In Memoriam IX

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Dear Garrett,

Our youngest, Lucas, is the same age that you were when you took your leaving. It’s hard to believe that time has gone so fast. Hard to believe that life has moved on, things have changed, and yet some things, like your absence, remain the same. You never had the opportunity to meet Lucas, but I suspect that if you all would have been 6 together you all would have had much in common. Especially the trouble making part!

In the last few years, I’ve thought much about my calling. You know how much I’ve struggled with that over the years. Yet each time I think about it, each time I doubt it, I remember that faithful day when your leaving made me a pastor. As a trusted mentor told me recently, in your leaving I experienced the worst day of my pastoral life. In other words, no matter what happens in pastoral life, the worst has already come. If that day did not end my pastoral life, then nothing can . . .

I can still remember that faithful day. Your whininess, your refusal to do what we asked, your hard-headedness, and your assurance that something was wrong. I often think if it would have made a difference if you would have agreed to open your mouth.

I can still remember that faithful day. Reality settling in, you were not coming back. We were going to get used to life without you. You were leaving.

I can still remember that faithful day. Eucharist shared, tears shed, life scattered.  The reality of your leaving becoming permanent. New life arising from our pain.

I can still remember that faithful day. Questions emerging, faith questioned, reality interrogated, and truth heartbreaking.

Although I constantly question, I am committed to this pastoral life. You have called me to it. You have shaped me into it and you have visited me in it. It does not matter where I am, Alexandria, Ragley, Baton Rouge, or Shreveport. You continue to push me into this life, proclaiming, reflecting, hearing, and serving. At each step of the way I can hear your voice calling, your eyes sharing, your presence comforting. At each moment gratitude emerging for this call, for the ways that God shows up even when God seems absent. At each moment making a decision to keep at this calling, even when it seems unbearable.

I could not imagine losing our Lucas. I could not have imagined losing you. Yet nightmare became reality and grace became our salvation. At each step of the way your leaving becoming sealed into our life together, your presence sealed in our communal memory, your story reminding us of our identity.

I’m thankful that you continue to companion and bring clarity. I am thankful that the scars of loss have become signposts to a resurrecting future. I am thankful that your visitations and your story continue to bring life and stir our spiritual imaginations.

You are still missed, still remembered, still present . . . see you at the great feast.

Peace & Love, Juan+

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Be a hero, Donate Life! If you want to know G’s story click here.

Here are the previous yearly notes: In Memoriam, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII

Appropriate Attire: GC 2016


This morning Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area preached on Matthew 22:1-14. She called us to put on the garment of grace that’s available to all. She called us to stop drawing a line in the midst of the conference floor and instead to join together to be agents of God’s transformation in the world. She called us to be open to reversal, to be willing to join the feast!

Those late-comers – the fit and misfit, the ones from the edge of town, the ones from the other side of the tracks, from el barrio, the ones who spoke a different language, the poor, the prostitutes – yea those – were provided appropriate attire when they arrived. 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

So the God that we serve is the God who provides us for the way that leads to life. No trickery, smoke and mirrors, or special knowledge. The challenge is our willingness to take on Christ, our willingness to put on a common identity in the midst of our differences. Our willingness to join the party!

I’m wondering how we do this?

At this General Conference we tried to live into a model of conferencing that was centered on conversations (Rule #44). This model was rejected by this General Conference after much debate about how we guide our legislative life. Yet I believe that if we are to put on the garment of grace that we must begin by gathering together, sharing our stories, our hopes, our fears and our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our hunger for new life. The local church, our districts, and our Annual Conferences might be the best equipped communities to practice this way of living life together, this way of trying on Christ, again and again.

I also wonder if a second key aspect is the going out, as Matthew 12:4 (The Voice Bible) reminds us:


I wonder how often we let others know about the banquet? Do we see our life together as a feast worthy of inviting others to? What does this feast look like, how are we celebrating together? How are we flourishing?

