Bible stories I learned included the improbable birth of a child to Abraham and Sarah.

The structure of the church in which I grew up was also something that was accepted initially, but later questioned when I was an adult. The denomination (not United Methodist) was quite restrictive with the sacraments. Thirty years ago, when looking for a church for our wedding, an option was a church within my own denomination that was located in Heather’s home town. The response when talking with the pastor was that the church was only available for weddings of members of the denomination (Heather was not).

Later, on a trip back to see my parents, we worshipped in my home church, but during communion, Heather was not allowed to participate. The official stance of the church was that communion was available only for those baptized within the church. In both instances, my pastor later heard and asserted that he would have been more accepting in each situation.

At the time, I did not question the stance of the church as it related to both situations. I was accepting of the decision of the church and moved on from what I learned. I have subsequently discovered that it is important to ask questions of our faith, our church, and our denomination. It is also important to have conversations with our God, asking questions about our faith and our relationship with our creator.

Obviously, our faith life is in continual change. As our life progresses, many aspects of our personality and outlook develop. That is also true of our faith life. We need to continue to ask questions as the issues present themselves. Equally important, we need to be in prayer and conversation while we make decisions about our beliefs. We listen for God’s response in these conversations.

What are things in your faith life or practice that have changed as you have matured? How did you experience God as these changes occurred? Are there positions or structures within the church that you question? How do you constructively challenge them while keeping your faith strong?


Dave Burfeind has served for over 20 years as the director of Lazy F Camp and Retreat Center outside of Ellensburg, Washington, in The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

An​ Rx for Abundant Life

CrossOver reflection for Week 45 • Beginning October 13, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 6

By Emilie Kroen


The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
– Psalm 145:9

“I am blessed to be a blessing.” 

This is my breath prayer from “Plotting Goodness.” As I write this reflection: “I am blessed to be a blessing.”

“I am blessed” – Oh how blessed! 
Even when I feel unworthy, I am blessed. 
Even when I feel inadequate, I am blessed.
Even when my words hurt others, I am blessed. 
Even when I cry out in anguish, I am blessed.
Even when in my selfishness, I fail to help the hurting, I am blessed.
Even when my actions stray from God’s will, I am blessed.
Forever and ever, God’s goodness blesses me and you, and you, and you, and you, and you too.

How does this knowledge of being blessed move from head to heart? To foster a grateful heart, we must take time to acknowledge the goodness in our lives daily. I do it by keeping a gratitude journal. Others use music, meditation, or using a tactile reminder like carrying a rock, coin, cross, or another small object in their pocket.

Did you know*:

As we create gratitude, we generate a positive ripple effect through every area of our lives — our desire for happiness, our pursuit of better relationships, and our ceaseless quest for inner peace, health, wholeness, and contentment. Studies show that gratitude has a positive impact on our physical, psychological, and social lives. 

A grateful heart can provide a stronger immune system and lower our blood pressure. Gratitude can also lead to higher levels of positive emotions such as joy and optimism, help us sleep better, and inspire us to exercise more and take better care of our health. 

Psychologists remind us that what flows through the mind sculpts the brain. If we ask our mind to give thanks, our mind gets better at finding things to be thankful for, and we naturally become more grateful.

Gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion that helps us to recognize how we are supported and affirmed by other people. With a grateful heart, we become more helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving. 

Gratefulness is the lasting residue that we can weave into our very being. Gratitude enhances our wellbeing and compels us as a grateful person to do good — to be a blessing to others.

While we hopefully don’t make a practice of “plotting evil,” each of us tries to plot our path forward. Even when we have a good idea where we want to go, flexibility, like gratitude, can serve us well. My husband and I took a long road trip last year to visit National Parks across the country. Our plan was detailed and comprehensive, but there were surprises and detours.

Abram and Sara undertook a long journey as well. Unlike my husband and I, they had no map to follow, and no idea where the destination was. But God was faithful, and His focus never wavered. While there were plenty of surprises, when they stepped out in faith, they were met with blessings that continue through the ages to all generations.

