Author: escofrank

Entering the Darkness of Holy Week

So this is the week.

The week when we brave the entry into darkness. Every other week in the Christian calendar, we celebrate the possibility of life from death. But this week, we start with the sounds of a parade (bands, horns, crowds gathered, food shared, excitement in the air) and we end with the passion of Christ (betrayal, bullying, court proceedings, and crowds jeering at the One who claims Messiah). We quickly go from anticipation and exultation to dashed hopes and despair.

All in one week.

It’s like we understand that we are walking into the dark spaces of life. We go with hesitation but determination. We take faltering steps, with hands out to touch what we cannot see. We encounter our fear head on.

Jesus rode a donkey and ended up on a cross. We ride the joys of life and end up in the darkest and bleakest of holy spaces. Dark is an unknown, but a trusting space. We stop talking in the dark so we can hear the distance of our echoes. We go into the black because there is something we need there. We step into deep silence where our world is quiet but our soul hears God.

Welcome to the dark week. It feels scary, but it is sacred. God meets us here.

On Lenten Lane

The first week of Lent, our church gave up mirrors. We found out how much we check our exterior image and compare it to our interior reality.
The second week we gave up social media and emails. We found out how often we reach for our social apps and how much time we now had to have real face-to-face conversations.
This week we are giving up talking (as much as we can). On Sunday, Pastor Jamie gave a non-talking sermon (with the help of screens). The world seems very quiet…and this is just Day 1. I found myself singing, and thought, “Is that ok? Is it ok to sing?” I decided that, for me, singing was a good thing. On Day 1, I talked to my coworkers a few times, and two family members, and one friend. Some of it was necessary and some of it was habitual. Talking is a hard habit to break while living in the real world.
We are social beings living in a technological and material world. That’s not bad or wrong or evil. It just is our current state. What matters are the choices we make in this world of tools, habits, and sounds. Our life is shaped by the decisions we make to engage in things or connect with those near us. This is how we are formed.
We give up these things so that we can make space for God. Because sometimes we crowd out God with the things in our lives. And so, on this road called Lenten Lane, we wait. We listen. We hope.

Dreaming a New Church, What does She look like?

The baby in this picture was found in a NYC Catholic church manger in 2015 (story here). Baby was found alive and well, and ready for a new home. Sometimes babies are born out of great difficulties. But no matter what, when they are ready, they launch into the world.

Since coming home from General Conference 2019, I’ve had my head and heart in a pondering space. That’s where I go when dreams are laboring within. That’s where I go when I don’t understand. That’s where I go for refresh, renewal, and reforming. You could say I’ve been doing some dreaming.

The dreaming and wondering I’ve been up to is around the question, “What does She look like?” “She” is the new baby church that seems to be breathing around us. She whispers to us in the Michigan Statement(here), and the German Statement (here). She has courage and she is waiting for no one, not even for General Conference 2020. She is already here.

But what does this new baby church look like? I can imagine her acting like Jesus in our world; sounding like Wesley in his depth of grace; and structured similar to the original movement. To act like Jesus is to care for those who are passed over. Jesus today would center the church on the edges: the LGBTQAI-edge; the ethnic-edge; the indigenous-edge; the female-edge; the poverty-edge; the immigrant/refugee-edge; and the earth care-edge. And when these edges become the center, Jesus would go out to the edge again, and draw in the new edge-dwellers.

I can imagine the new church having the voice of grace stirred up by Wesley. That grace that will not let us go, that is detailed in all its forms, that centers us in love and screens out our bent towards judgment. I can hear her words bringing hope to a world that needs to know God really is all about Love.

I can see the new young structural bones that are flexible and strong. They provide for quick movement and decisions; for unique shapes in each context; for people who meet together, sharing life in Christ with each other. They open doors to the lonely, the gifted, the young, the questioning, and anyone who wants see this new baby stay near during their dark night of the soul. She will be so nimble and mobile that her parents won’t be able to (micro)manage her.

