These fifteen years of conversation have been filled with reflections about my pastoral life. A life that your leaving confirmed, strengthened, and changed. In some ways it was a loss of innocence and idealism, in other ways it was a growing up moment that prepared me for many other heartbreaks, disappointments, and surprises. What is still a bit surprising is that I am still at it. Still gathering, still proclaiming, still leading ritual, still listening to the rhythms of the soul, and still working towards justice.
I have often said that I will walk away from pastoral life only if I feel released to do so. The Spirit called upon me for this work has been hard-headed and I find myself constantly called back to it. Obviously I have not been released yet, though I have had to face the reality that it had to change. The ways In which I lived into this calling had to become more grounded in who I was and the ways that the gospel is life in me. The praxis of pastoring had to express my own circuitous journey of life and faith, my sojourning identity and my rooting hunger. It created a crisis that in some ways was similar to the one I faced at your leaving. Who am I? What am I doing? Why should I continue doing it?
It does not escape me that life is messy, I know messy well. There are some twists and turns of life that we do not expect, it is scary to face those and at times it seems like we will not make it through. These events change us, these moments transform us, and our old selves are hard to even recognize. Your leaving was one of those but it has not been the only one. Flourishing seems so distant at those moments and yet in the midst of transformation there is life. In fact transformation means that we are alive! Change is living, as Octavia Butler reminds us "All that you touch change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change."
I recently presided at a funeral and thought of you. Thought that you might have welcomed these beloved ones to the reality that is eternal life. Though it was a very sad situation that momentary thought brought a smile to my face. I could feel you next to me reminding me that I still had good news to share, love to proclaim, and curing of souls to tend. There is so much pain in the world, so much animosity, and so much brokenness . . . good news is needed, healing needed, understanding needed, new life needed! Thank you again for your persistence in companioning me and reminded me of this calling. I love you G, I'll see you at the Great Feast!
I am thankful for social media spaces. They can be helpful instruments of sharing life, faith, connection, and community.
Like any other space it can be a place of wholeness or a place of harm, a place that inspires or a place that insults, a place that fosters dignity or a place that does violence to the other.
As I acquaint myself with a new community I recognized that I needed to frame the use of these spaces that though hosted by different corporations (and this reality in and of itself deserves more ethical reflection) they bear my name.
You might call this my current rule of life for social media engagement:
Purpose - Though this space bears my name and my likeness this space is not me — it is a place to share information.
Engagement - Because this space is one-dimensional and it can easily be used to dehumanize myself and others I do not argue or debate on this platform. I would be happy to engage in conversation over direct-message, email, or phone call for those who are not in town. If you are in town I rather have a conversation over a cup of coffee. I read, listen, and watch widely so just because I share something does not mean that I am in 100% agreement with what is shared — I don’t think I am ever 100% in agreement even with myself.
Community - I believe that we can disagree and still be in community with one another in person and through social media.
Non-Violence - Since it bears my image and name I will not allow any post (including comments) that dehumanize another. This includes — but it is not limited to — anything racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, etc. I will delete any post, comment, or share that I deem dehumanizing.
Responsibility - The content that I share is mine and does not reflect the opinions, positions, and/or stances of my family, current or former congregations, and judicatories unless shared from their social media pages. I am thankful for my circles of accountability: my spiritual director, my spouse and brother, my small covenant partners, and my senior pastor.
Discernment - Since so much happens in the world and it happens quickly I often will not immediately post about it — I take it to prayer, I take it to conversations with close confidants, and often dig a bit deeper about what is happening. Just because I do not comment on it does not mean I do not care or do not see it as important. Often I am merely trying to discern what the best response is and sometimes the best response is in incarnate community followed by a social media post and at other times the best response is indeed silence.
Humility - I will change my mind - my thoughts, ways of being, behaviors, and positions continue to be shaped by my life in God alongside other creatures. I am not who I was a decade ago and my hope is that in another decade I am a more loving, kind, compassionate, present person than I am today. Integrity and so called authenticity (this term in itself deserves its own conversation) does not mean being the same but on the contrary a willingness to be transformed over time and continue a process of being a more integrated, whole, healed, interdependent human. (Here I’m thankful for Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy who sparked this thought in me)
Presence - My primary place is the community that I have vowed to live life with my family (and here I do not mean just blood relations but the network of kinship — a network of relationships that sustains, shares resources, and is present to one another), followed by the community that I pastor and the neighborhood/city that I live in.
It is my hope that these social media spaces that bear my name and likeness become places of inspiration, healing, and connection. Though I know I have and will mess it up, I will fail to live up to my own expectations, I hope to model the behavior that I outline here. I hope that all who stop by can stay connected with me but more importantly are inspired to find community in and where they are, communities of solidarity, inspiration, connection, love, and justice.