The blessings that surround us when we stop to notice them should overwhelm us. As we have eyes to see how abundantly our lives are blessed, we know there is much to share. May we make a conscious effort (maybe even a plot) to show goodness to others, and practice gratitude, ever on life’s journey.

May I be a blessing to others – today I pray
When I trust in God’s goodness, I am a blessing.
When I recognize my worthiness and acknowledge the worthiness of others, I am a blessing. 
When I use my giftedness to do God’s will, I am a blessing
When I choose my thoughts and words to show grace and mercy, I am a blessing
When I am vulnerable and humbly share my story to help another, I am a blessing.
When this hurting world compels me to give generously of my gifts, time, and money in ways that heal, I am a blessing.
When my actions build up God’s kingdom and reflecting his love and solidarity with others and all creation, I am a blessing.
In God’s blessing economy, God’s goodness blesses me and you, and you, and you. And we bless each other and all God’s creation too.

Jesus’ teaches us to live out our faith, trusting in God’s “promise of being blessed to be a blessing.” To me, this is the prescription for Abundant Life.

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have life more abundantly.”
– Luke 10:10b

*I learned these things from reading Robert Emmon’s “The Little Book of Gratitude” & M. J. Ryan’s book “Attitudes of Gratitude.” 


Emilie Kroen was raised in the Methodist Church. She and her husband Tom are retired and live in Tualatin where they worship and serve at Tualatin United Methodist Church. Their adult son, Matthew, lives nearby. Emilie is Associate Lay Leader for Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. She also leads the Abundant Health work team and serves on the Ministry Leadership Team. Four years ago, Emilie retired from a career in the credit union industry; the last eight years as a senior financial examiner for the State of Oregon.

Alone But Never Alone

CrossOver reflection for Week 44 • Beginning October 6, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 5

By Lonnie D. Brooks


In September of this year, 2019, I turned 79 years old. That’s precariously close to 80, which some consider to be the marker or when one becomes really old.

The milestone for me that really mattered, however, was the one I reached in 2012 when I turned 72. You see, my dad died when he was 72, and my mom followed him on that journey into eternity two years later when she was only 68.

So, starting in 2012, every day marked for me a day that I had lived longer than either of my parents, and that means that in a sense that was new for me, I was making the road by walking where nobody in my immediate family had gone. For seven years now, I’ve been making that road.

Whatever one chooses to believe about the historicity of stories like Cain and Abel, Noah and the Great Flood, or the Tower of Babel that form the core of Brian McClaren’s Chapter Five, what those stories have to tell us of the saga of humanity are incredibly valuable.

In each of these stories the principal figure, Cain, Noah, and those who migrated to the land of Shinar and embarked upon building their great tower, thought they were alone.

  • Cain had killed his brother Abel, and was cast out to fend for himself. But he found a wife and started a whole new line of the first family. 
  • Noah got on the boat with his own immediate family, and then watched the Great Flood kill every other human on earth. But he started a whole new human descendancy, and, according to the story, every human alive today has Noah as father. 
  • The people of Shinar, exercising the power of being united in purpose and voice launched themselves upon a God-like mission, only to see their unity end in a splintering of their voices and thus the end of their common mission. They were forced from then and forevermore to share the earth with others they could not understand and who could not understand them.

None of these characters were truly alone, and, of course, the same has been true for me despite the fact that parts of the journey have been uncharted. And the whole truth is that regardless of how many charts and maps have been made, there will always be a need for some of us to go where there are no maps. 

As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”


Lonnie D. Brooks is a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist lay person who considers his most important work in the Church to be his teaching adult Sunday School classes in Bible and theology.  Following his graduation from Georgia Tech as an electrical engineer he spent a year at Perkins School of Theology on the way to spending a career of 32 years going around the world looking for oil and gas as an exploration geophysicist.  Brooks was the Lay Leader of the Alaska Conference for about ten years and has been to multiple General and jurisdictional conferences as either a delegate or reserve delegate.  He served on two of the Church’s general agencies’s board of directors.

