Hospice Moments

CrossOver reflection for Week 37 • Beginning August 18, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 50

Rev. Deena Wolfe

My heart sank when I heard those words. My dad had been declining for two years, but I was not ready for the reality of what those words meant. I felt both fear and sadness, and I knew that his days on this earth were short. I was preparing to begin work as a hospice chaplain, and over the next 3 ½ weeks, orientation became personal. 

“It’s time to consider hospice.” 

For ten days we sat in vigil for him, and a little over four years ago he stepped off this earth and into glory. It was a beautiful and very emotional time as we went from brief moments of conversation together to him slipping into a coma and then taking his last breath. 

This experience has enriched my ministry as a grief counselor and hospice chaplain with deep empathy for those who hear the word “hospice.” The reality of death is now staring you in the face. Our culture does not give fertile ground to the discussion of life and death and the grief that comes along with it.

Everything in this world is moving from birth to death. People die, relationships end, corporations go out of business, churches close. How do we move from a place of paralyzing fear to embracing the possibilities that come with the death of something or someone we love? 

As people, it is natural to feel fear of the unknown. When my dad was dying, he suddenly opened his eyes wide and said, “Wow…. mom’s going to be shocked!” He saw something on the other side which we couldn’t see, something which was amazing and beautiful. He was unable to share with us what he was seeing, but the joy and wonder on his face were unmistakable. They brought great comfort as we mourned this time of separation. The picture above was taken by my brother, the evening before dad died. For us, this was dad’s angel, coming to guide him home.

In this week’s chapter of We Make the Road By Walking, Brian McLaren writes:

“As we walk this road, we not only remember the past, we also anticipate the future, which is described as a great banquet around God’s table of joy. When you pass from this life, do not be afraid. You will not pass into death. You will pass through death into a greater aliveness still – the banquet of God. Trust God, and live.”

This principle applies to relationships with the people that we love but also has great meaning with all the uncertainties we see in the church today. For there to be new life, death must occur. God is with us in every part of our lives, from celebrating the birth of a new life, or a new ministry, to mourning with us in the pain and sorrow that occurs when a ministry ends, or someone dies. 

We are invited to embrace “hospice” moments in our everyday lives. Hospice provides supportive relationships, individuals walking together, shepherding the person and their family members on the road from life to death. We trust that the Spirit who brings us life will lead and guide us through these times of uncertainty into a place of deeper relationship. 

Part of our Wesleyan heritage is the value of the experiences we have in our lives. Whether an experience is filled with joy or sorrow, or birth or death, there is something valuable to be gained, a piece of wisdom to be pondered for use later. May we take great comfort that our triune God–Creator, Christ, Comforter is living and active in our lives–from before birth to after death.


Rev. Deena Wolfe serves as pastor for Valley-Veneta United Methodist Church in the Oregon Idaho Conference as well as a Hospice Chaplain for Cascade Health in Eugene, Oregon.

Three Promises Amid Violence

CrossOver reflection for Week 36 • Beginning August 11, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 49 

Rev. Katie Ladd

Like a lot of pastors, I had to change my sermon at the last minute last Sunday because of yet another shooting—wait, no, two mass shootings, one in El Paso, TX and one in Dayton, OH. Of course, these were not the only shootings around the country last weekend. In Chicago, one article I read said there were five shootings. There was even a shooting Sunday morning in Seattle. At the least, the shooting in El Paso was fueled by white supremacy. It’s hard. The soul gets so weary. What can we do with the weary soul? How do we believe in God’s good vision with so much violence all around us?

In chapter 49 of Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking, he focuses on the role of judgment in bringing about reconciliation, harmony, and healing. Called “Spirit of Holiness,” he tells us this:

“Jesus promised HIS followers three things. First, their lives would not be easy. Second, they would never be alone. Third, in the end all will be well. But all is not well…how does God get us from here to there? How does God put things right?”

McLaren believes that judgment is the way that God puts things right. It is the way from here to there. When deployed correctly, judgment isn’t just a punitive tool. It is a wise action that names harm and sets to work at redressing it. Its goal is restoration. In the end—in the “final restoration”—everything will be made new.

