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The Close of a Year of Collapse and CrossOver

CrossOver reflection for Week 52 • Beginning December 1, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 13 

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Long ago and far away, my walk with Jesus took me to Russia, just as the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s. Russia was crossing over in 1992 from the secularism, suppression and social control of the Soviet Union. Churches, whose property had been seized and had operated largely underground for 75 years – Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist – were all emerging, from the long winter of repression and confinement.    

  • Imagine crossing through security at a prison furniture factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. Your guide is a Russian Orthodox priest, in long black robes, newly recognized as chaplain to the prison. He has convinced prison administrators to allow Christian prisoners to produce small icons of the faith instead of furniture to sell to fund the prison. In a small upper room, it is like a tiny workshop of believers. Those believer prisoners lead you to a far corner of the prison to show you the chapel with a shiny copper onion dome they are building in their free time.  
  • Sit with the Admiral of the Russian Fleet, in the ornate Russian Admiralty, as a U.S. Navy Chaplain tells how he gives spiritual care to sailors and they discuss what military chaplaincy might look like in a post-Soviet Russia.
  • Now walk to a sagging two-story brick building, held upright only with the help of salvaged railroad rails driven crudely through exterior walls to provide cross bracing. Older women love and tend shunned teenaged girls, who are learning to love and tend their babies. They sew dolls that they sell to support their children in an honorable way.  
  • Visit the women’s ward of a stone-cold, drafty 150-year old prison hospital, where a post-operative woman climbs a rattly ladder unaided to her upper bunk every time she has her bandages changed or uses the bathroom.  
  • Notice as one of your traveling companions, a substance abuse counselor, sneaks away from our church hosts to meet surreptitiously with underground advocates for treatment of alcohol and drug dependency in a country that brands alcoholics criminal.

It took the collapse of the Soviet Union for churches in Russia to have the freedom to step outside the tight restrictions on freedom of religion to re-engage in the fabric of community life and to bring the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ to people and a nation who had sat so long in darkness. In 1992 the Christian faith felt fresh and robust, shiny and new. Everything seemed possible. It was a CrossOver season, with plenty of uncertainty, but an irresistible tug toward living faith with every breath, every word, every human encounter.

From Russia with Love

Could we learn from the Churches in Russia? What if The United Methodist Church woke up to discover that our buildings were gone, our websites and Facebook pages shut down, and bank accounts were closed? What would be left of the Church? What difference would it make to the woman in her bunk? A hopeless sailor in the Navy? An alcoholic trapped in his addiction? What would the church be, without all of its institutional forms, habits, schedules?

What if we viewed this season of breakdown or break-up in The United Methodist Church as offering a rare opportunity to think anew and afresh about what the church is for, and how it can best share the blessings of God with the world?  

Crossing Over as a Way of Life

Thank you, for reading, praying, discussing, pondering, imagining new ways to be lovers of God, neighbor, and self.

A year ago I invited you to join me on a year-long CrossOver journey to become “Alive in the adventure of Jesus.” In small groups or alone, for the whole year, or just for a season, many of you read wondered with Brian McLaren in his book, We Make the Road by Walking. A remarkable number of you wrote brilliant, touching, wise blog posts for each chapter of the book. We asked ourselves, how do we understand the Bible? What was Jesus up to? What does it mean for the Church to be Christ’s living presence on earth? How must I live to serve?

Here we are a year later – at the end of our book – realizing that we have not reached the other side. Yet, we are not stalled. We are making the road by walking and we are stronger and bolder as we continue the adventure of Jesus. What I know more clearly now than I did a year ago is that most United Methodists in the Greater Northwest are firmly committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church, but that a significant minority understands the Bible to prohibit full inclusion. 

So, what’s next? Though we may not all think alike, may we not love alike?  

