United Methodist Brother and Sisters, I Have Traveled This Road

Partir en Vacances, Sur la Route

I am always excited to travel down a new road as a journey begins. The allure of beginning a trip to unknown places is enticing and intoxicating. Yet, every trip has a middle. The middle is the actual part of the trip, the liminal space that exists between the time of departure and arrival. I feel compelled to offer some observations from my recent travels on my new road, in light of the United Methodist quadrennial event called General Conference.

What I know for sure is, this road has been traveled before. In 1989, I witnessed an event at Cafe de Monde’ in the French Quarter of New Orleans that was a snapshot of the eventual schism that took place in my previous denomination, Southern Baptists. Fundamental leaders presented speeches and symbols of victory, celebrating the accomplishment of electing leaders who would only appoint like-minded persons to control boards and agencies. I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as winners were celebrated and losers were denigrated. I remember because I was one of the identified losers. Most importantly, I remember the feeling of not knowing what road I would travel in days beyond this D-Day.Open Hearts

Despite the usual feelings of anxiety that arise because of the unknown, I chose to lean into the feelings of anticipation that also existed because of the possibilities of a new day and way. The middle part of this new journey consisted of a few years of traveling down unfamiliar roads to explore new places. Along the way, came my new Methodist friends who welcomed me in ways that I would learn later were a bit unusual in our polity. Yet, I arrived at my destination, my first annual conference, and was received with a Wesleyan grace I could only fully appreciate years later.

Coffee-House-MeetingSix months ago, I began a new journey with the same excitement that accompanies the launch of any new endeavor. My energy for this new journey revved up my human spirit and the RPMs of my soul were red-lining. This level of exhilaration has sustained me for a period of months throughout the middle part of this journey. Like any trip, I have had to reevaluate and make changes in both direction and pace. The journey has been good. I would not trade what I have learned from my travels, it has prepared me for whatever is next.

As the General Conference of United Methodist Church comes to a close this week, it seems, once again, we will hear victory speeches and plans of secession made by the artificial winners and losers. Again, persons, like myself, will be thrust on a new road toward a new place. While I may be just a few steps ahead of some others on this road of change, I have yet to arrive, so my observations are incomplete.  Road Less Traveled

Personally, my soul and body say, it is time for me to arrive. I need to find stable ground where I can place my feet and enter into relationships with persons whom I can count on. Only fixed destinations can provide these necessary human commodities. Allow me to humbly share three lessons from this road I have traveled before and now. I share these simple platitudes with those who are ahead, beside or behind me on any road of uncertainty:

  1. There is more than one right path. Let’s not assume Robert Frost poetic plea to take the road less traveled is the absolute right road for us. We can confidently step onto any new road, trusting it will lead us to places that need who we are and what we have to offer. We need many persons traveling down many roads to fully complete and represent the Body of Christ in the world.
  2. Many good voices will beckon us to take differing routes. These voices are important. Some will lead us down the new road while other’s counsel will help us navigate our own journey, though these other voices traveled a different route. Our Voice must lead us to our path, there is no other authentic way. May all voices find a sounding board, a person(s), (per sonare“, a sounding through) that properly reflects the full and necessary call toward the new day needed for our times.
  3. We will arrive. Every journey has an end. No person has the energy to wander down roads without coming to a destination. The human spirit can only travel an unknown road for so long before it longs to land. The longing to land is a determinative force that will lead us to the next place. While we all may land in new places at differing times, new outposts will be established and the new ground shall be tilled, planted and harvested.

Message-in-a-BottleTo my United Methodist sisters and brothers with me on this road, I have nothing profound to offer. I can offer these few notes from my own travelogue to those who feel like they are being thrust onto a new road. I offer them to the Wind that blows where it will and trust like a message in a bottle they will wash ashore to the right place and the right time. Every journey has a beginning, middle, and end; the grace we so often speak is among all along the roads we travel.

 

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Easter Passion Revealed Luke 24: 1-12

IMG_0999When we die; we’re dead or that’s what the women thought as they went to the tomb on Easter morn to mourn. They went expecting to find a cold hard cadaver, but upon arrival they were perplexed for the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. They were terrified as two men in dazzling white clothing reminded them that Jesus spoke of this day. They run to tell the disciples.; the disciples call their story an idle tale. Peter runs to take a look; it says he was amazed or dazed, I say; unsure what happened.

Many of us are like them when it comes to Easter, unsure what really happened. We go along with the customs; we like new ties and wearing hats, and the ham after church. So, we give the Easter message nod, and relegate it to simpler categories we more easily understand like: caterpillars turning to butterflies and grass turning green. Yet, those ideas leave us only with good thoughts; inspiring us to do what we can. In my humble opinion, people are tired of moral lessons that implore them to hold on and keep hoping. That version of the Easter message is religion-lite; domesticating the truth with a homey service of rising to our destinies. I pray the words I speak resist any reduction of the mystery of our faith.tired

The mystery of faith that declares Christ has died and Christ has risen implies Jesus really appeared after dying. When we look at the accounts many seem to feel those appearances were deceiving as the cliché goes; they weren’t quite sure what really happened. Yet, without his appearing, we would be scratching our heads about an empty tomb; thinking someone stole the body and his soul flew away. That would leave us with a religion of trying to be good enough so our soul can too fly away and be with Jesus. The appearances of Jesus declared what appears to be over isn’t over; things aren’t as they appear. The Risen One’s appearances aren’t deceiving; they are conceiving, new life; that’s an Easter message!

