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I'mBlack. I'mChristian. I'mMethodist.

Black History Month and Last Lines

I have learned to get the general ideas of books by reading parts of it. It comes with reading too much for too many papers. But one trick I learned was reading the first and last lines of chapters before I read the whole book.

This is Black History Month, and I’m reading the book, “I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist.” It is edited by Dr. Rudy Rasmus, and the ten chapters are written by different Black Methodist preachers, teachers, and a dean. If you just look at the last lines of the chapters, you’ll get an idea of this book. They go like this:

“We’re Black. We’re Christians. We’re Methodists. And for the record, we’re also friends.” Rudy Rasmus, Senior Pastor. St Johns UMC, Houston, Texas

“I’m free because I’m not afraid of the consequences of naming my grief. I’m Black. I’m young. I’m woman. I’m grieved. I’m free. Are you? Tori C. Butler, Lead Pastor, Good Hope Union UMC, Silver Spring, Maryland

“The call reflects a love that has survived dehumanization, exploitation, and violence to our bodies. The challenge can only be met through divine intervention and human repentance.” Rodney L. Graves, Senior Pastor, McCabe Roberts UMC, Beaumont, Texas

“The people called Methodist still offer a relevant understanding of the gospel to share with a racially torn nation. Salvation is for all. Racism is sin. God loves everyone.”  Lillian C. Smith, Senior Pastor, Cheverly UMC, Hyattsville, Maryland

“God is always calling us to challenge ourselves and the structures that serve us more than others.” Erin Beasley, Associate Pastor, Germantown UMC, Germantown, Tennessee

“In my ministry of resistance, I yearn to embody this vision. There are many hard days, but they will not be so forever.” Justin Coleman, Senior Pastor, University UMC, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“I’ve learned that it takes courage to speak. I’m Black, I’m Christian, I’m Methodist, and I choose to use my voice.” Teaching Pastor, St. Luke’s UMC, Indianapolis, Indiana

“As it is, I’m content to be among a people and their allies who, as the ultimate act of resistance, are determined, come what may, to maintain that inexplicable Spirit-given joie de vivre, irregardless. Pamela R. Lightsey, Dean of the Faculty and VP of Student Affairs, Meadville Lombard Theological School

“No Methodist ministry or lives matter until Black lives matter.”  F. Willis Johnson, Lead Pastor, Living Tree Church, Columbus, Ohio

“The results do make it clear: for such identification to have significance to the mission the system needs to change.” Vance P. Ross, Senior Pastor, Central UMC, Atlanta, Georgia

I hope these last lines give you a curiosity and a desire to study. My church is starting a new group to learn about racism, anti-racism, and how to love God’s people. And as we learn together, we are determined to love better, to be forgiven, and to be made new. It is past time for us to attend to the racism in our world. And so, we go on this journey together.

Last lines matter. And sometimes it takes digging deep to get to the last line that we want for our lives. 

The Long Days of a COVID Summer

I’m just coming off a two week vacation; one that I wasn’t sure I could take till the evening before I left. It’s not like other vacations. We didn’t go far and we went to places we could seclude ourselves away. Interesting to live in isolation and then to go to a cabin where the isolation continues. But at least in northern Arizona, we could hike in the cooler weather and look at pine trees instead of our usual (and beautiful) cacti.

Living through Covid-19 means staying home and staying close and staying away. It wears on ones nerves. In order to cope, I’ve learned to watch less news and more Netflix, meet on ZOOM and make calls on phone while hoping to figure out an easy and delicious dinner, make quick runs to the grocery store, watch the gray hair grow wild and unruly, and to pray more deeply. To say the summer has been slow is not really the truth. It has been busy. But it has also been quiet in a “hunkered down” kind of way.

And so we chose to go on vacation so that I could take a break from this new normal and, frankly, from videoing my sermons and services. Now THAT is wearing. When we video, we have to look at lighting, angles, background, and attend to make up and dress. And when we video we have to figure out if the sound works, and when the sanctuary will be empty, and then of course we wonder if the sermon we created is what the people holed up in their houses will need. I can’t complain because I know others have it much worse. It’s just all so new.

This summer reminds me of something I learned long ago while running a marathon. When the road is long, it’s a mainly a mind game. Keep your mind in good order, and you’ll last till the end. But, let your thoughts go down to despair, and the race is lost. In the marathon, for most of us, what matters is not speed, but finishing.

So on this long Covid Summer of 2020, remember the slow and steady pace, and thoughts of a finish line, will get us through to the other side. Hang in there, everyone! We can do this together. And we can pray for better days.