This could just turn the world upside down. This is what it means to be people of the cross, people of the resurrection, Easter people! 

People who are ready for a reversal- a world that is turned upside down. A world that is transformed. A world where all God’s people experience an abundant life in Christ.  
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

I am thankful for the Bishop’s challenge this morning. I think her challenge is not only for General Conferece but a challenge to all of us as members of the community of disciples. We taking seriously our calling to be agents of God’s love in the world. We agents of the reversal, the healing of the communities we live in, we agents of our shared growth in love, we agents of the grace given to us.

I am ready to go to the party, ready to put on the robe of righteousness, would you join me? Let’s go!

A Sound Roars: GC 2016


Yesterday the church celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. They were afraid, their savior was not gone, now they were left to live into their call as followers of Jesus. Gathered to pray and to wait as Jesus had told them you can imagine the conversations, the insight, and the struggle. Could they truly fulfill the mission given to them by Jesus?

Jesus knew that they could not! So Jesus sends them an empowerer from on high!

A sound roars! Takes over, overwhelms, oxygenates, lifts up, and takes center stage. The Spirit has come!!

As we gather to begin our work on week 2 of General Conference I wonder if we will hear the roar? The promise of Jesus to be with us, to not leave us alone, to empower us to do Jesus’ work available, ready, present, do we hear the roar?

A sound roars and it wakes us up from our apathy and slumber.

A sound roars and our personal preferences are quieted.

A sound roars and our loud voices are deafened.

A sound roars and our lungs are filled with the breath of God once again.

A sound roars and we together can hear nothing else but the Spirit of God.

A sound roars and we are pushed, prodded, and propelled into God’s mission in the world.

The question is, do hear the sound roar? Have we become so self-centered and so sure of ourselves that we no longer hear the in braking of the Spirit among us?

As we begin this week of work here in Portland and in our congregations the Spirit that came down on disciples long ago is the same Spirit that promises to come down upon us today. This Spirit transforming, renewing, redeeming, reconciling, and sanctifying. The Spirit making us one people, under our one Lord Jesus Christ, and guiding us as we move into the world to be about the work of God’s kingdom. God’s people as the bearers and signs of the Spirit of God in the world, as the ambassadors of the ministry of Jesus.

It is my conviction that Grace Community UMC is ready to live into this roaring sound! We are ready to hear each other and make spaces of the hearing of others. We are ready to welcome people as God welcomes, to grow together in God’s love through conversation and loving accountability, and to serve our community by creating spaces where others can find healing, wholeness, and new life.

I am thankful to be here but cannot wait to go home and continue God’s call in our lives. I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar!!

Tone Matters: GC 2016

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. 
Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.Ephesians 4:2-3 (The Voice Bible)

I often tell my children that what matters is not just what you say but how you say it. I remind them often that the way words are said, gestures, and posture communicate more than the words themselves. In other words that tone matters.


Tone reveals deeply what words alone could hide. Our true feelings come to the surface: our anxieties, fears, anger, and annoyance. Tone also tells us if we are being heard and if the other person is truly present to us. In our social media world tone is revealed by the type of font we use (ALL CAPS ANYONE), #snark, sarcasm, and passive aggressive posting. All sending a clear signal that we are not seeing the other as beloved, as one who is the image of God, as one like us.
Tone betraying our character and our harmony with the other or the lack thereof.

As people of faith we are called to holiness of heart and life. Through grace God’s love begins to fill the recesses of our souls. God’s grace allowing us to integrate who we say we are, what we say we believe in, with how we respond to ourselves and the other.

My latest sermon series, Life Between the Lines, has introduced the rules of the Methodist societies, to a new generation of people. Last week we discussed why we needed such guides and this weekend we will be talking about the first rule: Do No Harm.

Attending General Conference has opened my eyes at the ways that our tone towards one another, especially in disagreement, is betraying a deeper issue in our life together. Our tone on the plenary microphone, on legislative committees, and on social media speaks to a lack of charity, suspicion, arrogance, harshness, lies, and a host of other behaviors that are contrary to the faith we proclaim and the values we claim. 

