Inspired…

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I don’t think I could be more inspired.  Yesterday I attended a DreamWorks seminar with the United Methodists in the Western Jurisdiction, and I sat with my mouth open as they detailed the joy and sorrows in storytelling. I wondered if we had lost our long-practiced art of storytelling in the Church.  I remembered that our faith is grounded in our sacred stories. I wanted to learn more from the every-day storytellers, so that I could tell the best story ever.

At one point, a raw confession was expressed about the Church:  there is no experience of challenge within the Church.  Have we gone soft?  Have we given over the power of story to those who do it so well?  Have we forgotten to follow in the footsteps of the greatest storyteller that ever walked this earth?

My head and heart are full of questions and wonderings. And while I question, I am inspired to begin again.  To refine my craft of storytelling that is sometimes called “preaching.” To tell again the story of the One who loves enough to live and die for us. To tell the story of Love and ReBirth and Forgiveness and LoveAgain. To tell the story of God’s presence and why it matters. To tell the suffering, the strength, and the courage to live fully.  I’m working to be better at storytelling. I hope you’ll join me.

EASTER!!!

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The women were disbelieved by the men.  I could say a lot about that, but I won’t.  The men disciples were at best, confused.  At least they had some idea that something crazy might have happened, though their brains couldn’t comprehend it.  Peter, at least, looked at his doubts, and perhaps remembered some of Jesus’ words, and ran to the tomb.  But the real moment of understanding came when Jesus walked with two of them on a road, and then appeared to all of them in a room.  He showed them his hands and his feet so they could believe.  He explained their own scriptures, especially the parts that pointed to this very moment.  And they experienced joy beyond-belief.  That’s the kind of joy that comes when you don’t need CNN-factoids to understand.  What they knew for sure was that Jesus was here, that Jesus stomped over death, and that their worldview had taken a seismic shift.

Jesus asked those beloved women and men disciples to do one thing:  to preach a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins to the world, but starting at home.  Whoa!  Starting at home?  Really Jesus?  That means I need to forgive mama, and uppity sister, and mean cousin?  Start at home?

The good news is Jesus is alive and well, and our very own homes will go through a seismic transition from tolerance to deep binding love.  The good news is that the good news is meant for me and mine as well as for everyone else in the world.

Sometimes we still don’t believe.  But today, on this gorgeous Arizona Easter morning, I do believe! I can see my own transformation and I can see it in those I love and in those I don’t know too well. And I’m sure it matters to the world, and to me.

He has risen!  He has risen indeed!

FRIDAY – Noon to Three

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The part of Good Friday that strikes me today is how the elements responded to Jesus’ death. The curtain in the sanctuary ripped in two, and the earth shook, and the lights in the sky went out.  The darkness happened at noon, when the sun is normally bright in the sky, and the light disappeared for three hours. I can imagine the people murmuring together in fear because the sun had left their view, and I can imagine the runs to the store for candles and extra food in case this disaster lasted longer than their preparations. I can imagine the sight and smell of fear, because the sky responded with a declaration of “Lights Out!”

Today I think about that.  And a part of my soul senses that loss.  i wasn’t there, but I can feel Mary’s pain, and I can imagine the disciples’s confusion, and I can relate to fear.  So, from a distance of over 2000 years, I still recall the image of the lights going out for a long period of time.  And I wonder what our world would be like if we knew that feeling of light-lessness and if we could see, sense, smell the sorrow that changed the nature’s response to its order.

I will stop there.  There is nothing more to say today.  Except, my soul wails along with the women, the sanctuary, the earth, and the sky…

Holy Thursday

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Holy Thursday.  Maundy Thursday.  The Last Supper.  Titles we use to describe this day.

This morning I was aware of the sacredness of the last time the disciples were to share a meal with Jesus, the one they had chosen to follow.  The only thing is, they didn’t know it was their last meal. They ate, and laughed, and relaxed around the table as if they had a forever of meals before them.  They joked, and recalled some recent moments, and of course, listened up every time Jesus spoke out.  And he had some things to say…and they heard them, but did not understand.  They didn’t know what he meant about the bread and wine being his body and blood.  Where did that come from?  And when he said he wouldn’t eat again until everything was fulfilled, they wondered about whether he was about to enter another 40-day fast.  And when he pointed out that one of them would betray him, they rallied with self-doubt and finger-pointing.  I imagine it was, to them, just another meal with Someone they didn’t quite understand.

And so they left the meal unaware of the importance of this moment.  Clueless to the limited time they had with Him.  Certainly, they left the meal without knowing the world would be remembering that meal even up to the year 2015.

And I feel the same sometimes.  Clueless.  Unaware. Unknowing.  The story lives in me, and yet I still don’t fully get it.  A simple meal shared among friends on a Holy Day, which becomes the Holy Communion that sustains my faith today, on Holy Thursday.  I can’t explain why.  But I can tell you when I take Communion, I remember that  they didn’t get it either, and yet that sharing of bread and cup sustained the disciples through some pretty tough days to come.