Many of us have very complicated histories with the word “judgment,” and so we shy away from it. For many of us, it can seem unredeemable. What would it be like to embrace it—not as it has been used to harm, demean, and ridicule—but as a justifying act? How would that call us to act as a community? Can we possibly divorce “judgment” from “judgmentalism?” It’s an intriguing thought.

Even if we decide that we can’t use the word “judgment,” perhaps we might employ the Spirit of Holiness to address the brokenness in our society. We could allow the Spirit of Holiness to move us closer to God’s good vision for what our shared lives might look like. We need God’s restorative action around our country’s addiction to violence. God’s Spirit is required to move us to deep change. Such change would include more than social media expressions of outrage at yet more lives lost.

In addressing the white supremacy at the heart of many mass shootings, we have to tell hard truths, truths that in the end liberate us all. In addressing the deep pain of suicide by shooting, we tell hard stories of isolation and desperation. In addressing the insidiousness of domestic violence that ends in gun violence, we reveal closely held secrets of family dysfunction. Truth-telling must be part of moving us forward in our communities. Truth-telling is a purifying fire that burns up the garbage and leaves the substance of life behind. This is the work of the Spirit of Holiness.

At The Well, we invite people to give us guns so that we might transform them into garden tools. This practice will not end all violence in all places. The quest for one answer to do all of that work is folly. However, transforming one gun is a symbolic act that centers us on life in a death-obsessed culture. It is part, if a little one, of changing our relationship with violence. This, too, is the work of the Spirit of Holiness.

If you feel despondent at the violence all around us, remember the three things McLaren tells us are Jesus’ promises. Life as Jesus’ disciples isn’t easy. Bearing witness to violence isn’t easy. You are not alone. In our communities of faith, others accompany you in bearing this witness. Also, you are not alone in your deep soul weariness. Many of us share in it. And, when we employ the courage to see and name harm and redress them, we move, even if only by fits and starts, closer to God’s dream for us and the world we share.


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.

CRISES OF OUR TIME: Racism, Despair, Violence

I join Hispanic/Latinx United Methodists in calling for ACTION following three more mass shootings in America. God calls us to protect the innocent, and yet we permit people who are driven by racial hatred, mental illness and demons that are sometimes impossible to discern, to own and use weapons of mass murder to kill unsuspecting, undeserving innocent people. The two-month old baby who survived in El Paso because her parents sacrificed their lives to protect her has become a prayer icon as I grieve and look for a better way.

Taken together, conditions in the United States of American today are explosive:

  1. an embedded culture of white privilege (read White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo),
  2. a sense of white disenfranchisement (read Alienated America, by Timothy P. Carney),
  3. unfettered access to military weapons, and 
  4. conditions of extreme poverty, corruption and gang-violence making life unbearable in Latin America, leading to migration across the southern border of the United States .

Prayers after the fact won’t reduce the risk of another attack.

The stones cry out and so do the people. “DO SOMETHING!” Pray! Yes. Light a candle! Yes. Weep! Yes. If we are not weeping, we have lost our love for our neighbors. Gather with your neighbors to bear witness to the goodness and kindness of human communities that embrace cultural difference and respond to people in need! yes.

But also SHOUT OUT! to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Write your congress persons, advocating humane immigration and refugee policies. Speak to gun merchants in your neighborhood, asking about what weapons they sell, and what their safety practices are. Let them know your concerns. When you vote, consider the poor, tired huddled who travel to our borders seeking safety, liberty, opportunity. Use social media to let your voice be heard and shared and spread.

Fellow followers of Jesus: BE the Church! ACT YOUR FAITH! Bring the good news that God loves you to everyone in your community. Find ways to connect with disaffected, isolated white men on the margins. Build bridges between newly arrived immigrants and members of your community who have lived here their whole lives. Learn about opioid addiction and how to help people out of its grip.