Embracing Easter involves setting aside some of our self-enlightened human logic. The essence of Easter includes some unknown. It’s not a riddle to be solved. It’s a mystery to be gawked at, like the morning sun. Easter invites us into the mystery of how Jesus who could do nothing for himself when they nailed him to a cross, could trust God knew what to do with a life offered in love. Let’s not recoil from declaring it’s anything less than mystery of how God brought Jesus back to life from the dead.

Known unknownAn experiment chose one hundred and sixty names randomly from the phone book. For one month, a group prayed for eighty of them, but not the other half. They asked God to open up the first eighty to spiritual things. After a month, they called all 160 and didn’t tell them about the experiment. They asked a variety of questions including, if there was anything in their lives they could pray for with them. Sixty-nine from the group of eighty that were prayed for said yes; sharing a concern. Only one of the eighty not prayed for responded positively. What is that? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That is precisely the point, it is a mystery.

Our metaphors can’t conceive the incomparable claim of Easter: Jesus was raised from the dead. Thus, our inconvenient rituals that express faith in resurrection power can get in the way of our Burger King style religion of having it our way. Self-made religion settles for less than what can be known. The unknown of Easter invites us to step to the rhythm of the mystery of faith that plays the tune of laying down our lives, so we might know God can raise up a life offered out of love for the ‘Other’ and others.Be-Real

There’s a 900-pound gorilla in our “I’ll do it myself culture”. It lives in the life’s living room, yet we’re reluctant to talk about it. It’s taboo to say our ego constructs; positions that identify us, powers we hold, and people we know, don’t contain what we need to make meaning out of our lives. So, we keep pretending, rarely speaking of our frustrations of trying to make life work out as we wish. It’s refreshing to meet a person who acknowledges it’s hard propping up ideas they hope are right, chasing success they rarely achieve, and seeking approval that never fully satisfies. If we could be real, and let the parts of our lives that don’t offer real life die, counting them as a loss, God could raise up a new life in ways we’ve not imagined.

Easter asks us to place our faith in this mystery, Christ freely gave his life for you and me; trusting God would raise him from the dead and make him Lord all life, including our own life and everyone else’s life, too. If Jesus is Lord of all, that makes his resurrection power available to all. There is no partiality in God’s love, one group or person being favored over another by our witness. Jesus is Lord over all persons and creation. If our resurrected King is in charge (and not us) then we can love what God loves, which is both the good and bad of the human condition and human history. We can partner with Christ in paying the price, so others may know this same love God found in Christ Jesus that makes real life possible.

PopeFrancis-washing-feet-young-people-The Roman pontiff, Pope Francis, continues to inspire. We’re thankful he’s a person who models Christ’s humility in powerful ways. Many of the things he has said and done are like Christ appearing after his resurrection. Last Maundy Thursday, he did as all other popes have done, washed the feet of others as a gesture of service. Though previous popes only washed the feet of Christians, Pope Francis went to a prison for young offenders and washed the feet of 12 persons, ages 14 to 21. Among them were, for the very first time, women and Muslims. When he stooped to wash the feet of a young Serbian Muslim girl who was a criminal, we see the risen Christ afoot in our world eating and cavorting and washing the feet of sinners.

We don’t have to be the pope or pastor make appearances of the Risen Christ that conceive new life. The Risen Christ counts on us to keep up appearances. The Risen Christ appears when we reach out to persons dug in hole of addictive behaviors, giving them a hand up from their grave. He appears in the touch offered, conceiving new life. The Risen Christ appears when we give a push to persons stuck in a predicament; feeling there’s no way out. He appears in the nudge, conceiving new life. The Risen Christ appears when we sit beside persons who have wandered far from who they are; and repeatedly tell them they’re a person of sacred worth. He appears in our words, conceiving new life. As we offer ourselves to persons in need of new life; Easter passion is revealed; showing again God knows what do with a life offered in the name of the ‘Other’ for the sake of others.Russian Priest

The Russian Orthodox Church employs the ancient liturgy of “Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed“, like we do the “Amen” in a Protestant service. At the end of the 70-year reign of the communist in Russia, a state lecturer concluded an address: “There’s no God. Jesus Christ never existed; there is no such thing as a Holy Spirit. The Church is oppressive and out of date. The future belongs to the State, and the State is in the hands of the Party.” After he sat down a priest asked to say two words, three words in English. The lecturer not wanting to look off guard granted permission. The priest shouted that ancient piece of liturgy: “Christ is risen!” The people roared back: “He is risen indeed!” They’d been saying it for a thousand years, why stop because certain intellectuals and politicians claim God is dead.

Even in the midst of unrest in Russia on this Easter Sunday, we can be sure the words “Christ is risen” will be declared by an orthodox priest to the people of God gathered in the great cathedrals of the former Soviet Union. What do you think followers of Christ in Russia will echo back when that bearded priest says, “Christ is risen?” “Christ is risen indeed!” Let’s join their voices in Irving, TX on Easter this morning; declaring to live the mystery of our faith:

“Christ is risen!’

What say you?

Christ is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Happy-Easter-in-sand