The Empty Calendar

About three weeks ago, I noticed something different happening. Usually, my calendar fills up months in advance with meetings, conferences, and in-person gatherings to address local needs or to talk in confidence. I had several ZOOM meetings that were regular occurrences as well. But something changed, and I watched as one by one, my calendar cleared. Meeting after meeting after meeting was cancelled or postponed. Even some of my ZOOM meetings were no longer necessary.

Our children’s schools closed. The church Day School was closed as well.

The big event in the United Methodist Church that cancelled was the General Conference in Minneapolis in May. And because that was cancelled, some of the work happening locally to prepare for that event dropped out of calendar. A speaking engagement in Montana was postponed. We cancelled flights and hotels for three major events including some vacation time.

And a new thing: pastors were not allowed to visit patients in the hospitals, care facilities, or in some hospice facilities. All we could do was pick up the phone and call. The gas in my car extended further than it had ever before.

At the same time, the church moved to on-line worship only, and suddenly the local events that were scheduled also disappeared. This week, when we officially closed the church office and moved it to our remotely located homes, the last of my calendar events were cleared.

It sounds like I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, but the truth is, pastors were working extra long hours to prepare our church for being the church without meeting in community. Telephone trees were formed. Online services took countless hours to figure out…and we are still learning how to do this without bringing harm to the worship leaders. Staff meetings were held by ZOOM, and took longer than normal to figure out how to reach out during this time. ZOOM meetings with church folk who had never met electronically was a learning curve.

Today, I look at my calendar and I see empty space. I am spending my time at home and with my family. Reading more is suddenly a cherished possibility. So is writing. I’m calling people to check on them, and spending some time on ZOOM meetings still. Last night the Mayor of Tucson ordered nonessential businesses to close and recommended residents to stay home. We are not sheltered-in yet in Arizona, but we are close to that reality and most are staying home to provide safety to those who are working the hardest to rid our community of this virus.

Space provides the possibility for us to hear God. The space of cleared calendars opens up the imagination to look at life and to face down death, and to see the places we might need to change. Space is difficult, but beautiful, and comes with the unease of a new kind of living. We don’t yet know how to handle it, but we are learning, and we are open to seeing life differently.

Calendar space is the new frontier. God be near us all as we listen, learn, and imagine something new. And God be near those who are sick, and bring healing and restore health.

An Incomplete Full Day

Last Saturday I lived an Incomplete Full day. When I got to the end of it, exhausted, happy, and full, I also recognized that it was incomplete.

It started out before the day began. The day before, our plane was delayed due to storms, and we got in to Phoenix much later than expected. So I stayed overnight, and planned to get up early to leave in time for the Tucson events.

But before leaving Phoenix, Jim and I had to run over to see our new grandson, Nolan. We held him for a few minutes, brought mama some coffee, and then left for Tucson. On the way down, the highway came to a crawl and added another hour onto our trip. Driving is relaxing, and I put the rest of the day out of my mind, and just enjoyed listening to different YouTube stations and to music.

Finally arriving in Tucson, I was late for the first event of the day: Catalina was marching in the Tucson Pride Parade for the first time. I got there at the end of the parade, took a picture with our Catalina banner, and then rushed back to my house to change for the next event.

It was a memorial service. A full house in celebration and mourning for a beautiful life well lived. Betty Barnes made a mark on the world, and it was evident in the stories that were told, and the honoring that flowed. We have a large sanctuary, and the sound failed just before we began, and then interrupted us with a loud screeching noise in the middle. That was embarrassing, but even that didn’t stop this beautiful family from paying honor and tribute to Betty.

Next, I rushed over to a Poetry Reading of a dear friend who is experiencing health difficulties. I was late for that. Missed the reading entirely. But I was able to chat with my dear Cynthia Kirk, and her family, and the friends gathered. I felt enveloped by love and the sacred moment of sharing life together in celebration, hope, & truth. I came away knowing that these moments together are life itself.

Driving back home to eat dinner, I thought I had a few hours to get to the next event: a 16th birthday celebration for Genesis Velazquez, ala-Quinciñera style. It was in my hometown, Nogales, which is at least an hour drive away. In my mind, it started at 7. So when I checked the invitation as I was getting into the car, I saw that it started at 6pm…just ten minutes from that moment. I decided not to go, but Jim encouraged me to go anyway, so we drove down, thinking we would at least be able to greet sweet, beautiful Genesis. We arrived just as the service ended, and hugged Genesis and her family as they were leaving to go to the party. We couldn’t go celebrate with them, because I can’t function on Sunday morning if I’m out on Saturday. Even so, the family was gracious to us and glad we were there even for a moment. Beloved friends and important moments.