Our tone mirroring the tone of today’s culture instead of modeling what an loving and respectful alternative looks like. An alternative where disagreement is welcomed, where mutual respect is practiced, and where the atmosphere is “thick with love.”

One of the things that the study of Latin American liberation theology has taught me is that we cannot use the tools of the oppressor to bring freedom. If we do then we become the oppressor in its next itineration without even recognizing it as such. True freedom, true liberation, comes only through the tools of the kingdom: charity, presence, humility, gentleness, and peace.

I am not sure what will happen next at this General Conference. What I do know is that I am committed more than ever to return to the congregation I love and shepherd and come alongside them as we practice and model what a Christlike conversations look like. What the harmony of disagreement in love looks like. What it means to be a people of integrity — a people who have integrated their thoughts, actions, and attitudes — in our conversations with one another and with the world. What it means to be a people who are being sanctified.

Sin, Humility, & Mercy: GC 2016


I am a sinner. I do things that I should not do and leave things undone that I should do. Often I only consider myself when making decisions, when engaging others, and when speaking about God. The fruit looks inticing, God might not be trustworthy, my selfish desires often convince me that there is nothing wrong with me following my every whim. I look around and again I am shocked at my capacity to be an agent of brokenness, hurt, and division.

The more stories I hear, the more I pay attention around me, the more I recognize that I am not alone in my brokenness, that all creation seems to be groaning for wholeness. All of creation bound, in need of freedom, in need to be redeemed.

I am thankful that God chose to provide a path to our redemption. It was an risky path, one that required taking on our human form. Choosing a messy holiness (a messy set apartness) instead of choosing perfection, cleanness, neatness, and power. As Paul tells us:

Though He was in the form of God,

He chose not to cling to equality with God;

But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;

    a servant in form

    and a man indeed.

The very likeness of humanity,

He humbled Himself,

    obedient to death—

    a merciless death on the cross!

So God raised Him up to the highest place

    and gave Him the name above all.

So when His name is called,

    every knee will bow,[a]

    in heaven, on earth, and below.

And every tongue will confess

    “Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,”

    to the glory of God our Father! 

Philippians 2:6-11 (The Voice Bible)

Our conviction about our “bent to sinning” and the recognition of our brokenness, should be the catalyst for our growing in humility. Our inability to make our selves whole, our inability to manufacture transformation, our inability to end the enmity that plagues our world, should convict us again and again of our dependence on God and our commonality with one another. It should push us to a willingness to come alongside the other, listen to their story, and begin to build community,  a beloved community, a community of saints and sinners. A community willing to do what God has done again and again, giving power away, being poured out, dying again and again to self while being born again and again to new life, whole life, abundant life.

This morning Bishop Sally Dick (you can read her sermon here) called us to “Go, learn mercy.” Mercy coming from our encounter with it, from our humble recognition of our need for grace. She stirred us up, made us uncomfortable, and challenged us to stop obsessing about the other’s sin and to begin to pay attention to ours. She called us to a willingness to enter a messy holiness so that we as a body could experience salvation.

As we continue in conversation as a church I recognize that this time together can be sanctifying. Us learning to hear each other, us making space for one another in the midst of disagreement, us learning to enter the messiness of our lives (in the messiness of our sin) and humbling ourselves, offering ourselves mercy, and learning to grow in God’s love in spite of disagreement.

The practice for this kind of sanctifying life begins in our local congregations. Can we make spaces where our brokenness is acknowledge, where humility is modeled, and where mercy is practiced? Can we learn to listen and learn to talk to one another in ways that respects the other’s dignity? Can we practice disagreeing with one another in ways that do not question the other’s motives? In ways that does not seek to convince, persuade, or prove wrong?

Broken people, humbly learning mercy and practicing God’s messy holiness . . .