Last Meals

CrossOver reflection for Holy Thursday • April 18, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32a

Rev. John Tucker


One pizza, 16 chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, and a quart of ice cream. That is a lot of food. That list of food items serve as an example of the kinds of things some death row inmates order for their last meals. I discovered this years ago when preparing for a Holy Thursday service because I wanted to compare the last meals of modern-day criminals with the last meal of Jesus, who was also executed as a criminal. 

I was astounded at the amount of food some of these condemned prisoners ordered for their last meals. I suppose it makes sense. If I felt like the world hated me; that it was that last chance I would have to get any enjoyment out of life; and that there were no real consequences, I might go all out too. This would be a meal all about me. I’d eat exactly what I wanted.

For his CrossOver reflection for Holy Thursday, Crater Lake District Superintendent John Tucker takes a close look at the choices Jesus made on his final night of freedom, finding a contrast between his actions and those many of us would make.

Contrast this attitude with what happens at Jesus’s last meal. Whether or not it was the Passover meal—it is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and is one day earlier according to John’s calendar—it was an opportunity for Jesus to gather with his friends one last time for an all-out self-indulgent gluttony session. Why not? He certainly deserved it. Many in his world hated him. The religious establishment judged him. The Romans thought him treasonous at worst and inconsequential at best. He was becoming one of the “least of these” that he often spoke about. 

As Brian McLaren points out, the Gospel of John barely focuses on the meal and spends all its time on the unusual actions of Jesus. It is almost as if he would rather serve his disciples than get the party he deserved. Think about the word deserve. In this context, it would mean that Jesus could de-serve (as in not serve) others so he could have the party that he deserved (placing his own needs above others). Of course, that is not the Jesus we know. The Jesus we know washed his disciples’ feet instead of insisting on his own pleasure.

The Jesus we know offered comfort at a time when he should have been the one receiving it.


Rev. John Tucker serves as Superintendent for the Crater Lake District in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Palms for Peace

CrossOver reflection for Week 19, Palm Sunday • April 14, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32

Rev. Erin Martin


Anyone who knows me knows I love a good Peace March.

Raised the daughter of a Congregational Minister who was a Vietnam Veteran for Peace, I was virtually raised with a “No Nukes” poster in my hands. Now, I am teaching my own children (Elijah 13, Rowan 10), the value of public demonstrations for peace. There is incredible power present when people gather by the thousands to lift their collective voices to proclaim God’s dream of shalom and well being for the world. Since 2016 alone, our family has participated in the International Women’s March, the March for Our Lives following the shooting at Parkland, and the ecumenical Immigrant Justice and Reform demonstration at the Sheridan Federal Detention Center among others.

Yet, what do these public demonstrations have to do with Palm Sunday? If you are anything like me, then you have also participated in countless Palm Sunday attempts to reenact Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You know the drill. Ushers hand out palms to everyone entering the sanctuary; during the first hymn the congregation stands and is encouraged to wave the palm branches; maybe even the children are paraded down the center aisle, adorable but a bit confused by all the commotion. We shout our glad hosannas, but do we really understand the subversive message of welcoming the One who comes in the name of the Lord?

I think the mention of the Hebrew prophets in Chapter 32 of Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, is the key to making the connection. McLaren reminds us that Jesus, throughout the Jerusalem parade and the events that follow, quotes Zechariah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to link his symbolic actions both to the history of Israel and to its present reality.  Jesus’ parade is both a judgment on “what is,” the violent and wayward social rule of the Roman Empire, and also an embodiment of “what can be,” the fullness and humility of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

In our contemporary celebrations of Palm Sunday, we must never forget the significant connection between the prophetic judgment on our own current violent and wayward social order and the hopefulness of our own proclamation and practice of life as rightly oriented towards God’s sovereignty and peace. So I say, this year, maybe we should bring our palm branches to the next public action in the streets. Or maybe this year, we should wave our protest signs as well as our palm branches in worship on April 14.

What do you say? This year, let’s lift our palm branches for peace:

“Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you,
and gets the red carpet treatment.
Children waving real palm branches from the florist,
silk palm branches from Wal-Mart…

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet. 
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honor, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains. 
Jesus, King of all creation, appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none, 
one heart, yours, and a second mile.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you. 
Can you see him?”                  
– Excerpts from “Coming to the City Nearest You” a Poem by Carol Penner.


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

Engineers Make Roads, Too

CrossOver reflection for Week 18 • Beginning March 31, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 31

Rev. Daniel Wilson-Fey


During this Crossover Year, we are reading Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking. When I heard that title, one of my first thoughts was “no we don’t—one makes a road by doing a topographic survey where they want to build the road, drafting design plans, producing a cost estimate, putting it out to bid, hiring a contractor, and then finally building the road according to plan. That’s how you make a road. 