What a full day!

What an incomplete day.

If I only could stretch that day out to three, it would have been a complete and fully-lived day.

Sometimes life gets crazy and we leave tired and full and wanting all at the same time. It was an Incomplete-Full day.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

There’s a song, Don’t Dream It’s Over, by Crowded House. The lyrics speak to me today while attending a conference in Leawood, Kansas on the future of the United Methodist Church. The words that strike a chord in my heart are:

    Hey now, hey now, Don’t dream it’s over 

    Hey now, hey now, When the world comes in

    They come, they come, To build a wall between us

    We know they won’t win.

The United Methodist Church is running to the precipice of a split over who we include, who we love, and how we legislate inclusion/exclusion. We are focusing on our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (+) siblings in Christ. And yet as I attend this conference on the future of the UMC, I am wondering who is not given voice in these matters of exclusion.

  • Will we center the voices of the LGBTQIA+ persons, or merely have              cisgender persons talk about their own experiences of transformation?
  • Will we expand inclusion of power to those who live on the edges of our church: the economically stressed, and people of color, to name a few?
  • Will we release the power of voice to those who live on the edges of our church in order to BE the church? Or must we clutch at the microphone of ME, instead of passing the mic to the voices that need to be heard in this moment?

Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner reminded me recently that real power is shared. If we really understand the power of living a life of Christ, we know that Voice is meant to be given away, to be shared, to be spread to the edges of society. And yet, the centered-powerful feast on loaves of our attention, while turning to us only for crumbs of our own understanding. As a Latina who grew up on the borderlands of Arizona and Mejico, I am wondering if all the power resides in one group: the insiders.

I don’t want to dream that our UMC is over. I’ve been one of those crying in the desert for unity. I also understand the need for inclusion. Period. I can’t imagine a church without the edge-dweller voices being heard and valued. And so, I dream it’s not over. The Church is differently beautiful in the full spectrum of all color, gender, and sexual expressions of God’s creation.

And so, today I remember that I live by a newly-built wall on the border of Mexico. And that wall separated my hometown into two. I know the pain of all that means. And so, I call for us to be a church that tears down walls of exclusion, walls of “mine-not-yours,” walls of “you-don’t-matter.” I call for us to be a Church that radically loves. 

If we legislate exclusion, “they” win.

But when we remember whose voices are not being heard; when we give them center space; when we love all God’s people, THEN we know they won’t win. Because then, Love wins all.

When Prison is Called Hospitality OR When Word Falls on Deaf Ears

Children watching video at The Inn

Pictures by migrant children at The Inn (church-housed care provided by The United Methodist Church) Note: The pictures children draw when not in lock-down facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a couple of days.

When it was unveiled that the Catholic Church was going to accept an offer from Pima County to utilize an empty wing of a Juvenile Detention Center to house asylees who had just been released from detention, my skin just crawled. We all knew they had been looking for a facility, but none among us could have imagined they would take these vulnerable families just released from lock-down facilities onto a compound that is an operating detention center.

They spun a story: “It’s all we have. Nothing else could’ve worked. We can make it pretty. We have no options. The families will love it.” And, the most surprising one: “We are the only game in town that has been caring for families.”

The compound is in an industrial area that is apart from the life of the community: hidden from anyone who might not want to see migrants. It is surrounded by concrete, fencing, and guards. It is not hospitable.

It is a Prison.

Several community members spoke out and went into meetings to change the plan: to ask for a better plan than this one. But every word fell on deaf ears. The Catholic and County Powers had already made up their mind, and they were just going through the motions: the appearance of listening when words only fell on deaf ears. (In fact, they went from this meeting of “listening” to a prescheduled press conference to announce they will be moving into the detention complex.)

Even when a courageous young woman spoke out about what it is like to be in these lock-up facilities and how horrible it is for us to think about sending migrants to another such place for “care;” even when she reminded the powers-of-the-moment that they are complicit in causing more pain; even when she boldly called for a new solution…they didn’t hear. Instead, the Power tried to stop her from talking further. Powerful words are sometimes too hard for the powerful to hear.

There is a better solution…there are many. But sometimes a better way is not the goal. Sometimes the goal is too dark to say out loud. Whatever the end game, it is being “won” on the souls of little children and their parents.

And so my skin crawls and I am creeped out. And yet I still believe in hospitality of the best kind, and in purity of souls, and in the possibility of words bringing about a better way.

That didn’t happen these last few days. But there’s still today and tomorrow and the next day.