And today, it sustains us too.  We don’t know what’s ahead.  We just know we will make it somehow because all our meals are holy, sacred, nourishing, spiritual moments with God in Jesus Christ. And that what our brains can’t fathom, our spirits call “home.”  May your Holy Thursday be a connecting point to the One who loves you more than you can know…

the NEW view of John 3:16

Remember this verse many of us learned in childhood, and in KJV?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should
not perish, but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

As a child, the emphasis was on the end of the verse, but today we need to take a new look at the first part of the verse, “For God so loved the WORLD…”

It doesn’t say,
For God so loved the CHURCH…
For God so loved the UNITED METHODISTS…
For God so loved the WEALTHY and ENFRANCHISED…
For God so loved the PREACHERS…

No, it says, that God loves the WORLD! Today, we need to focus on loving the world as God did…with depth and sacrifice.

The WORLD is everywhere: in BARS where friends are drowning their sorrows; in FAMILIES that are feuding; in TOWNS that are crushed by racism and racial profiling; in BUS STATIONS and DETENTION CENTERS where children have traveled across one, two and three national borders, seeding safety and home. These are the locations where the WORLD is crying out for the Church to be a very present help in a time of trouble. The world is swirling with news of these events. So today I have a question. What are we doing to show the indisputable evidence of God’s love for the WORLD in the midis of the Swirl?

Last week we buried my husband’s father, a man who lived 90 years and preached until a week before his death.  And he is the last of my foundation to leave. In 2012, my mother-in-law died, and then both my parents in 2013. So in our family, the baton has been fully passed. And knowing they are gone has changed me. It makes one grow up and realize that now that the baton is in your hands, we must do something with it!

So what must I do?  To begin I can think of two things that are unfinished business of my generation of spiritual leaders.  We must take care of these two things before we pass the baton to the next generation of leaders, so that they don’t inherit our left-over crap.

1.  I have to continue to work to rid our world (or at least The Church) of racism in all it’s forms.  Racism that is personal, legal, political, law-enforcement, lingual, familial, stereotypical, and profiling, And I want to be a part of the Movement that fully rids The Church of Institutional racism. My children don’t understand why we make such a big deal about racial issues, but they are inheriting a world, and (my heart stops) a Church, that still hates The Other, The Different, The Hidden-Ones.  I can’t leave them with a Half-Finished Job of ridding our world, or at least our Church, of left-over-and-even-full-blown racism.

2.  Secondly, I hope to clear the way for the Death and Resurrection of The-Church-as-We-Know-It.  I have to pry my fingers off the Buildings, Traditions, Finances, and Theologies that bind us. I have to be open to the Surprise of the Next-Move-of-God’s-Spirit. I have to do my part to clean the House of the Rot-Mold-and-Ruin that I created by my Own-Understanding of What-Is-Right-and-Good.  I want to prepare to hand the next generation a Lean Church that is Faithful, Real (Joe Daniels) and about Love.Period (Rudy Rasmus). I want them to have traditions that are foundational and not binding; buildings that are assets and not shackles; dreams that are new and not worn-out… I want them to know when the baton is passed, we will support the new Pastors and Leaders; we will hold them in prayer, and we will block the Institutional Bullies that attempt to squash dreams with fear and finances. And I want to be ready to LET GO of the Baton, so that they can take the next leg of the Race and Run On…

Because God so loved the WORLD, we have some work to do. As a Church, we have a lot of Loving to attend to. Loving God’s world, ridding ourselves of the sin of Racism, to start with…, and creating a church that is all about Love. This is the NEW view of John 3:16:  first things first. Love the World.
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Walking Different Ground

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Getting ready to head out to LA for MARCHA, and thinking about how different my life work is now.  Where as I used to walk the neighborhood and city surrounding my church, I now walk the neighborhoods, cities, and states surrounding many churches.  I have been an observer with fresh eyes, multiple questions, and the seeds of new dreams.

I’ve seen churches in rural and city contexts; churches with holes in the floorboards, and one with floors made of marble; churches with full use of the space and others empty except for Sunday; churches led by clergy and staff and, others led by volunteers; churches built around agriculture, and some built around mining; churches with money and not enough ministry, and others with overflowing ministry and not enough money; churches that reach the poor and sidelined, and some that reach the rich and centralized; churches with a fighting spirit, and some with a sweet spirit; churches with parking, and churches without parking spots; churches with new pastors, and some with long-time pastorates.  The variety has been astounding.

And there is another part of this road that I’m looking for.  I’m searching for the places where the world goes to “not-church” to find spiritual connection.  I only have a vague idea where that will lead me…

So I walk farther, or drive the distances, in order to see what God is up to and to feel God’s spirit in beautiful variety.  In some ways, it feels like my territory went deeper, rather than farther, for the depth of God’s love leaves me in a place of silence.