She will locate herself in strange places: in buildings, in parks, in cafes and bars, in tail-gating parties and parent nights out. She will be brimming over with children and the elderly who love them. She will be led by all colors of the rainbow, and all varieties of skin tone. She will be unlike what we have known; and all that is mystery and wonder. She will be led by leaders who have spiritual integrity and wisdom; informed by laity with a heart for the unnoticed; and served by clergy who love deep enough to risk forward.

Baby Church has not been named yet. But she is alive. She waits for no one. And this very day, She is being fed by God’s spirit and nurtured by the Edge-Dwellers among us. Soon we will know more of who she is and how she operates and what she has to say to our world. For now, we know that out of great difficulty, a baby was born. And soon, we will know what She looks like.

GivingBirth #UMC Style

Giving birth is hard work. Usually we go to the birth process wanting the baby but not the pain before the baby is born. We even use painkillers, knowing it will help us for a time, but no matter what, our body will need time to heal, for our blood pressure has risen, our heart has been stressed, our abdomen muscles have had a continuous workout, our breathing has been erratic, we have lost sleep, and, well…to put it bluntly, our flesh has been ripped apart. And so we need to heal. There is time to heal.

But the reality is, we heal while we are caring for the beautiful newborn child God has sent to us.

Being present in the stands at General Conference 2019, I recognize we’ve been in labor pains these few days. It has been intense, and painful. It hasn’t been pretty. In this birthing room are people who differ on how to read scripture, and how to love God’s people. In this room are people who are being harmed daily, and people who perhaps don’t understand the great harm they are bringing about. In this room are those who will coach, and those who labor, and those who will catch the newborn as she/he springs into the world.

We learned some things this conference that we didn’t fully grasp before. We learned that scripture, reason, tradition, and experience is not a foundational ideology for some people. The WCA and its followers are determined in their view, and are not currently ready to hear, learn, discern, or grow. We learned that sharing our heartfelt stories and pain does not make their hearts grow warm. We learned that strategic power means more to some than the power of the Holy Spirit. Ouch. That was a hard one to learn.

We also learned that all our efforts fell on deaf ears. There is no hope for us to remain unified as we go forward. As one who has fought for unity in the church, that last sentence pains me to say out loud.

At the end of the session last night, our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ went to the lobby while the last legislative nails were hammered into our coffin. They were denied entrance to the floor, and so they sat and knelt on the floor of the lobby outside the closed, locked, and guarded doors. The line of police officers between our siblings in Christ and the locked doors of the Conference was intimidating, and stunning in its metaphoric message. The Traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have closed, locked, and posted guard on the doors of the Church. They have locked out those who Jesus was sure to include: those society had previously shunned. The Traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have become the Empire that makes the rules and takes the profits. The Traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have chosen the way of the Pharisee over love, and they are doing it using their own form of Cleanliness Codes.

I do not recognize this United Methodist Church. She is not the one I fell in love with when I switched from Lutheran to Methodist. I loved her for her ability to bring people together around scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and for the claim: If we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? And for her standard of setting aside minor differences and coming to the Table together. Last night, our LGBTQAI siblings were denied entrance to The Table.They were literally locked out. And that was the biggest rip of flesh I have ever experienced. The Body was torn apart by denial to The Table.

It was painful. And we must stop and take a moment to acknowledge our pain. And to heal.

But the beauty is: we got to see the newborn baby last night! While sitting on the floor and standing to sing our hope, someone brought out the bread and the cup. And Holy Communion was served to all. All were welcome outside the locked doors! You could say, the Baby was born outside the doors of the Powers-That-Be. And, She is beautiful, smart, courageous, hope-filled, and tender. She loves God with a passion, and she has decided to love people with a similar passion. Her flesh is brown and black and all the shades of cultures around the world. Her song is strong and melodic. She will be held, and nurtured, and fed as She grows.