Christians and other thoughtful, compassionate people need find a way to advocate for policies that protect the public safety in the face of violence that is out of control.  We can’t let ourselves become complacent as gun violence becomes normal. The debate about gun rights and gun control generates more heat than light. As people of open minds, it’s time to test our knowledge and our values about guns, gun rights and gun control against the teachings of Jesus. Gun rights and mass shootings are not ALL-or-NOTHING matters. The right to bear arms was only guaranteed by the Supreme Court in 2008. Before that it was never absolute, it was always limited and subject to interpretation.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by anxiety on so many fronts at the same time. That’s why we pray to get in touch with the power of the Creator of the Universe, who is working in and through, and in spite of us to care for all the children of the world. I know we can’t all do everything that needs to be done. But we can each do something.

For Christ’s Sake, DO SOMETHING!

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop

Life in the Upside Down

CrossOver reflection for Week 35 • Beginning August 4, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 48 

Rev. Jeremy Smith

Like many preachers, I usually start my discernment for a week’s worship service and sermon message with the Lectionary: that decades-ago discerned calendar for preaching and teaching. I don’t always stick to it, but I begin with it because it is remarkable how often the Lectionary readings match the text of our lives that week.

The same is true for this CrossOver year book We Make The Road By Walking. This week’s Chapter 48 is about demons and what happens when a spirit seems to take hold of a people causing them to do things completely out of their character. McLaren outlines what happens when ordinarily decent people act badly and cause great harm that they wouldn’t normally do.

In a way, “demon-possessed” basically describes every week of the past few years in this current American administration. The incredible rise in the number of racist attacks and rhetoric, of immigration policies locking children in cages, of women’s stories being dismissed—no matter who you voted for, these stories ought to disturb us and spur us into action. As McLaren outlines the Gospel and Pauline accounts, it’s like they are demon-possessed or at least living into states of abject racism, classism, and sexism, amongst others. Things seem completely upside down.

But that’s my view as a privileged straight white male. In truth, marginalized communities have known this violence all along. There have always been people abusing those who present as a minority ethnicity. There have always been #MeToo and #ChurchToo violations at all levels. And there have been heinous overreaches of law and immigration enforcement against marginalized persons before. What’s different? Now we know more about it and some stories are being shared more openly and technology allows previously disparate movements to coalesce across the Internet and act more boldly.

These days, I wonder if we have things backward. We used to think those who acted in abjectly racist ways were triggered to act outside their nature. But we know now what racist structures of society can look like, what patriarchy looks like in insidious forms, and what white nationalism looks like in every corner of American society, including the Church.

UM Theologian Marjorie Suchocki says that sins that we were born into—accepted or benefitted from without acknowledgment—are “original sins” that infect us without our knowledge and must be named, unlearned, and blotted out by the power of Jesus Christ. We are all infected or at least benefit from these unfair structures.

Maybe life in the Upside Down means that we are called to look for those who are Spirit-possessed, who live and act in ways that are in nonconformity with the expectations of society. We look to those stories that inspire us to rise above our stations, to self-examine and purge ourselves of our uncontested -isms. And we seek to spark or trigger those moments within our own communities such that the powers and principalities start to lose ground, and a new reign of peace and justice starts to take hold again. To allow Wesleyan prevenient grace to germinate without contention.

May we live each week in this CrossOver year and quadrennium looking for those who are Spirit-possessed, who name that which is sin-sick in themselves and in others, and lift them up and emulate them. And may each of us through study and service cause ourselves to be more easily infected by this Spirit. The choice is yours.


Rev. Jeremy Smith is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Seattle, and a blogger at HackingChristianity.net.
Photo Credit: Jon Long via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Random acts? No. Lifestyle change? Yes.

CrossOver reflection for Week 34 • Beginning July 28, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 47 

Rev. Carlo Rapanut


I am a long-distance runner who dabbles in the marathon and ultramarathon distances (26.2 miles or longer). Mind you; I am not one who competes to race and win. I am a “middle of the pack” runner who aims to finish and hopefully improve on my time from the last race.

I was not always a runner. In fact, I grew up as a kid with exercise-induced asthma who could barely run 100 feet without running out of breath and chest wheezing. But I always had a fascination with running and have long wanted to be a runner. And for most of my youth and young adult life, it remained that—a dream that seemed to go farther and farther from grasp the older I got.