Image Bearers

CrossOver reflection for Week 43 • Beginning September 29, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 4

Rev. David Valera


It was one of those moments when something spoke so powerfully that it stunned me. After a few moments of figuring out why this social media image so genuinely captured me, I realized that it spoke words I have been searching for and wanting to say.

I have long wanted to name and describe a growing emptiness within me. Significant events have adversely affected my life these past few months — the sad decisions of General Conference 2019, my dad’s passing and then having to leave my mom in the Philippines, the uncertainty of a future for of The United Methodist Church. 

And as I read and reread the description of Catalano’s sculpture, the words became louder and louder.

THERE IS A VOID CREATED BY LEAVING ONE’S COUNTRY, FAMILY AND ONE’S PEOPLE FROM ANOTHER LIFE.

I am learning that being an immigrant in the United States comes at a very dear price. Not only in terms of distance from my birthplace and family but also in the way I am perceived. I did not come here to steal someone’s job — just one of the barbs thrown casually around at immigrants, which is harder to brush off.

To many immigrants, leaving one’s life and culture behind creates a deep sense of emptiness. They do not know how they will flourish, much alone survive in an environment that is new and foreign. One has to face and be willing to endure the hardships of racism, prejudice, bigotry, and racial bias. It does not matter who or what you were where you grew up. You are now in a foreign country where your skin color is your primary identity. Your ability to speak the language determines whether you get what you are asking for, not what you deserve. And you will have to make decisions on how all these experiences define you and your legacy. You are now the pioneer of your new identity.

As a first-generation immigrant, I know that there is no “Immigration for Dummies” book to ease the process. And if there was one, (I googled) that premise itself is wrong, as it assumes that immigration can be simplified and interpreted as a dummy move. For every immigrant, there is a deep-rooted “WHY?” behind this life-changing decision. Whether it’s fleeing from conflict, economic depression, or the pursuit of opportunities in career, livelihood or calling, whatever the reason, the decision will never come easy. Just as depicted in the sculpture, immigrants arrive with a lot of emptiness.

And often, that decision to move to a new setting is not just for the person making the decision. There could be a whole family line of 1.5 and 2.0+ generation immigrants affected, who also have to deal with the crafting of new identities as well.

Filipinos are known for our hospitality. We like to celebrate the blessings of life through meals, music, and hospitality. Rich or poor, it does not matter; hospitality is in our DNA. We have been taught to serve, care for, and help. Maybe that is why you will find a majority of Filipinos/ immigrants working in those industries. So many times, folks assume that I work for either a hotel, a cruise ship, or a hospital. And I probably could. That is perhaps the image that I bear — a brown-skinned, English speaking adult, who likes to help, laugh with, and enjoy conversations with others. A receptionist. Ta-dah! 

Funny, but that’s still a racial bias.

In “We Make the Road by Walking,” Brian McLaren reminds us how humanity has been set to be image-bearers of the Great Creator. We are in a relationship with God who invites us to live with generous desires, to create, to bless, to help, to serve, to care for, to save, and to enjoy. 

This makes a great parallel to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

To immigrants, those words have been and continue to be welcoming, inspiring, and life-giving.

So now as an American, I often ask myself, “What image do I bear when I come across another immigrant? Do I become threatened, defensive, and afraid? Or will I dig deep and live out my value of hospitality and welcome.

And what image should I bear when I am in the midst of the dominant culture? Inferior and weak? Bitter and angry? What about living out God’s call to be co-creators of a world that thrives in peace, justice, joy, and love?

Brian reminds us of the stories in Genesis, where the choices of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, led them to become rivals with God, resenters, blamers, and murderers. It all revolved around the drama of desire. “The desire to acquire what someone else has, the desire to compete and consume, the desire to judge evil those who get in our way, even the desire to harm or kill those who are obstacles to our desires.” 

I pray for the day when I will not be seen as the enemy because of my skin color, a day when immigrants are not branded as killers, rapists, and drug dealers. 

I pray for the day when humanity lives to respect and care for each other, lifting each other in prayer and thanksgiving, for we know not what burdens we each bear. 

I pray for a day when we all bear the peace of God, as we make the road by walking.

Amen.


