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The Gospel in First Person

CrossOver reflection forWeek 21 • Beginning April 28, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 34

Kristina Gonzalez

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8, NRSV

I was doing housework—or something—with half an ear to my local National Public Radio station. The story was about a father and his children, a Latinx family. I didn’t catch the father’s country of origin, but he was undocumented. He had been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a time, separating the family. 

The story was not so much about the father’s experience as about his children’s. The children were so traumatized by the separation that, once released, they would not allow their father to run a simple errand without one of them accompanying him. Their father indulged them, taking with him the child that was ready first, knowing that the next child would be in tow on the next errand. Ah…

My immediate response was this: There, but for the grace of God, go I. There, but for my family entering the United States at a time when hard-working immigrants were valued, if not still exploited. 

I do not believe that God favored my grandparents over others or that they were special in God’s eyes—no more than the children in this story. Rather, I think God smiles when barriers are removed that allow each of us to live and give into our full potential. 

It makes a difference when we put ourselves into the story.

At this time in our CrossOver year, Brian McLaren asks us to enter the story of the days following Jesus death and triumph, to be present with all the pain and confusion and fear that follows witnessing cruelty and injustice. We are asked to think of the story in the first person. How would I respond? How would I feel? What role or roles would I play in this drama? 

Jesus’ story is not so different from prophets throughout history who have pushed back against power and suffered the ultimate sacrifice for their leadership – with one exception. Jesus showed us that it does not end there. It cannot end there. It must not end there. Jesus shows us – present tense – that love prevails. But not without us.

You are sent. You are accompanied. You forgive.

Place yourself there in that upper room; or in a family of immigrants who do not know if their father will return each time he leaves home; or with a mother who cannot afford health care for her children; or with an LGBTQ+ sibling who feels disaffirmed in their personhood; or with… With.

Can I put myself in that place of profound uncertainty? Who are my companions along the journey? Can I both enter their story and allow others to enter my own? Can I be in fellowship that is deep and life-changing?

McLaren defines fellowship in this way: “Fellowship is a kind of belonging that isn’t based on status, achievement, or gender, but instead is based on a deep belief that everyone matters, everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved, no conditions, no exceptions.”[1]  

McLaren makes the case that fellowship is what was present in that small room where Jesus’ followers were huddled and where he appeared to assure his beloved that God’s kinship had a future in them. In us.

So…to the challenge of placing the Gospel in First Person…of entering that profound fellowship, here will be my test:

Can I say of another’s story, There, but for the grace of God, go I? What is your test?

Kristina Gonzalez serves as Director of Innovation for an Inclusive Church on the Innovation Vitality Team in its work for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church.

[1]McLaren, Brian. We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 34, page 175. 

On Recognizing Jesus

CrossOver reflection for Easter, Week 20 • Beginning April 21, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 33

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23, NRSV

Toward the end of her life, as my mother was withdrawing into the twilight of forgetfulness, one of the delights we shared was walking through a public garden. On a sunny spring stroll, she exclaimed, “Oh, isn’t that beautiful!?” Her eye was captivated by electric blue blossoms crouched alongside the path. We paused and marveled at the delicate blossoms broadcasting such intense color.

As we resumed our walk, not ten feet further along, her eye fell upon another patch of these same flowers, and again she exclaimed, “Look at that! Aren’t they lovely!” And so, it continued along the way. Time and again she saw these graceful flowers as if for the first time and received them as the extraordinary gifts they were—the glory of the Lord!

Her memory loss gave her the gift of fresh awareness. She wasn’t laden with a tired seen-one-seen-‘em-all attitude. Rather she was delighted to discover them time and again anew.

The disciples who had watched as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and was lowered into a grave, weren’t expecting to meet him on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts were so downcast that their eyes were blind to the miracle of Jesus’ presence. But, just like my Mom, when they realized it was Jesus, they exclaimed with wonder, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

Even in the community of Christians, it’s easy to overlook the miracles God works in our lives. To simply fail to notice the extraordinary blessings that God showers on us day by day.

To forget that God lifts people out of discouragement and self-hatred time and again. That on a Sunday morning, there are people in church, or at Starbucks, or waiting for a stranger who will share breakfast with them, who are led, despite all odds, out of darkness into a marvelous light.

Even people who are swept away into the darkness; death cannot separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ. A pastor I once knew said that if we understood it fully, death would be a beautiful as birth. It was his affirmation of faith from the depths of despair.

Though she died nearly seven years ago, my heart burns within me every time I see bright blue flowers tucked into the rocks along a garden path. Mom is very near. Jesus lives. And loves never ends.

Death has no power. Alleluia!

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.

Punching holes in the darkness

CrossOver reflection for Holy Saturday • April 20, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32c

Rev. DJ del Rosario

Change can be very hard. My family and I have recently moved to Federal Way, Washington. Our new home is unfamiliar to us. Navigating at night can be hard for our children, so we have strategically placed night lights in our hallways and bathrooms to know how to find our way around when the house is darkest. We’ve plugged these devices into our outlets which have motion sensors and turn on when they sense movement. I think my favorite thing about them is that they work better the darker it gets.

When I move around our house at night, the first few steps are almost always in the dark, and then the nightlight detects my motion and begins to illuminate my way. Especially at first, the darkness feels too dark to dare to take even a few steps. Sometimes, my kids are too scared to even get up. That’s when they call out in the night and listen for someone in our family to help them find their bearings and know that they aren’t alone.