When my family and I moved to Chugiak, Alaska more than a decade ago, I watched a local 5K race that rekindled my dream of being a runner. I thought to myself, “5K isn’t that long. I can probably do that next year.”

So I set it as my goal, and I signed up. And I ran it. Without training. Without running a single mile to practice. Without any knowledge of pacing or hydration or technique. I ran only with the resolve that I wanted to be a runner, and I paid the price for it. Heavily. I did finish the race, but I think I may have walked half of it. And my legs revolted against me for a week.

Lesson learned? To run a 5K, one needs to train and start with a shorter distance. 100 feet. Then 200. Then 400. Half a mile. A mile. It takes time to build up to a 5K. The body needs time to adjust. Your muscles need to learn the new action they are being made to do over and over again until it is encoded in their memory.

Before I was running ultras, I ran marathons. Before I was running marathons, I ran half-marathons. Before those, 10Ks. Before 10Ks, 5Ks. And it’s the shorter daily, regular runs that allow me to run any of these longer distances. Running, for me, has become a lifestyle.

My point? When we go about transforming the world for Jesus Christ, we don’t suddenly decide to do that in one major, earth-shaking act. We do so in smaller acts of kindness, justice, grace, love, and mercy.

In this week’s chapter of We Make the Road By Walking, Brian McLaren reminds us that if we are serious about our faith in God and desire to take part in God’s movement of transformation, we need to start with smaller acts that the Holy Spirit inspires us to do in our various circles of influence.

I believe, though, that this is more than doing “random acts of kindness” as many espouse. While I agree that doing random acts of kindness is a start, it isn’t the goal. Lifestyle change is. McLaren says that the Holy Spirit is inviting us on a mission of transformation by living a lifestyle of mercy. Regular, instinctive, and intentional acts of kindness and mercy are the goal.

I can’t run ultras on random runs here and there. We can’t transform the world with random acts either. What McLaren is saying is that acts of kindness, mercy, justice, grace, peace, and love need to be encoded into our very beings through repetition in our daily circles so that they become our natural, automatic response to whatever circumstance life throws our way. We exercise that muscle over and over again until it is encoded in our muscle memory. Think of the Holy Spirit as a trainer, pushing us to a lifestyle of spiritual fitness for the race called life.


Rev. Carlo Rapanut serves as Conference Superintendent for the Alaska Conference of The United Methodist Church.

When Up is Down, and Down is Up

CrossOver reflection for Week 33 • Beginning July 21, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 46

Nancy Tam Davis


A small group of us, clergy and laity, talked about chapter 46 of Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking. The Spirit of Service, what does that mean? The author draws our attention to a concept of verticality. Up is better than down.

Our culture promotes the idea that it is good to climb to the top or die trying. We assign both power and privilege to those at the top with high salaries, deference, corner windows, and close parking spots. We believe they have a broader vision, more wisdom and must be smarter than the rest of us. We assume they deserve the privilege they have. 

Some of our religious teachings share that same view. As children, we think of God as being up in the clouds. Heaven is above us. We are climbing Jacob’s ladder. Up is better than where we are now. Then the New Testament throws us a curve ball by encouraging those who are ‘up’ to be in service to those who are ‘down.’ Jesus modeled that by washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. In that sense, I understand McLaren’s point. He tells us that the Spirit draws us down, to serve those who have less and need more. We engage in service because we can, because we have the resources to do so, because God calls us to be in service humbly. The way up is by going down.

Our group examined this concept; we struggled with it. How can we avoid the sense of superiority when we feel we are going down? We still come home every night to our very ‘up’ and comfortable homes. The concept of going down as the path to salvation (but only for a humble visit), was not working for us. 

Instead, we saw a horizontal plane. When we are in service to one another, we are moving out and across divisions into difference. We are called to the edges and to the marginalized. We try to widen the circle, so no one is left out. We are all children of God. It is not God who puts us on different vertical planes, but our culture relying on status and class to make the system work. It reminds me of those old song lyrics from God Bless the Child; “Them that’s got shall get, Them that’s not shall lose, So the Bible said…”

Many years ago, I managed a community center in the poorest section of the county, the catchment area outside Ft. Lewis which was never designed for year-round living. The houses were old cabins on the east side of American Lake. Many of the people who lived there were the unofficial wives and children of the lower-ranking military who could not get access to base housing or any military services. Too many times, the active duty person eventually forgot they had families there at all. 

