Reading I Have Some Things To Tell You reminded me why letters make up such a large portion of the New Testament. Pastoral letters are ways to expound on the preaching life, ways to explain, struggle with, and communicate to God’s people. Letters help all us slow down and take it in, reflect on it, and use it into the future. In the same way I Have Some Things To Tell You invites us into a conversation and like other pastoral letters it is both contextual and universal. The realities that Smith describes in her context are the realities to many (if not most) other congregation-pastor relationships. Her courage in expressing those struggles encourages other communities and other pastors.

At the cornerstone of Smith’s intimate correspondence is God’s grace. This grace is at work in the messiness of life, in the difficult intersection between personal relationship and our relationship to God, in the complicated nature of pastoral relationships, and in the acknowledgement that pastors, like all other followers of Jesus, are people in desperate need of divine grace.

In the midst of the poetic prose and the narrative poetry she challenges. She reminds us of the importance of being the body of Jesus in the world. In the midst of pandemic she does not shy away from the edgy Gospel that she has been called to proclaim to God’s people — among the people that she serves and among the people that are reading.

“Easter invites us to take a hard look in the mirror and see how we contribute to the very systems that got Jesus killed. Sometimes it’s easier to point out those who denied Jesus instead of owning the truth that if we were there, we might have faded into the crowd as well. God’s dream is for us all to move from death to life.”
Jenny Smith in I Have Some Things To Tell You

I am thankful that Jenny Smith has written such a pastoral letter. You have challenged, modeled transparency, and have inspired all of us who read to pay attention to grace in the mess. I am thankful that she has practiced confession in redeeming ways and has invited all of us to the joy of repentance and beginning again. For this pastor I am most thankful that you have called me to have the courage to open myself to the people that God has given me to serve alongside.

Who knows maybe as we open our hearts and minds to what God is doing among us we might experience a little bit of heaven right here on earth. We might become the body that the Spirit is calling us to be!

In this season of social distancing I’ve been teaching a bible study on the Gospel according to Mark. The Zoom experience has provided much needed community and an opportunity to learn more and feel connected as a congregation.

Any time I go back and dig into the gospels I am reminded why I call myself a follower of Jesus. It also reminds how deeply my sense of meaning has been shaped by the Christian story — not the Christendom story and not even the Christianity story — the transcendent exists, its primary character is wholeness (shalom) expressed in loving-kindness, it became incarnate to show us what the divine looked like and that it was obvious that God’s image lives in all humanity, shalom though loving-kindness was once again rejected by our bent to want to be god, the divine showing solidarity with all those who die everyday due to humanity’s bent, as it turns out death could not, is not, and will not have the last say, resurrection becoming an act of revolution against the forces of sin and death.

The divine made flesh leaves us in community, grafted, branched, kinned, as we surrender to having our hearts and life changed, restored, healed, converted.

This meaning making myth, this encounter with the divine life, this experience of the sacredness of community continues to speak, shape, inspire, and move me.

As I was taking my run today I found myself in the front of our sanctuary. It’s structure massive, beautiful, and empty. At the same time a helpful reminder of our rootedness in this community, of our belonging to it.

I passed by the sanctuary campus but I also ran around our neighborhood. I saw people working on their yards, young people exercising, folks in their porches, dads and children playing basketball, and friends taking a walk together. The houses around us a variety of colors, styles, but also in a variety of conditions, the neighborhood quickly changing from manicured lawns to cluttered patches of grass, from tidy decorations to scattered pieces of life.

The Spirit all around, the human needs the same, the meaning making myth still needed, and the need for encounter, belonging, and community as raw and real as ever.

I am unsure of what the future will bring but post pandemic I have a hunch that we will have an opportunity to tell the great story in ways that speak to the loneliness, disconnection, and disenchantment that we all feel. We’ll tell it mostly by our lives, but also by the arts — music, painting, graphics, stories — and by the ways we practice being healers in the world.

I am still running. I am still thinking, reflecting, wondering. I am still passionate about what it means to follow Jesus, to be grafted to his body called the church, and to be an agent of wholeness through loving-kindness in this place where I live, work, and play.

Oh . . . And I’m glad to continue living life pastoring . . .

December 30, 2019
Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

(And maybe more since I have not used Twitter in almost 2 years and will not be very active on Instagram.)

I still remember an article on UM Communications about the emergence of social media. It was 2007 and I was an associate pastor at a mid-size congregation in the middle of Louisiana.

Though I am a social person I had resisted the pull of MySpace and Facebook but after reading the article I thought it was worth a try.

It has been an interesting, frustrating, and rewarding journey to this point. But now it is time for sabbath and I am purposely taking it on an election and General Conference year.

I am thankful for those who will continue to use these important tools to speak their minds, to connect with friends and strangers, and to raise awareness of the many things that still need changing. I am also thankful for the many ways that these tools inspire and allow us to keep up with people from the spectrum of our lives.