I used to work for consulting engineers doing this kind of work. If we were going to build a road, we didn’t just go out and walk. We took measurements locating all current topographic features of the land and existing improvements, both horizontally and vertically. We would then design the road we wanted to build, specifying the alignment, width, and grade, calculating the radius and superelevation of curves, making runoff calculations, designing drainage, and indicating the type of surface for the finished roadway.

One of the most important things was knowing what soil was under the proposed roadway, how much sub-base was needed, and how it was to be compacted. We superimposed the designed road over the existing topography, calculating cuts and fills, establishing ditches and shoulders and estimating material volumes. We did all of this and more in order to make the road.  

We have known that General Conference 2019 would be a watershed moment of crossing over from what was to what will be. We suspected that The United Methodist Church would not look or feel the same to most people after GC2019. Since the close of General Conference, as Treasurer of the OR-ID Annual Conference, I have been receiving many questions from people wanting to “get the lay of the land”—inquiring about the existing topography of the Conference and denomination’s financial commitments. I welcome such inquiry.

Some people and groups I know are considering designing a whole new denomination. Some say “I’m not going anywhere,” but want to cross over together into a Promised Land they’ve always envisioned and lived. Someone has to build the road to get from here to there, wherever “there” is. These are the engineers among us, asking the practical questions that go into road design. 

Some of those design questions appear in McLaren’s book in this week’s reading of Chapter 31, titled “The Choice is Yours.” McLaren points out the benefit of the house builder who made plans for building a house because the wise builder “doesn’t just hearJesus’ message; he [sic] translates it into action.”

McLaren’s point is that Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, part of the Sermon on the Mount, challenge us to move beyond mere interest and agreement to commitment and action. We are invited to consider all we have heard (the topography), and “translate it into our way of living, our way of being alive.” We are called to build a community of lovers who are just, kind, and humble.

You have heard the words of Jesus long enough. You know where he’s headed, and it includes all. You may help build the way to get there, or you may walk the road once it’s designed and built by others, or you may decide to walk a different way. We each have our role to play. As McLaren’s chapter title offers, “the choice is yours.”

I’m an engineer at heart. I ask a lot of questions. I love producing topo maps of what is existing, to aid us in getting where we want to go and in developing what we are called to build. I hear and need the dreamers, the prophets, the deciders, the vision-casters. All of us are needed if we are to get from here to there. I am glad to be part of this team in this uncertain Crossover time. I have faith all will work out as it needs to, no matter what our community of faith ends up looking like.

The choice is mine; the choice is yours.


Rev. Daniel Wilson-Fey serves as Conference Treasurer for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Boyle, Boyle, Toil and Trouble

CrossOver reflection for Week 17 • Beginning March 24, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 30

Rev. Cara Scriven


A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the news, when I came across a familiar name—Susan Boyle. Boyle was a contestant on Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. In that episode (which you can watch here), Boyle, an eccentric middle-aged woman, appears in an average dress and messy hair. When Cowell asks her what her dream is, she replies that she wants to be a professional singer. The television camera then pans to the audience where you see a young woman give a face that clearly implies Boyle is delusional to have this dream.

Every day we make judgments like the one this audience member and the judges on the show made. We judge people based on what they are wearing, what car they drive, where a person lives, the color of their skin, what they do for a living, and even how they talk. Each time we judge another person, the potential for causing harm is high. Those on the receiving end of our judgments can be scarred for life. Judgments made in the name of religion, Christianity or God can cause deep spiritual harm; sometimes that harm is never repaired. In any case, judging others can make it difficult for someone to live fully into the wholeness of life that God desires for us all.

Rather than judging others, I believe Jesus offers us another way of being in the world. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye?

Matthew 7:1-4

Jesus acknowledges that we are really good at pointing out what is wrong in others and judging them for it. However, we rarely see the things in our own lives that need work. Instead of judging others, Jesus calls to work on pulling out the logs in our own eyes. This task is not an easy one as it requires us to look deep within ourselves and make changes.

The next time you catch yourself pronouncing judgement upon another person, ask yourself one of these questions:

  • What real evidence do I have for this judgement?
  • What could this person teach me?
  • What log is stuck in my eye?
  • What might I need to change in myself?

If you’ve seen the aforementioned episode of Britain’s Got Talent, you also know that it ends with Boyle singing her heart out leaving the audience shocked and applauding her amazing voice. Boyle goes on to win second place on the show. She has since released several albums, and according to Wikipedia, has sold over 19 million albums.


Rev. Cara Scriven serves as Pastor of Puyallup United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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.

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