The newborn Baby is beautiful and strong in love. We just gave birth, and some did not even notice! And she has already tasted her first communion in a new day.

Welcome to the world, Baby!

On Observing GC2019: Which Scripture?

Today was opening day of General Conference 2019 (#GC2019). Yesterday, at the pre-conference, the room was bathed in prayer, song, worship, and connection. It was a good start to prepare our hearts to be open to hear God’s word.

But today we moved on to the agenda items. Our conference delegates made it known that the priority for this gathering is in this order:
1. Pensions
2. Traditional Plan
3. Disaffiliation
4. Disaffiliation
5. One Church Plan
On the exterior, when you look at this list, you can expect that we are concerned about our retirements, our traditional understanding of theology, our safety if we choose to remove ourselves from the body, and finally, we might look at the plan put forth by A Way Forward (and endorsed by our bishops). Of course, that is IF we have time, and IF we aren’t delayed on the floor by inconsequentials.

As I came back to the hotel room, I wondered about our differing understandings of scripture, and which ones we were choosing to make central to our faith.

Truthfully, the one that I kept seeing is Jesus throwing over tables in anger and saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.” (CEB: Matthew 21:13)

But as I took in that image of Jesus flippin’ tables, I wondered about the thing that divides us: how we read our holy scriptures. For those who say they read the Book literally (as if that is a holier stance), I remind us of these texts:

“You must keep my rules. Do not crossbreed your livestock, do not plant your            field with two kinds of seed, and do not wear clothes made from two kinds of material.” (Lev. 19:19)  Check your outfit. Is it made of mixed fibers? Do you have polyester in your closet? If you wear it, or bought it, you are breaking the literal commands of the Scripture.

OR, “If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life with one eye then to be cast into a burning hell with two eyes.” (Matthew 18:9) How many of us have really taken this scripture literally? We allow our gaze to fall on things that separate us from God, yet we do not remove our eyeballs as a sign of holiness.

So, how then do we read our Scriptures? Do we pick and choose which ones fit our (Incomplete) understanding of who God is? And if so, what do we do with these scriptures:

“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 to you.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 1John 4:7-8

My question, as an Observer of General Conference 2019, is: Which Scripture verse will you lay your heart, and our future, upon?

When I went to seminary at Claremont School of Theology, my professor, Dr. James Sanders, taught us that the Word of God (including the word of the scriptures) is active, living and breathing even today. That means our scriptures are not old and dead. Instead, they are alive and God uses them to breathe life into the Church, and into our souls, even today. He learned this when he translated the Psalm Scroll and edited the newly-found Dead Sea Scrolls. While working, he found God meeting him in the words that were so alive they transformed his current life. The Spirit of God continued to work in the words and in the understanding of the world today. In other words, Dr. Sanders taught us: each word is alive and new for a current day.

Dr. Sanders was transformed by translating scripture. And, he cautioned us against reading words without the guide of the Holy Spirit.

So, what will you choose to hear today? Rules about clothing and eye removal? Condemnation? Or, will God’s Spirit whisper a new understanding of what it means to follow the way of Love?

Tomorrow we go back into the convention center at St. Louis to vote on who is acceptable in God’s eyes. Our choice will determine the future of the Church. Will we choose condemnation and exclusion of God’s beloved? Or, will we choose to follow God’s example of loving all? Delegates, be very sure that you are voting in a manner that follows the God who loves and creates us all, even if you don’t understand what God is up to. Delegates, be sure you stand on the side of Love. Because, really, we don’t want to see Jesus flipping tables ever again.

An Observer of the process and events of General Conference 2019.#UMC

When the heart bleeds sunset

I love sunsets. When I am at home and I notice the sun setting, I drop everything and sit outside and observe. I hear the sounds of nature, watch the birds swoop near the yard, and take in the of contrast of light and dark across trees, mountains, and land. I love sunsets.