I was not raised in the church and I also had very disparaging views of Christmas. Ironically one of my responsibilities was to organize the Christmas basket-giving. We filled the community room with rows of tables holding food, a variety of gift items and Christmas decorations. Volunteers arrived, formed teams of three, gathered their assignments (i.e. single-parent family of 4, boy 2, girl 5, boy 6), and set about preparing the “baskets” for them.

I remember one seemingly unlikely team. Pardon my language but this is also how the individuals described themselves. This team was comprised of the town drunk, the retired (aged out) prostitute and the town rich lady complete with diamond-studded rings. This was a small community, nearly everyone knew everyone and the roles they served. This team worked for hours, filling many baskets. I would peek in to see how things were going and they were having fun. Lots of laughter, lots of careful consideration and huddling. At the end of the day, they sat together on a side bench, exhausted, still laughing and hugging one another in a sense of accomplishment. Good work was done that day—together. 

They were not going down to serve, they were reaching out, going out to the edges of the community to make sure everyone had a holiday. A couple of those team members were probably qualified to receive a basket. But that day, it was not about them. It was all about what they could do for others. Yes, they would go home that night, but their thoughts were with the families that received baskets and what fun it was to work together for the community. They also received that day.

A subtheme of this story is about me. That day was the beginning of my turn-around about Christmas. I began to get it.

Finally, McLaren speaks of falling through the trap door. When you go down, far enough, you reach and fall through the trap door… into God. What does it mean to fall into God? Our small group spoke of images of death, loss of ego, trust, and faith. Soon our group was drawn to a similar phrase; falling into love. Twenty-five years earlier, four people in that Community Center fell in love that day. Some with the idea of meaningful work together, some with a deep love for their community. And for me… I fell into God that day. I fell into love, into hope, and into God.


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

Responding with Hope to Bad News

We’re hearing bad news these days.

  • Rich men using and trafficking vulnerable girls and women as instruments of sexual gratification.
  • Suicide and drug overdose rates soaring, especially among rural white men.
  • Children continue to be separated from their parents and held at the border, sometimes without adequate food, water, medical care or a place to sleep.
  • Growing numbers of people sleeping under bridges, in green belts and their cars due to gentrification and a crisis in affordable housing in many urban centers.
  • Nationalism and racism have found a public voice in America again and anew. “Go back where you came from” is a taunt that comes of un-addressed white privilege and supremacy.

These are not merely partisan political issues. These are signs of spiritual and identity disease in the human family. Jesus never heard of Republicans or Democrats. But he was a careful observer of people and human communities, and an unfailing teacher of what healthy community life looks like.

This week, let’s remember Jesus teaching and example. The Bible offers more than 60 passages about widows, orphans, aliens, the poor and the outcast (you can google that). They remind the reader that God’s love extends especially to people who live under duress, who are overlooked, taken advantage of, kept on the outskirts of civil society.

Jesus calls people like you and me to live in ways that invite people into “beloved community.” People of faith should encourage just public policy that heals the dis-eases that cast shadows on people on the margins.

  1. Pray this Sunday, and during the week ahead, that out of the neglect, abuse, blame and hate that seems to run rampant in our world right now, God will work through us, and in spite of us, to cultivate “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, self-control”(Galatians 5: 22).

  2. Educate yourself and resource others by visiting the websites of our United Methodist general agencies who help us put Jesus principles into practice:
    1. The Board of Church and Society to learn how our UMC is addressing issues of social justice. https://www.umcjustice.org/
    2. The Commission on Religion and Race. http://www.gcorr.org/
    3. The Commission on the Status and Role of Women. https://gcsrw.org/
    4. The Board of Global Ministries. https://www.umcmission.org/

  3. Ask yourself how you are helping God give life to the people around you. Make a plan to intentionally cultivate God’s kin-dom. Keep a list of the actions you take. to build God’s kin-dom.
    1. Read the newspaper, social media or watch TV prayerfully.
    2. Speak kind words to people you encounter day by day.
    3. Write your elected official.
    4. Write a letter to your local newspaper.
    5. Post a good word on social media.
    6. Join (or organize) a public witness.
    7. Initiate or sponsor a public forum to promote deeper understanding and engagement in solutions.  