As you know we've embarked in a new adventure. The way here has been filled with Spirit moments, seeded in an angst that is hard to describe but blooming in the fertile ground of the layers of soil, the organic material of the last few decades. Each layer with its fruitfulness and fitfulness, each layer with its signs of life and its signs of death, each layer important for blooming to take place.
I thought about you often during the discernment. As you know more than once I appealed to the saints, asking for wisdom, clarity, and intercession. More than once I could see you with Abuelo, my Abuela Yia, and Abuela Lico who joined the great company in February. Though there have been the difficult moments I could feel you all's presence, wisdom, and love. You all faithfully supporting and helping me awaken to joy.
In each new place you show up in interesting ways. This past Sunday as I preached my first sermon to the people called First-Plymouth a few folks asked me about my SpiritStirrer tattoo. I smiled and said that I would share that story with them soon. I'm still at this work thanks to you. In the last few years I've been reminded often of what the Spirit told me the fateful day of your leaving: I've been called to this work. The Spirit continued calling, even through my kicking and screaming!
The last year has been a year of pandemic. A year that has made all of us reconsider what matters most. This last year has reminded me of the importance of community, of deep and intimate community, of the kind of community that we experienced in such an incarnate way around your leaving. That kind of community is messy and complicated, filled with the joys and pains of being human. It is also the kind of community that shapes us over time into a more faithful humanity. A humanity that reflects God in more incarnate ways.
So part of the new adventure was born in a desire to live more deeply in community. This requires us to root, to live life in a place, to invest in it over time and to do so among a people. This I recognize is part of what Teilhard de Chardin called the "slow work of God." This work will bring much joy, but as we learned fourteen years ago it will also bring heartbreak. We are ready again, we have experienced it a number of times in the last fourteen years and now we have decided to make that reality even more visible. We have chosen to root for the long haul, in a neighborhood of our choosing, in a community of faith committed to loving all people and to the practice of justice.
Fourteen years ago for a moment I experienced such hopelessness and loss. It turned out that the divine redeemed it and that moment propelled us into an adventure that is still surprising us, still humbling us, and still inspiring us to stay the course in communal life. The layer of death in our soil a key part of the blooming that is happening as we speak. You still companioning me, reminding me that I am one who pastors. I still miss you . . .
"Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.”
St. Oscar Romero
“I believe in a church that is a sign of the presence of God’s love in the world, where men and women extend their hands and encounter one another as sisters and brothers.”
St. Oscar Romero
Since I can remember I’ve strived to be a peacemaker. For me this meant a certain discomfort with conflict, a desire for people to come together, I thought with right words I could “convince” people to find middle ground. It should not surprise you that I was an early talker, who was argumentative, people person, and connector.
I also loved words, written, spoken, sung, love rhymes and rhythms. I could legitimately be called a romantic, idealist, a realistic radical. I believe that words and sounds can help us connect, can open our imaginations, and pave a pathway for peace. Not an empty, half-hearted peace. Not a peace rooted in injustice, denial of reality, nor passive-aggressive apathy, but one rooted in robust reflection, intentional engagement, and gospel life.
My call to pastoral life was rooted in my call to be a peace-maker, reconciler, and justice-seeker. I believed that the Church was the institution uniquely suited, empowered, and birthed for such reconciling work. Our encounter with Jesus, love incarnate, the ideal starting point, our original-meaning making-life transforming myth, the Gospel, the best words for a hungry and needy world.
This last year has been an exercise in discovery, reclaiming, and conversion.
As an idealist I was bitter and angry that my pastoral leadership had not born the fruit of my vision of the good news of Jesus Christ. Had not become the robust community of peace, justice, and reconciliation that I imagined it could be and should be. At times it seemed like it had gone backwards. The demons of my own story creeping in, my chronic impostor syndrome, the colonialist voices of past encounters, and my generalized anxiety disorder overwhelming my horizon, further deepening my hopelessness.
From when will my help come from?
Mujerista Theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz centers conversion in “lo cotidiano” - the domestic/every day/daily life.
“Lo cotidiano, then, refers to the space—time and place—which we face daily, but it also refers to how we face it and to our way of dealing with it.”
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz “Mujerista Discourse: A Platform for Latinas’ Subjugated Knowledge” in Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latino/a Theology and Philosophy, Isasi-Diaz and Mendieta ed. (49)
So it began with paying attention to how the divine was showing up in my daily life. In the coffee cups in the morning with my spouse, in the carpool line as I waited for the kids, in the grocery list, in cooking the evening meal, in tears with those I loved I most about what we had lost, in sharing doubts about God with closest friends, in attempts to numb the anxiety and pain I felt, in showing up around font, pulpit, and table when I felt like I had nothing to give, in long cigar smokes on the porch, in middle of the night insomnia, in poetry, salsa music, and the voice of my parents, in text messages with my beloved, in conversations with parishioners about God, in the wonder of young children at the preschool, and in the surprises of the year.