But tonight I am thinking of all the children who have been separated from their parents at the border. And I am thinking of watching the horror on the news while knowing it is happening in my own backyard. And I am remembering all the children I have encountered who have made this difficult journey with their parents…the ones that came before the threat of separation. I can see their faces, smell their bodies, and see their sweet smiles that betray a hope that won’t die. They are lovable as all humans. Perhaps even more because of the journey they have survived…

And I wonder if all the rallies, press conferences, letters to politicians, marches, and blog posts will make a difference soon enough. We are doing everything we can today. We are crying out with all our breath, and protesting with every footstep. Tomorrow we will vote…but today is urgent and so we move and do what we can to change this horror of children being ripped away from their parents.

Sunset is coming soon. And for all it’s beauty, it has a dark edge. For us now, that darkness is the possibility of a tender little heart being broken beyond repair. Who will hear their cries? Who will bring them back to the only ones who can comfort them: mama and papa? Who will stop this madness of our political leaders?

Sunsets are beautiful. Unless it is setting on the God-given connection between a mother/father
and child. Then, sunsets are terror.

Lines at the Border

Yesterday the high in Ambos Nogales was 100 degrees. Its a dry heat, which means that you don’t have warning when you body has sweated out all its water, and dehydration sneaks up on you quickly. Especially if you don’t know survival skills in the desert. Especially if you are old and frail, or very young.

And on that 100 degree day I crossed the line at the Nogales border into Mexico with my friends, Maritza Aguilar and Genesis Velazquez. I wanted to see the waiting lines of people for myself. We had heard that they were unable to cross quickly while seeking asylum, and that some were waiting for 7 days at the border. These lines are filled with young children. When we arrived in the morning, we heard that the night before they moved families to local shelters, giving them a number so they could return to the border line. There were about 20-30 people in the line that were waiting (they hadn’t gone to a shelter because they were next). The children were listless, and the mom’s and dad’s were exhausted.

As we passed out UMCOR hygiene kits to them, we heard their grateful responses, and saw the look in their eyes. Their eyes begged the question, “Am I going to make it across, or will I die here at this border after all that we went through to get here?” My heart was moved as I heard their stories of struggle (la lucha) and their prayers for safety. It was hard to leave them. I wanted to just sit down and lay on the ground with them, and sing them a song of comfort.

But we left and went to two of the shelters, delivering more hygiene kits, and hearing of the needs. The people and churches in Nogales, Mexico are stepping up big time to care for these travelers who are stranded in their country. What amazed me is that the poorest of the poor are reaching out generously to care for others who are suffering even more. Their engagement brought me to my knees. We have much to learn from them.

Last night I had trouble sleeping. As I tossed in my nightmares…nightmares of children sleeping outside in the heat…I prayed…well it was more like soul-wailing…that we in this country could open our eyes, and our hearts, and our resources to help.

There ARE some ways to help. You can call your representatives in Congress and demand humane treatment. You can ask if they are removing children from their parents and require a stop to that barbaric behavior. You can donate to shelters in Nogales, Sonora. You can give to The Inn Project, or UMCOR, or any group you know is stepping up. Or you can send basic items to El Mesias United Methodist Church in Nogales, Arizona. They will be God’s hands and feet for you as they deliver diapers, baby formula, underwear of all sizes, and socks.

We all can give money and resources. But, what is needed most is for us to raise all holy hell and storm the gates to demand that we treat humans and children with the respect and dignity that is required of civilized societies. It is time to shout out when we read things like this: https://ryanbrinson.com/2018/05/29/where-is-your-jesus/ and say to the “powers-that-be,” STOP!!! Children seeking safety are turned away. Children are being ripped from their mother and father’s arms. Children are being sent to detention. These things require a response from all persons of faith, and all persons with a heart of compassion.

Today it is cooler on the border. The high will be 98 degrees. Its a dry heat.

IMG_1568.jpg

IMG_1564.jpg