So what do I plan to do during this modified social media sabbatical?

I’ve subscribed to a few newspapers and magazines, I’ll read favorite blogs, take book recommendations, and listen to favorite and new podcasts — all to keep up with all that interest me.

I plan to keep on writing in this space and hopefully more often. (So if you don’t want to miss a post make sure you subscribe!)

I’ll go to dinner with folks and hear stories, take a daily run to clear my head, cook dinner as often as I can, keep up with what the Spirit is doing among those whom I love most, and pay attention to what God is up to in Houma.

This same day next year, I’ll discern if it time to re-engage, maybe on MeWe instead of Facebook, maybe on another platform.

Till then you can find me here, on email, cell phone, and even snail mail!

May 2020 be filled with joy, goodness, and much grace.

September 30, 2019
Calle Cementerio, San Juan, Puerto Rico by Stephanie Klepacki on Unsplash

I want to begin with some first things. These are very personal and because of that they provide a way to interpret my writing, past, present, and future. These are markers to my identity, many of whom I’ve had a difficult time claiming. They are also my experience, for it is the only thing that I am an expert on.

In North American parlance I am a multi-racial human. I say this very specifically ‘cause the idea never crossed my mind until that first encounter in a U.S. High School. It quickly became apparent that there were sides based on skin color and identity. It would take me years to realize that it was more than that!

I, like all Puertoricans—whether they claim it or not—am the descendant of African Slaves, Indigenous People called Taino’s, and Spanish colonizers. I grew up in a mestizo and mulatto environment whose primary prejudices were rooted not in the color of one’s skin, one’s physical characteristics, nor ways of speaking, but on class. (I would say that colorism is an affliction in the Caribbean as it is in the United States)

I am the grandson of a woman who was not married to the man who is my grandfather. I am the son of a couple who did not planned for me to be in the world and who found themselves getting married once they knew I was coming and who divorced once my children came. I am the descendant of a people who have for generations struggled with what you call today “mental illness.”

My dad with my Abuela and his siblings.

I am a first generation migrant to the U.S. This means that I am still accented and will always be. This accented identity makes me other even in places when my physical characteristics and/or skin color do not register my otherness.

Though I am fully fluent in both English and Spanish, it is Spanish that shapes my soul, thinking, and imagination. It’s rhythms and syntax run through my veins and its vocabulary gives meaning to all things—including how I think about God. There are moments that I miss hearing it so much that I speak to myself out loud in Spanish. As I have gotten older I hear bits of my father as I speak . . . I then know that home is not so far.

I am a Latinx person married to a white woman in the southern United States. This has been a particularly interesting dynamic at times and not just for me but for my spouse who chose to follow southern white U.S. tradition of taking my surname after our wedding. When our youngest was born white, bleach blond, and light eyed some folks thought it would be humorous to question my paternity of said child.

My experiences with prejudice, white supremacy, and racism though real do not even come close to the experiences of African Americans in their own land.

I have chosen to be in the United States the way that any colonized person chooses. The choice shaped by 120 years of colonizing influence, speech, propaganda, narrative, selective history, and self defeating thoughts. When I hear that if I don’t like something I can just “go back to where I came from,” or when I speak Spanish “to stop speaking that non-American language.” I am reminded again and again of how weak the choice has been and yet how codependent Colonialism makes us.

Mother and my Abuelos

I am a Christian by culture and by formation—not by choice. Again though I do continue to live into the way of Jesus it would be dishonest to claim that somehow there were other options. In Puerto Rico the colonizer’s religion was the only choice, strengthened by mass baptisms of my Taino and African ancestors by the sword and by mass Anti-Catholicism and calls to conversion by the U.S. Protestants who split the island into denominational territories so that all Protestant denominations would have a piece of the new found “mission field.” I have seen the Risen Lord, but I also recognize that Christianity as I have experienced it is truly the Colonizer’s Religion (Frederick Douglass coined the term Slaveholder Religion that roots my own use of the term).

I am a United Methodist because after 20 years in an evangelical neo-fundamentalist tradition I was ready for a freeing denominational home. Little did I know at the time that though it provided a freeing of the imagination as it related to women in ministry and to a more open biblical hermeneutic that in the end as a 90%+ White denomination it would not, did not, and could not see me for who I was, and it could not free me. In fact like my ancestors before me I ended up bound again, just in a different way, under a different set of understandings.

I grew up with a call to justice. One that seemed imprinted in the ways my family of origin talked. One that I grew up seeing as rooted in the Gospels and in the entire biblical witness. This was no politically “liberal” understanding for I first experienced it in the evangelical, conservative, neo-colonialist, and fundamentalist tradition of my early upbringing in Puerto Rico. This understanding of justice as key to being human and being Christian was messy, imperfect, loud, and at times filled with conflict but it had an edge, a fighting spirit, a deep commitment to “la lucha” (the struggle, though English does not do the word justice) and to the reality of being “jodio” another important word that means “fucked” though again I don’t think English does the word justice either. For a good treatment of “jodio” and “joder” for an English speaking audience see the work of Miguel de la Torre.