As I reflect on this Holy Week, I can only imagine what it was like for followers of Jesus. The Roman Empire crucified Jesus on the cross. Empire won that day. I can’t begin to imagine how dark it felt for followers of Jesus then. After all those years, all those miracles, they now huddle in the darkness not sure what to do next. What was once sure, is no longer guaranteed. What was once guaranteed is clouded in confusion.

It feels like the Empire is winning a lot of days lately. As a people of faith, we must remember that light has already punched holes through the darkness. On Easter, we get to celebrate that Jesus has risen from the dead and death has been defeated. Just as the darkest night of the year must yield to the light eventually, we can remember that darkness can blot out the light—if only for a moment. Even a spark of light can illuminate the darkest places.

The thickest walls in Berlin fell one day. The most deadly guns can be bent into plowshares. Minefields can be turned into playgrounds with our effort. Even some of the most hateful people can learn the transforming grace of love with enough patience.

We are imperfect people serving a perfecting God who loves us as we are. Because of this, we aren’t meant to stay just as we are.

God’s unconditional love for us doesn’t mean we get to say and do anything. It means we have an awesome responsibility to remind each person we encounter that they matter. That they are sacred.

That we see you. We hear you. We love you.

I pray that we will learn from these dark times in the world and in our Church and move slowly enough to build something right this time. My heart has been encouraged by siblings who continue to call out into the night. I hear the voices of brothers, sisters, all persons of sacred worth whispering and shouting resistance, grace, and love.

To all who are brave enough to step in the darkness. To all who are voices in a darkening world. To all who wonder if this Saturday will finally end—thank you for your prophetic voices. Thank you for your courageous leadership.

To all who feel alone, afraid, disempowered, disenfranchised and disjointed from the body of Christ. We are here. We see you. We love you. The body of Christ is much stronger with you.

In Easter hope, I believe we will widen our circle to those we might call the lost, the least, the marginalized, the disenfranchised. I pray that instead of talking about the people we are called to serve, we will learn, listen and serve alongside all of God’s creation seeking a kingdom that is better than our world is today. I believe with all that I am that light will prevail. Because the darkness is only as dark as the next moment light pierces it.

Rev. DJ del Rosario (@pastordj) is a husband, father, University of Washington (UW) Husky fan, pastor and author. He met his best friend and wife Elaine in seminary. They have three amazing daughters who are the source of their joy. 

Wait for it…Waaaait for it…

CrossOver reflection for Good Friday • April 19, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32b

Rev. Jenny Willison Hirst

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ ” – Luke 22:44-46

I was listening to the live stream closing comments of General Conference 2019 (GC) on the way to the final meeting of my day. Flying M Coffee House is one of my favorite “offices” and Robert and I were to meet for a late afternoon coffee. Robert is part of the Rainbow Connection, an LGBTQ small group I hold in my home on Wednesday nights and co-lead with several others. 

As I drove through the streets of Boise, I was numb and then angry and then filled with dread.  You see, Robert has been feeling the call to ministry for some time, and as he has found community and love in our small group and at church, he has begun to express, out loud, God’s call in his life, and his desire to serve God and God’s people more deeply. Our meeting was to talk about how he might respond to this call. The irony of the GC decision moments before my time with him was not lost on me.  

As I sat across the table from him, my anger and anguish boiled inside and presented as tears. I apologized for this news—this news that our gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer brothers and sisters know all too well. And Brian McLaren’s words, “Could there be any meaning in the catastrophe playing out before us now?” rang true.

Robert gently comforted me and wasn’t deterred by the news. His joy and hope in finally being able to express that he felt God calling him into ministry overshadowed the very decision made at GC meant to send a message that his call would not be recognized. We laughed and schemed and planned for what his next steps might be. In that space, I know for certain, I experienced Christ’s forgiveness, love, and hope. 

My final stop of the day was to the NICU where I was to see my good friend and her new baby. She had come into my life in October through refugee resettlement, a single mother of five with one on the way. Her strength and faith in God continue to be, to this day, the most profound of anyone I’ve ever known. Baby Zoe, whose name means “life within me,” was born six weeks early and it would be the first time I would see him.

I entered her hospital room and she greeted me saying, “Come see the baby! Come see Zoe!”  You would never have known by her pace and stride down the hallway that she had just given birth!  As we entered the room where Zoe was being carefully watched, I witnessed the beautiful beginning of a baby being nourished and loved by his mother’s breast for the first time. 

How can this be? To experience the helplessness of a hate-filled decision in one moment, grace and forgiveness in the next moment, and then witness fully God’s blessing of new life and new hope in the presence of a tiny human freshly made in the image of God. 

And so we come to another Good Friday. Another reminder of the violence and hate meant to kill God’s message of love. And we must take time to lament and feel the weight of human decisions and actions that attempt to thwart God’s movement.

But we also know the end of the story. As I hold Luke’s words of Jesus’ reminder to his disciples in the garden that night, I’m reminded to not let the exhaustion of sorrow or bitterness overtake me. God is in the spaces between two people having coffee and grieving and finding hope all at the same time. God is in the spaces between a friend who is starting a new life and has given birth to new life. Maybe during those times of prayer in the midst of grief and hopelessness, God is saying, “Wait for it…Waaaait for it…” (thank you Barney from the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”).

I pray that as we remember Good Friday and the violence determined to silence God’s Good News for all, that we also hear Jesus’ voice to pray and to keep our eyes open for the miracles of healing and hope and forgiveness that are coming next. 

Rev. Jenny W. Hirst is a provisional Deacon, with primary appointment at LEAP Charities and secondary appointment serving Collister UMC in Boise. Jenny was recently married (NYE!) and is grateful for love and life with husband Mark and their five grown children. 

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

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

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.