Rev. David Valera serves as Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Image Credit: “Les Voyageurs” by Bruno Catalano via Pinterest

Patterns of Hope

CrossOver reflection for Week 42 • Beginning September 22, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 3

Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Lately, I have been thinking about the power of patterns in my life. It seems we all adore patterns. Nature is full of patterns—the delicate design of a butterfly’s wing, the growth rings of a tree’s trunk, the tiger’s stripes, the snowflake’s symmetry—all patterns that speak to us of stability and sensibility. We love patterns. So it is no wonder we fall unconsciously into our own patterns of love or of fear, patterns of gratitude or miserly suspicion, patterns of hope or despair. These patterns will create reality and define possibility for us if we let them. If we are not awake to the warp and weave of each moment in life’s tapestry, the patterns we do not notice can take us away from God’s original creation of us and can obscure the intent of the Creator.

The good news is that patterns are not necessarily fixed and permanent. Old patterns can be changed and new ones can be created. So I am wondering…what have the patterns of your life created in years past? Do you like the tapestry you have woven to date? Are there ways in which you might choose to change the pattern right now, or create a new one altogether?

Each January, instead of creating an impossible-to-keep New Year’s Resolution, I choose a word for the year. This is a word I use to focus my attention and to ground myself in the patterns I want to embrace. This year my word is HOPE. In choosing that word I thought about my hopes for patterns of beauty and peace, patterns that create meaning and open the way for love. I also thought of the challenges facing our United Methodist Church as a denomination and the hope I have whenever I remember God’s abiding presence with us. I thought of the possibilities that abound in mission and ministry here at home and the hope we can offer to the world beyond our walls. I thought of the hope we long to see fulfilled in the created order and in humanity itself.  

The beginning of John’s Gospel speaks to me of the pattern of hope we find in God’s relationship with the world.  I particularly like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 1:16-18:

            We all live off this generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.
            We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
            This endless knowing and understanding –
            All this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
            No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse.
            This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of God,
            Has made God plain as day.

Prayer for the Day:

Loving God, you create and sustain patterns of love and hope, goodness and possibility in each of our lives. Help us to notice the patterns we create. Help us to receive your grace to change our patterns in light of your love, in response to your hope, to mirror your goodness and create new possibilities for all your world. In the name of your one-of-a-kind Expression, Jesus, your Christ… Amen.


Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard, Senior Pastor of Portland First UMC, believes that faith ought to be a pathway to joy!  As a pastor, she helps create a deep sense of joy in spiritual growth, compassion, and social justice ministries. When not working, Donna loves spending time with her two adult daughters, walking her Corgi, laughing with friends, painting silk, playing the piano, traveling and reading “just for fun”. 

Donna also serves as Chair of the Western Jurisdiction’s Leadership Team.

On Being Fully Human

CrossOver reflection for Week 41 • Beginning September 15, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 2

By Rev. Erin Martin


The family backpacking trip has become a summer ritual. Our sons, Elijah and Rowan, don’t always love it, hiking in the woods for 30-40 miles over a few days. Inevitably, my oldest will groan, “Why can’t we vacation like normal families?” and by that, he means Disneyland. But there is something incredibly simple about carrying what I need with me, nothing more nothing less, and walking out into the wilderness. Without fail, the first night under the trees, by a rushing stream, or at the base of a mountain, I can feel the stress of life begin to melt from my body. I feel myself becoming fully human again.

Let’s face it. Being human, these days feels especially hard. I am easily overwhelmed by the “gloom and doom” of the daily headlines — increased gun violence, climate degradation, political turmoil. I find myself clenching and shrinking over the “not good” of human activity that Brian McLaren explains so clearly in Chapter 2 of We Make the Road by Walking. In this chapter, McLaren traces human rebellion to an original wilderness and our first decision to “play God.” 

I see it unfold in myself every day, the temptation to judge others, to define myself over and against other people. I experience it in the created order that can lead us all toward the seemingly inevitable way of increased hostility and violence. McLaren, however, urges us to remember that human judgment is always a choice. We can balance our bent toward rebellion with the truth of our place in God’s original blessing of creation. 