I believe that leadership should be exercise “en conjunto,” that only in community, through conciliar leadership can communities and institutions truly serve the common good. I believe that in Latin America we know the dangers of the solo-male leader but continually ignore it and that to our own peril. This last thing reminds me that white supremacy and patriarchy are linked and we must pay attention to that.

I am not a victim though I have been victimized. I recognize the agency I have, but I also know the experiences that I have had—the realities of being me in the world and in the church—so I also must speak, using the privilege that I have (See below) and help awaken our communal consciousness, especially in the church whose primary claim is a God who is love, whose character is loving kindness, and whose exercise of power was limiting so that we could know this God in our “flesh.” 

Finally I am Male, Cisgender, bilingual human with and more privilege than many of my other Latinx, black, LGBTQI, and female siblings.

In other words even though I live “en la lucha,” and “jodio,” even though I do have the scars of being an accented, brown, stranger in a strange land, I am still ahead of so many marginalized people’s in our world. This reality humbles me, grounds, me and fuels me. It also calls me to no longer be silent about these things that matter!

I fell in love with the Benedictus—the Canticle of Zechariah—when I began praying Morning Prayer my senior year in College. Every morning and now all these years later I can say it from my soul. There was something powerful about beginning my day by reminding myself why a savior came, why the promise was fulfilled, and why that promise is still real and being fulfilled today.

Over the years different verses in the amazing prayer have guided me and helped me through difficult times. “That he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us,” “you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,” and “to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” And today, “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

About 25 years ago our family was in the middle of a mess. We were in a town that did not want us—mostly because of our ethnicity—and the High School that I was attending was not kind. What made it more difficult for me was that unlike the previous times, it was not only the students who struggled to make it a pleasant experience for the newcomer, it was also the teachers. I was told in no uncertain terms by one of them that I “would not amount to much.”

My English was not the best at the time, my accent thick, we moved in the middle of a school year and so I was having trouble catching up, settling in, and finding my way. I tried hard to “deal,” “push through,” and “make the best of it.” Yet I would arrive home and weep almost every day, my soul shrinking inside. I would pray, too . . . But it seemed for so long that the prayers would just bounce of the ceiling.

Then an evangelist came who was visiting the prison my father worked at. He came by the house for dinner and then asked to pray for us. We gathered in a circle in a living room and he began to pray. As he prayed he stood in front of each of us, speaking a word of the Lord. It turns out that all of us were struggling. The obvious lack of hospitality in this small town was creeping into our psyche, shrinking our souls. Doubt was taking over and the evil of racism and white supremacy was constantly breathing down our necks.

As he stood before me he said “God knows that you feel unheard, that your weeping has gone ignored, know that God has heard, and will free you, and some day use you with power in ways that you cannot imagine now.”

I think that was the day. There were many other struggles after that but that day was key to my call as a prophet, pastor, teacher, and good news teller. Weeping did not turn into dancing fast, and I left the pathway of my call for a season after that, but overall it clarified something. I’ve been shaped, formed, called, empowered, and gifted for the work of justice, reconciliation, and peace making. For the work of the gospel as I have received them in scripture and in life.

My feet guided into the way of peace . . . And it turns out that God has been up to this since the beginning of time.

I say all of this because I have continued preparing for the new season in my life that my forties have brought. A season that is more true to whom God has created me to be but also a season of leaning into a more whole second half of life. One rooted in the ways that I’ve been uniquely shaped, in the relationships that strengthened that life, and in giving back in the most real ways.

I recently set up a Facebook page for myself. I have resisted that for years but I finally realized that it brought some freedoms. It gave some folks the opportunity to follow my family’s journey, including our shared commitments to the work of justice and reconciliation. And for those who would rather not hear about that stuff, they can follow my professional page which for now will be filled with non-controversial, inspirational, and church related stuff. If you want fiery me, stay on my personal feed, if not, then my professional page is for you.

Now I will warn you that this blog will be fiery. Soon I will begin musing about colonialism, white supremacy, Puerto Rican identity, and the ways that the church should be this kind of community. I will also be updating you on my work with Project Curate and our grant on shaping justice seeking communities (and who knows what might be up our sleeves). There will also continue to be musings on my pastoral life in a tradition that still struggles to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in WHATEVER form it presents itself.” (Emphasis mine)

I cannot wait to keep you in the loop on my attempts at walking in the way of peace!

P.S. Having this open conversation about these things as a local church pastor is dangerous, especially for pastors who belong to minority communities. I have learned this and experienced this. In this season, I think that silence is the evil that I seek to avoid . . . Pray for me and for all who work for justice in all places. Let us remember that we can be followers of Jesus and disagree.