Image Bearers

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

Rev. David Valera

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Funny, but that’s still a racial bias.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Patterns of Hope

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

Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for the Day:

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

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

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

On Being Fully Human

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

By Rev. Erin Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Expression of Methodism

By the Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber

The Innovation and Vitality team I work with is commissioned to “New People, New Places, New Leadership.” We have defined “New People” and “New Leadership” through community, neighborhoods, young leaders, and leaders of color. It hit me the other day that we really have not defined what “New Places” looks like.

  • Where do they meet?
  • What does inclusion look like?
  • What does worship include? 

What are the new spaces for Methodism in the Greater Northwest Area?

Almost all of us in the Greater Northwest Area (GNW UMC) agree that change has come upon us through change in culture, denominational decisions, and local identity exploration. There is a new expression of Methodism that is coming, has been coming, is here, and is also on its way.

This new expression of Methodism seems to begin with a wholly different posture towards marginalized communities. Methodism was birthed and has been sustained through a missions model of ministry. This model has placed ourselves at the center while seeing difference as “other” in need of something we have. The missions model of ministry has been willing to “help” others even if we do not force our religion upon them.

Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber

But sometimes “helping” just unearths the privilege and supremacy paradigms that we may not realize are there. Consider this. We use the word “helping” differently when thinking about and applying the idea to a peer or neighbor versus someone who is poor or “other.” Ingrained patriarchy within our faith contexts sees inferiority in others who experience need.

Jesus played an entirely different song. Jesus lifted up the voices of the margins to be at the center. He affirmed the humanity of everyone. A new expression of Methodism must invite the voices from marginalized communities to be at every money- and decision-making table while demanding of those at the power seats allow a broader range of leadership voice. This moves our ministry model from “mission” closer to liberation.

This can only happen through relational equity. The “mission” or colonial style of ministry sees poor people, women, those who identify as queer, and people of color as those who need “help” or “saving.” If these marginalized people are invited to the table at all, it is in a transactional relationship. For example, people of color may be given access to leadership or funding, but it is often in exchange for access to their communities, the precious stories represented in the community, or an opportunity to “save” or “help” them.

This relational inequity allows the powerful to feel good about themselves while reminding the marginalized who is really still in charge.

Therefore, a new expression of Methodism must have a deeper and wider understanding of inclusion. The GNW UMC should be commended for its continued stance in support of LGBTQ+ clergy and lay leaders. However, it is time for an equally robust stance on white supremacy and the engagement of people of color. This will only come from the realization that similar forces are at work to oppress women, people who identify as queer, and people of color within the system.

A deeper level of inclusion needs to have tangible outcomes in how dollars are allocated, who sits on boards, who is empowered into new leadership, and who is making the formal decisions about how the GNW UMC moves following the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference.

This plays out at local levels as well. For instance, the UMC body of laity and clergy are 94% white. This number is astounding. This level of white supremacy takes intentionality to both create and maintain. Our worship is a primary place where that white supremacy is maintained. Most white communities are unaware that their practices, ideas, and norms are culturally white. The norms of organization, worship, and administration in our churches are culturally white. We must de-culturize our worship from whiteness. We must be intentional about a non-monocultural worship expression.

How do we go about this? It takes new leadership from nonwhite communities and radical community engagement in the neighborhoods and communities of our church. It does make one wonder… how is change at this level possible with guaranteed appointments?

Sociologically, it will be impossible to change with a system that continues to advance and perpetuate the status quo. Not only will Guaranteed Appointments continue to place non-diverse leaders throughout our region, it is also expensive. Perhaps a revamped guaranteed appointment system could begin to make promises to ministers based upon the goals and directions that we know the denomination needs.

A new expression of Methodism for the Greater Northwest Area will need to make some guarantees to those talented leaders from marginalized spaces that can take our denomination where it needs to go. This should be celebrated. For too long, monocultural expressions have created the decline that we have seen. An empowered, diverse, and new expression of Methodism may see less buildings sold, new community initiatives created, new theological explorations into liberation, and churches growing with multicultural worship expressions.

Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber serves as Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church. This post originally appeared on his blog on the Voices Project website where you can also find his full bio.

Awe and Wonder!

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

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

By Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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

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

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

God in the End

CrossOver reflection for Week 39 • Beginning September 1, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 52 

Rev. Daniel Miranda

About 12 years ago, while serving a church in central Washington, I experienced one of the worst times in ministry — seven funerals in eight weeks! It was exhausting and depressing. There was a sense of dread as the congregation and I navigated through each of these weeks. And yet, these were not simply funerals; they were celebrations of faithful women and men who had served, worked, loved, and made a difference in our community. Every so often, I remember those months and recall both the sadness and the promise of homecoming for those faithful people to their Lord. I hold on to some good memories and wish there had been more time with these dear friends.

From this side of existence, it is impossible to know what it will be like in the end. Brian McLaren says that some anticipate “catastrophe” and “collapse” while others imagine “a Big Celebration.” Like our author, I dream of a celebration where you and I are welcomed by God, even though we are prodigal children. Then, we will finally understand the fullness of love and grace.

But before we arrive at the end, we have our own smaller endings in our everyday lives: cancer, conflict, grief, disappointment, separation, and pain of all kinds. It is impossible for me not to acknowledge that we, as a denomination, are in the midst of the end of something. Maybe it will be the end of our disagreements about human sexuality or the end of our denomination as we have experienced it since 1968.