McLaren invites us to change our posture by opening up our hands toward embrace. We can become fully human when we daily take into ourselves the refrain of God’s first sacred litany, “light-good, seas-good, animals-good, humankind-very good.” As an image-bearer of God, I can choose to participate in the reciprocal energy of giving and receiving blessing with others and with all creation. 

Recently, Native American spirituality has been increasingly informing my understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, trees- breath, oceans- rhythm, land- provision, humankind- family. Disconnected from other people and the created order, I will be only partially human. Connected to others and to all creation, I become whole. 

What about you? How do you become more fully human?


Rev. Erin Martin serves as Superintendent for the Columbia District in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Awe and Wonder!

PREFACE: Bishop Elaine invited people to join her in reading and praying their way through We Make the Road by Walking, A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation – beginning last December with Chapter 14. If you haven’t begun, this is a great time to start at Chapter 1. If you have been journeying with McLaren since January, this is a fresh reminder of the purpose of the book study – to revive our connection and love for the beauty and life God called into being at Creation and to join Jesus in his quest for aliveness.


CrossOver reflection for Week 40 • Beginning September 8, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 1

By Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky


The heavens are telling the glory of God. ———

Life is not boring! When I become bored, or so busy I don’t notice the abundance of life that hums everywhere, I know it’s time to stop, look, and listen.  

Last month Clint and I were camped at the Coal Banks Landing and Campground on the Missouri River in north-central Montana. We went out of our way to get there by driving many miles on a dirt road to cross the Missouri River on the FREE! two-car cable ferry at Virgelle. On a mid-summer weeknight following region-wide thunderstorms, the campground was mostly empty.

The sunset that evening with a full moon rising, crickets chirping and a silent, relentless river flowing … flowing … flowing. About 3 AM, I imposed on Clint to accompany me to the outhouse. After fumbling with zippers, shoes, and flashlights, we finally emerged from our tent and started the long walk to our destination.

We were not on a mission of wonder. Our purpose was mundane. But we were swept into the wonder of the universe. The moon had set. The vast spray of the Milky Way pierced the remote darkness above, and the stars were shooting across and falling out of the sky at a giddy rate. It was the height of the Perseid Meteor Shower, and the heavens were telling the glory of God!

On the following day, we made new bird friends and learned their names: Eastern and Western Kingbirds. And when we passed a lifeless Badger on the road, we turned around, stopped the car and paused with it. To honor. To marvel. Probing snout. Tough but nimble paws. Able claws. Insistent stripe. Noble cloak.

Along the way, we met a few of the sparse people in that wide land. Adventurers floating the river. An anthropologist preserving the prairie. A woman and her son tending cattle. An Amish woman tending store. Cheyenne mourners preserving a sacred way of life. Hispanic cowboys. People honoring their dead; embracing their living.

And at the end of the journey, we helped lay a dear friend to rest in the Cheyenne country of eastern Montana before the long, straight drive west and home.

Since we began the quest for Aliveness reading this book, The United Methodist Church has entered into a season of turmoil and uncertainty, as harsh prohibitions and punishments for LGBT+ inclusion were adopted at the February 2019 General Conference, with plans being made by some to implement them, and by others to resist them. The church cannot hold together as it stands right now. How deep the divide will be and how many local churches will survive intact is all unknown. We are still waiting, praying, and planning. For my part, I don’t see why churches, where people have learned to live with their differences, should have to tear in two. It’s part of the wonder and richness of the community of faith, and all human communities, that we can be very different, and yet find joy in our life and service together.

You, lovers and followers of Jesus, and you, local churches, YOU are tend-ers of aliveness, week in and week out. Nurturing life through love. Noticing the goodness of God’s creation and celebrating it. Protecting life when it is threatened by hunger, neglect, disease, loneliness, gun violence, deportation, or hatred. You are ministers of aliveness at the birth of a baby, or in the shadow of death at any age.

You are alive to nurture life. You are blessed to be a blessing.

Thank you. Don’t stop. God is opening a way for us to CrossOver.


God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

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