I don’t know today if The United Methodist Church will stay together as a world-wide connection, if it will split into two or three separate incompatible entities, or if some “amicable separation” will be negotiated between parties that do not choose to live together anymore. What I think I do know is that God is using this time of uncertainty to invite us to deeper connections with each other. And that deepening our connections with each other will make it easier to walk the way that will unfold before us without hurting each other. 

I am working with a team of leaders from across the Greater Northwest to offer a season of deeper, broader, authentic relationships across the divisions among us from January through May of 2020. John Wesley saw the church as a great life-giving connectionFor Wesley, connection was personal, relational. I’m calling for growing a new, personal, gracious Grassroots Connections among church participants, between our churches, and between people inside and outside our churches. This is where Jesus shows up — when we are in relationship. Watch for more.

With a thankful heart,

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Words Make Worlds

CrossOver reflection for Week 51 • Beginning November 24, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 12 

Rev. Katie Ladd

Words make worlds. They are the DNA of meaning. Did someone you deeply admired ever highly praise you? How did you feel? Were you ever called a — as a child or as an adult — that left you feeling ashamed or like you were nothing? Words make worlds. Words make worlds beautiful, and they make them unbearable. It is genius that our origin story begins with God speaking creation into being. It is no coincidence in John’s Gospel that we have a new creation story that says, “In the beginning was the Word….” Words make worlds. String words together into stories and that is where we find deep and transformational meaning.

Sadly, too many Christians spend too much time worrying about the facts in the Bible. While there are most certainly facts in the Bible, they aren’t the purpose of the Bible. This is an important distinction. The Bible is a story about meaning that creates meaning; it is an inquiry into why; it is not primarily a report of what. Again, in Genesis, Christians often focus on the fall, and we argue about the creation story. When we do, we miss a key component — the why. Why did God create? The story tells us, but we miss it. God creates us for communion — to reside in God’s good garden in peace and covenant community together and with the Divine. Sabbath is the purpose of creation. In our squabbles about the what and the how we miss the meaning in the words.

The Bible invites us into new worlds created by our spiritual ancestors that tell us about God’s faithful acts to and for creation. It invites us to explore hard things like war, power, greed, loss, and tragedy. It also offers us glimpses of what God’s good world might include. It is a love letter to God and from God being worked out in the mess of human frailty.

Chapter 12 of Brian McLaren’s “We Make the World by Walking” is called “Stories that Shape Us.” In it, he says, “…it’s easy to miss the point of ancient stories. Those stories didn’t merely aim, like a modern textbook, to pass on factual information. They sought people’s formation by engaging their interpretive imagination” (52).

As a pastor, I’ve heard many people struggle with their faith because they simply can’t believe (that is, think something is correct) what they’ve read in the Bible. They can’t agree with it. This, people think, means they must walk away from Christianity. However, agreement isn’t the goal of sacred story. The truth of a story is not found in its accuracy to facts. I encourage people struggling with faith to change their definition of belief to trust. Trust in the stories to lead us to someplace new. Trust the stories to transform our hearts and our lives. Trust in the wisdom of the ancients. It will create new worlds.

There is much to know about the Bible, its timeline, archaeology, and history. Such things should not be discounted, but none of those are the locus of salvation and transformation. Jesus did not call us to think better; he invited us to follow him. His primary commandment was to love, and love is all about encounter and meaning and purpose and communion. When I say that my dad was the best dad in the history of all dads, no one wants to fight me for being factually inaccurate. It is a statement of love, and everyone seems to understand that. It is 100% true even if it is not factual (but, let’s face it, it is factual). 

I invite you to let the Bible form rather than inform. Let the words build worlds of meaning inside of you. There is an infinite and sacred trove of wisdom in the Bible, but it is not an easy book. The words do not always settle easily in 21st-century minds. Wrestle with them and let them wrestle with you, as Jacob and the night stranger wrestled together so many years ago. Like him, come away changed, perhaps even limping from the struggle. Like Jacob, be transformed by encounters with the Divine.

Rev. Katie Ladd is the pastor of Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. She is also the founder and director of The Well.

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.


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.


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.