At each moment conversion emerging, forgiveness present, and true-self coming to the forefront. I realized how tired I was of being angry, bitter, and defeated. I awakened to the fact that I was privileged beyond belief, and that maybe now that “my dreams” had crashed, the deity could begin the work in me. This work can be summarized simply: LOVE!
I want to be an agent of love. I want to seek peace and reconciliation because “God so loved the world.” I don’t want to hate anyone, be bitter against anyone, and I do not want to allow difference to cause me to alienate and dehumanize anyone.
So here are some commitments as I celebrate forty-two:
A commitment to the way of Jesus as “el Evangelio” - a commitment to a sermon on the mount life, to nonviolent resistance, to 1 Corinthians 13 love.
A commitment to more mindful domesticity.
A commitment to family over work.
A commitment to humanized justice.
A commitment to antiracism work rooted in “el Evangelio” - for me this means also antisexist, antihomophobic, antitransphobic, and anticolonialist.
A commitment to work against dehumanization.
A commitment to NO social media arguments and NO violent speaking of any kind against anyone (especially those that I disagree with).
A commitment to speak my truth in love and humility (but to speak it).
A commitment to holy courage.
A commitment to decolonization of Church and culture.
A commitment to a fully inclusive Church and culture.
A commitment to live simpler but more joyfully.
A commitment to conciliar leadership - more wisdom in the body than any individual.
A commitment to rooted pastoral life in and among “el pueblo” - the people - not the “church” people but ALL people.
A commitment to sabbath keeping.
A commitment to questions, listening, and working “en conjunto.”
A commitment to more reflection in my native tongue — reading, writing, and listening.
A commitment to lifting up more female, brown, black, and LGBTQi+ voices.
A commitment to humility that leads to constant conversion.
A commitment to seeing the divine in the unexpected.
I am thankful for the communities that have been the “school for conversion” in the last year:
Shannon, Seth, Isabelle, and Lucas - my domestic partners, kin, blood, and closest neighbors whose love has been converting, healing, and transformative.
Family (blood and chosen) who have encouraged, listened, inspired, made me laugh, challenged, heard my confessions and reminded me that I am forgiven.
Houma First that in spite of my continued ambivalence, struggle, and love/hate relationship with the “church” have welcomed, loved, and encouraged my pastoral life.
Collaborative Inquiry Team whose companioning has brought much joy, love, awakening, hope, and acceptance.
I can understand why it might seem like the end of time is near. So much is happening around us, every day brings a new surprise, and it seems like the entire world is walking on eggshells. The entire world filled with angst about the worst possible outcome coming true, a nightmare becoming reality.
I get it.
At your leaving Isabelle was only three months old. Now she is a full fledge teenager and the other little ones at your leaving are even older, some are young adults. They growing, living, you frozen in time for us, the dimples, smile, and the beautiful eyes of innocence, mischief, and curiosity. For years we held close to those other young ones for fear that they too would take their leave. We filled with angst that the worst possible outcome might come true, a nightmare becoming reality.
I get it.
As you know I find myself perpetually frustrated with the church. It has been a love/hate relationship for a long time. It started when I awakened to the reality that my understanding of it was not everyone’s, when it failed to lift me up, and worst the times it did not want me for who I was. I’ve tried to leave it more times than I can count, tried to tell myself that I need to move on, that it is not worth it, that it will continue to fail me and others. I constantly filled with angst about the worst possible outcome coming true, a nightmare becoming reality.
I get it.
You died and it sucked. It rocked my world, my theology, my knowledge, my identity, my hopes and dreams for the future, and my call (and not just to pastoral ministry but to being a dad, husband, friend). The grief in your parents eyes—a grief never erased, merely softened by the wear of time, like an old scar—reminding me of how fickle, frail, and fitful this life is.
I get it . . . and yet.
Walking on eggshells is no way to live. A worst possible outcome might not be the worst. Nightmares do become reality more often than we care to know. Losing is part and parcel of what it means to live. Dying is the only way to new life.
We carry on broken, yet mended scarred yet healed; Dying yet living; Anxious yet hopeful; For the works of hope are bearing fruit around us.
Children becoming young men and women, Inner Circles becoming the body of Jesus. Death an invitation, To live differently, As one who is dying.
I’m still trying to get it. Thank you for being a companion along the way. I miss you!