The best remedy I know of to all of this bad news is hope grounded in prayer, discernment and deliberate action with others. When we respond to injustice, especially as we do so in community, we can break free from the shackles of despair and find new life where once there was only fear and death. This, my friends, is the good news!

Jesus has shown us the way. Take another step.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop

A Call to Action for United Methodists in Response to the Plight of Migrants

Family of Faith in the Greater Northwest,

I am sharing the following Call to Action to relieve conditions for migrants on the U.S. southern border from our United Methodist Immigration Task Force.

No matter what your politics, Jesus teaches us to turn strangers into neighbors and to love those neighbors as ourselves. As you see men, women, and children being held in standing room only cells, without showers, soap or toothbrushes, without medical care or sufficient nourishing food, I know you want to reach out and speak out with tender mercy to relieve the suffering.

Please read and respond with love. In addition to the actions suggested below, you can find a list of organizations working to offer hospitality to our neighbors on the Greater Northwest Area website. Consider how you might partner with one. If you have others to suggest, email them to communications@greaternw.org.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop


A Call to Action for United Methodists in Response to the Plight of Migrants

Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ Jesus. On behalf of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force we share with you a deep concern for migrants. You have seen the deplorable conditions under which migrant children and families are being detained in the US right now. We cannot be silent in this hour. The voice and actions of The United Methodist Church must be heard and experienced in this moment.

We give God thanks for United Methodists who are providing compassionate care to migrants at the border. Border Conferences have established relief centers for migrants. United Methodists from other regions of the country continue to support migrants seeking asylum with their time, talent and treasures. United Methodist congregations across the country have opened their doors to provide sanctuary for those immigrants whose lives would be endangered if they were to be deported to their home countries. UMCOR has been a partner in assisting this connectional work. The General Board of Church and Society has led us faithfully in our advocacy work in support of justice for the migrant and the immigrant. United Methodist Women have also been a strong voice in advocating for the rights of immigrant children and families.

Let’s continue to do this good and faithful work. Join us in these actions:

Give to the Advance # 3022144 for Migration. Go to UMCOR – Global Migration for further information.

Join the General Board of Church and Society in our United Methodist advocacy work alongside of immigrants. Check in online at UMCJustice.org and to sendletters to your Congressional representatives and the White House.

Encourage your UMW unit to join the action plan set forth at the United Methodist Women website.

We ask that you also speak up in support of persons in Sanctuary and the churches supporting them. In the past week, we have become aware of the Trump Administration’s most recent attack on immigrants who are living in Sanctuary in congregations, among them United Methodist congregations, as they seek to fight for justice in their deportation cases. The federal government is issuing fines of up to $500,000 to these immigrants in Sanctuary. This is an egregiously punitive tactic causing great fear and anxiety to immigrant brothers and sisters who are already deeply burdened by the stress of their circumstances.

Support United Methodist Sanctuary congregations and the immigrants in Sanctuary by praying for them and by sending them a postcard expressing such support. At the end of this letter is the list of multiple United Methodist Sanctuary churches and those immigrant friends whom they are hosting.

Take this moment to act. It will make a difference in these challenging times in the lives of suffering immigrants and the brave churches who are ministering to them. May the words of Paul to Timothy strengthen us all……

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of
love and of self-discipline.
II Timothy 2:7
 

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Chair
UM Immigration Task Force

Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries

Harriett J. Olson, General Secretary/CEO
United Methodist Women

Graduating From Rules to Spacious Freedom

CrossOver reflection for Week 31 • Beginning July 7, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 44

Rev. Jenny Smith


You’ve likely heard of the playground experiment. A team put a fence up around a playground. Children ran all over the playground and felt free to explore. When the fence was removed, researchers noticed children gathered around their teacher and were reluctant to explore. 