The best part of this new beginning is not knowing the journey, or the territory, or even the Church.  The best part is making room for the surprise that comes when Walking Different Ground…

 

1000 Children

It didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary for the border town of Nogales.  My hometown is used to seeing Border Patrol facilities, and we have always noted the humanitarian actions of the staff.  They see the same things we do on the ground, and you can’t be human without being moved.  So, when a group of United Methodist pastors and church leaders met outside the facility that housed about 1000 unaccompanied children that we’d been hearing about in the news, well…I wasn’t so impressed.  We met outside a gate-like entry that said, “U.S. Border Patrol, Nogales, Arizona.”  That was it.

But Special Operations Supervisor, Gustavo Soto, met us outside the gate and began telling us the story of the children.  About a month and a half ago the children started arriving from Texas.  There are typically around 1000 children, sometimes more, sometimes less.  All the children in this facility are unaccompanied minors. Ok, I don’t know about you, but that fact alone took my breath away.  The oldest is 17, and the youngest was a newborn, delivered at Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.

Children come in and out in the processing ritual.  Sometimes 300 children are bused in per day, and the same go out.  You can see the buses on the hillside.  While there, they get bathed, medical care, and they make phone connections with family members.  They have Red Cross volunteers to play with the children, and Chaplains help with the spiritual needs.  They are divided into age groups and gender, and sibling groups are allowed to see each other whenever they ask. They have a playground.  And they have toys.  Everyone falls in love with the children.

But the children wear the same outfits while inside, and they have strict protocol to keep everyone healthy.  And they are not allowed to leave, of course, for this is only a stopping point along their already-lengthy journey.  They seek a land of freedom and possibility, but this is a necessary pause along the road.

We asked questions about why they came here, and what the journey is like.  They live in violence, under threat of death by gangs, extreme poverty, and weak structures.  Their parents hope for a life without violence and with food on the table.  So they believe the story that there is a better place for their children, and they pay the Human-Trafficker to take their children on a journey across national borders and through deserts and mountains, on buses and other forms of transportation.  The Human-Traffickers leave them at the Rio Grande River, which is the natural border in Texas, and the children are set on rafts, or they swim, till they make it to the other side.  When they hit American soil, they are known to run to the Border Patrol personnel with relief and gratitude for a country that will take them in and give them safety, and maybe even hope.

We wanted to find out how the faith community could help.  But, they are children who need to be protected from the public.  We felt somewhat helpless for a moment.

But suddenly that unassuming sign that said “Border Patrol, Nogales, Arizona” had a different meaning.  There were children there!  Many thousands of children who are looking for help in our country… Children who left their families because life at home was unbearable.  Children who were lonely, and sad, and happy, and hopeful.  They missed Mom and Dad, and Grandmother.  Children who were braver than I could imagine… Children who had travelled alone seeking hope and life…  Suddenly I felt as if I was standing outside holy ground, and I didn’t know what to do.

There are some things we can do.  We are still figuring them out.  But so far these things pop out:

1. We can pray.  Pray everyday for the children and their families, and their

countries, and for peace to rule over violence.  Bishop Carcano has called July 18-20 (from sunset to sunset) a weekend of prayer.  You can join this movement and follow it at http://www.theyarechildren.com/.

2. UMCOR, at the request of Bishop Hoshibata, has secured a $10,000 grant

which will be filtered to the ministries that are helping the children and parents who end up at the bus stations.  We can help by volunteering at the bus stations, especially if you are blessed with the Spanish language.  And we can donate to UMCOR at http://tinyurl.com/UMCOR901670.

3. We can volunteer through Red Cross, attending training and

volunteering to play with the children in facilities http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer.

4. Churches can work with the Office of Refugees Resettlement.  After

leaving the facilities, they will place the children in caring environments, and volunteers are needed to assist and provide care.  http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/unaccompanied-childrens-services.  Or connect with foster care agencies that are looking for foster families to care for the children temporarily.

5. We can call our Congress members, and urge them NOT to repeal the

provisions in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).  This would help to prevent returning children into the hands of traffickers and violent situations.

6. We can advocate for reform and safe borders through the various groups

connecte with the Arizona Interfaith Network.  They work for change at the national level, bringing together people of all faiths for the common good.

7. We can connect with Border Community Alliance at

http://www.bordercommunityalliance.com.  They are hard at work to improve the vitality of U.S. and Mexico border communities.

I left the meeting with the kind Border Patrol gentleman, and the overwhelmed church leaders, feeling like something extraordinary was going on in this spot of earth that I call my hometown.  I felt overwhelmed by the great need, but if each of us did one thing listed above, together we could create a place where this facility would be empty, and where children were free from harm and welcomed everywhere.  I’m sure of that.

And I left with a deep image from my own family.  My grandmother, Sarah Estrada, who crossed the Rio Grande herself, while having labor pains, so that my father, Rev. Louis Escobedo, could be born in America.  She didn’t do it for economic reasons, but because she wanted her child to have religious freedom.  That child of hers became a Lutheran pastor and missionary to Mexico.  And I am his daughter, a United Methodist Pastor and District Superintendent, the granddaughter of one who crossed the Rio Grande with dreams.  I am grateful for her, and for a country that welcomed me.  I join with you in prayer….