I have to take a leap of faith and trust that God, in the end, will make things good for you and me. I have to have confidence that God, in the end, will make things good for our greater United Methodist family no matter what transpires. Do not mistake my faith and hope for strength or fearlessness — it is not!  I think that for most of us, as we walk this road of life and faith, do so with trepidation and anxiety — if you don’t, I would like to know how you do it!

The first paragraph of this chapter begins by talking about what scientists think will happen in the end. I wish that we could have that kind of certainty where we could do some research and crunch the numbers and say, “There is a 90 percent probability that if we do this it will end well.”

We have the powerful words of Jesus to remind us that we are always welcome in God’s home and that we will be greeted with open arms of mercy and grace. We have the words of the Apostle Paul reminding us that we are “more than conquerors.” I take these words to heart whether I am thinking eschatologically or merely trying to make sense of things at the end of a stressful day.

Rev. Daniel Miranda is currently serving his fifth year of appointment to First United Methodist Church in Auburn, Washington. He also serves on the PNW Council on Finance and Administration. When not engaged in ministry Daniel also enjoys playing racquetball, time with family and cooking.

A Revelation Revelation

CrossOver reflection for Week 38 • Beginning August 25, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 51 

Rev. Jim Doepken

“Dan the Man” was a bus driver known to many kids at the United Methodist Junior High Camp I counseled at, many…many years ago in Indiana. His story was compelling. He had given his life to Christ after hitting rock-bottom with drugs and alcohol. He would dramatically show campers his stitched-up tongue; repaired after eating a light bulb in a drug trip gone wrong. He shared his story and told these impressionable kids (and counselors) that they didn’t want to be “left behind” when Jesus came back. He would shout “Rapture Practice” in the mess hall, having all the kids raise their hands and scream in what I felt was a raucous and less-fun version of “The Wave.”

I was young, but I still remember being uncomfortable every time he’d loosely quote from Revelation to add to his stories. It was just one part of my uneasy relationship with this book.

Before Indiana, I grew up in New York. Revelation was not a book I remember spending any significant time with. I appreciated meandering through Matthew’s Gospel. I had seen “Godspell” and “The Cotton Patch Gospel” so, clearly, I had a broad theological perspective. I dabbled in Paul and loved the Old Testament stories from Sunday School. But, not Revelation. No, Revelation was a book quoted by TV preachers with their four horsemen, seven seals, and 144,000 elect from every nation. This was too many numbers for any book that wasn’t required for Middle School math.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse as visualized by by Albrecht Dürer.

I remember one of those TV preachers comparing Russia to the beast from Revelation. The “beast” was coming to the Persian Gulf, and we needed to stop it. I think this was a Biblical justification for going to war with Russia in the 1980s and it was just as confusing to me then as it is now.

Later, though, seminary blew my mind. There was a whole lot more going on in Revelation than I realized. Life was messed up for Christians under Nero and Domitian in the Roman empire. There were Christians just trying to survive under madmen who demanded people to worship them as gods. Violence and fear ruled the day, and this book was a complex code with an intended message of hope. Here, my TV preacher and “Rapture Practice” understandings of Revelation were (pun intended) “left behind.”

Brian McLaren puts it this way in We Make the Road By Walking:

“As literature of the oppressed, the Book of Revelation provided early disciples with a clever way of giving voice to the truth—when freedom of speech was dangerous in one way, and remaining silent was dangerous in another. Instead of saying, “The Emperor is a fraud and his violent regime cannot stand,” which would get them arrested, Revelation tells a strange story about a monster who comes out of the sea and is defeated. Instead of saying, “The religious establishment is corrupt,” it tells a story about a whore. Instead of naming today’s Roman empire as being doomed, they talk about a past empire—Babylon—that collapsed in failure.” (p. 255 Kindle version)

Yet, I still kept running from Revelation, even during my first year in ministry. It was then that I attended a continuing education event on “Biblical Storytelling” about which I remember almost nothing—except for one thing. We discussed stories of the Bible that could work well in worship, and someone mentioned that the Book of Revelation would be a challenge. I jumped all over this, bringing up my problems with its symbolism and how it had been co-opted to support hawkish military policies.

A young pastor said, “Oh, you don’t need to run from it. I can summarize the Book of Revelation in two words.”

I was listening.

“God wins,” she said.

I had learned that Revelation was a message of hope to persecuted Christians in a troubled time. But, when I was told, “God wins,” it was a revelation for how this book spoke to my present situation and world. It meant that no matter the struggles…no matter how oppressive political systems and leaders may be…no matter how much the denomination I love fights over including ALL people…no matter which beast or dragon or horseman is spreading some contemporary version of famine and pestilence…. NO MATTER WHAT, GOD WINS.

God wins. God will have the final word. Our God is “making all things new.”

McLaren says:

“Even if the emperor is mad, Revelation claimed, it’s not the end of the world. Even if wars rage, it’s not the end of the world. Even if peace-loving disciples face martyrdom, it’s not the end of the world. Even if the world as we know it comes to an end, that ending is also a new beginning. Whatever happens, God will be faithful and the way of Christ—a way of love, nonviolence, compassion, and sustained fervency will—will triumph. (254-5)

God wins.

This, for me, was a Revelation revelation.

This is the perspective I need as I read the papers, watch the TV, plan my sermon, and, yes, live through this CrossOver year in our denomination.

We know the ending. God wins.

Jim Doepken is pastor to the congregations of Seward and Moose Pass United Methodist Churches in Seward, Alaska.

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