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.

Crowdsourcing the New Thing

There are many ways to solve a problem; and many ways to dream a new thing into being. Typically, problems are solved by a few “experts” who determine the best solution and then train the wider group on new practices. But there is another way to solve problems: crowd (open) sourcing.

Crowd sourcing is an idea that involves taking problems out to the wider context (even beyond one’s company or corporation) so that many people can add input, and so that creativity and innovation can take a wide swath of possibilities.

We have been closed-sourcing the current state of The United Methodist Church. Before and after the Judicial Council ruling on General Conference 2019, small groups of people have been meeting in closed settings to begin to find solutions. Meanwhile, a wide berth of people are waiting to hear the results that seemed shrouded in the unknown.

But there are other ways to move forward. We can crowd source the possibility of a new church. To crowd source is to till a rich soil for thousands of seeds to be thrown into the wind as they seek the soft, brown earth. It creates a garden of possibility for our future. Who said the “experts” can figure this out better than the movement of the Spirit?

The beginning of the Methodist Movement happened because a ground-swell of people joined a new idea of grace, caring for the poor, and being methodical about spiritual growth. It was a movement that could not be stopped and was propelled by an Unknown Force.

So what if we begin a platform of small meetings, large gatherings, and video conference conversations for the whole world to join? In this way, we could see how the Spirit is moving us collectively, and not only focus on ways the delegations strategize to change the minds of GC2020. The work of the delegations is important, but it is a very small part of the solution.

Instead we need to be collectively dreaming the new church into existence. This is the time to be outwardly curious, and not inward-focused. Obviously we are no longer “United” Methodists. But what does this new movement of the Spirit and of the hearts of Methodists look like? Will you dream out loud with us? The invitation is open to all: much like Communion.

What does She look like?


What does she look like (this new life being born)?

She’s beautifully diverse.
She’s malleable.
She rides the wind of the Spirit.
She detests Robert’s Rules and Political Maneuvers.

She’s powerful and vulnerable.
She lives in buildings, cafes and bars and on the street.
She is fluid.
She refuses to exclude one soul.

She crosses borders with grace and strength.
She mixes up the order for the good of creativity.
She has the seed of Jesus, and the shoot of Wesley.
She will not suffer abuse anymore.

She is colorful, including all colors of the rainbow.
She gathers, encourages, creates, and sends.
She centers with the humble, poor, and left-out.
She lives not by law, but by grace.

She sits at table with strangers and loners and lost ones.
She loses herself in love.
She cares for the earth.
She will do no harm.

She is beautiful.

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.

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!