Rules (and fences) can be helpful. They make us feel safe. They give us boundaries. Someone determined the rule was helpful and needed. This works. Until it doesn’t. We grow, change, ask new questions and the rules that previously gave us freedom now keep us trapped.

We’re ready for wisdom.

My dad recently retired as a United Methodist pastor and I appreciated his comment that at first it felt like his life was getting smaller. Less responsibility, fewer keys, less contact with colleagues and friends from church. But then his brother texted him two words: expansive sabbath. At the very moment that life feels like it is getting smaller, it, in fact, is opening up in a spacious wide-open way. 

Eugene Petersen puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 in The Message: “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living in a small way…Live openly and expansively!”

It’s worth asking in stuck, tight, anxious, scarcity moments: What rules am I living by that are slowly taking my life? Am I open to some new wisdom? To receive it, I have to first believe I don’t actually know everything. And isn’t it surprising how often we find ourselves thinking we do?

McLaren puts it this way: “When we’re ready, the Spirit leads us to graduate from rule-oriented primary school to secondary school with its new emphasis: wisdom.” Wisdom is more than rule-following. It’s Spirit-leading.

To graduate from rules to wisdom, we’re invited to not simply follow a different plan. We’re invited to move in an entirely different way. We need this as individuals. We need it especially as faith communities.

A spacious community living from wisdom instead of rules asks different questions. They address their fear and dig underneath it. They resist scarcity. They practice trusting abundance.

Are there rules your community follows that don’t feel life-giving anymore? It’s helpful to name them aloud in safe group conversation spaces. You can help your faith community dig into good conversations and do courageous work to discern and name where God may be inviting you next. 

Spacious communities trust God’s wisdom is gloriously sufficient to hold us as old rules fall away. Spacious communities know grace and love will birth new ways of being beloved community together. Spacious communities do the work to grieve what is shifting. It is a kind of death. And they prepare for the resurrection!

I offer this reflection as a prayer for your local church family:

A Spacious Community

There’s room to breathe
In a spacious community

There’s space to bring 
Who you are

There’s margin to explore
A new perspective

There’s questions to ask
That could change everything

A spacious community
Doesn’t feel narrow
Exclusive
Restrictive
Confining or 
Suffocating

A spacious community
Breathes freedom into the
Tight
Anxious
Confusing
Painful
Knots of our souls

In spacious community
There is
Life
Movement
Gift
Joy
Sorrow
Doubt
Peace
Love

Because a spacious community
Is fully alive
Showing up with courage
Paying attention to pain
Cooperating with Love
Releasing the assumed outcome
So that Love gets a wide-open playground
To skip, climb, slide and giggle
Its way through us all

Amen!


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.

WJ Course of Study and Licensing School programs include 10 students from Greater Northwest

Let’s be in joyful prayer for the ten United Methodists from across the Greater Northwest Area who are at Claremont School of Theology this summer receiving theological training and leadership skills through the Western Jurisdiction’s Course of Study (COS) or Licensing School programs. Licensing School completes on July 4th, and the second session of Course of Study concludes on July 6th.

You can learn more about these programs at localpastor.org

Thanks to Christy Dirren who sent us this photo!

Students as pictured about, left to right, starting with the back row:

  • Karen Fisher – Lake Chelan UMC, Lake Chelan, WA – Licensing School
  • Pastor Selusi Tuilemotu – 1st Samoan UMC, Anchorage, AK – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Pastor Steven Berry – Upper Rogue Valley UMC and Gold Hill UMC, OR – COS 2nd year
  • Pastor Ryan Scott – Grants Pass UMC, Grants Pass, OR – COS 3rd year
  • Cyrus Githinji – Valley and Mountain Fellowship – Seattle, WA – Licensing School
  • Pastor Alice Warness – Royal City UMC, Royal City, WA – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Pastor Christy Dirren – West Portland UMC, Portland, OR – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Tammy Jane – Edmonds UMC, Edmonds, WA – Licensing School
  • Leslie McGowan – Simpson UMC, Pullman, WA – COS 1st year

Not pictured:

  • Pastor Cody Stauffer – Clarkston UMC, Clarkston, WA – COS 5th Year and graduating
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