Monday, September 14, 2020

Claude "Lee" Farrester (1953-2020)

Claude “Lee” Farrester was born in sunny Corona, California on September 8, 1953 to parents Claude & Dorothy (Hinds) Farrester, the oldest of three children.  Lee graduated from Imbler High School in Imbler, Oregon in 1971 with a dream of becoming a police officer.  He worked a variety of jobs to support his family while pursuing that dream, including reserving with the Union County Sheriff’s department.  In 1987, Lee graduated from what was then Eastern Oregon State College with a degree focused on criminal justice and worked as a juvenile probation tracker before finally realizing his dream of working full time in law enforcement.  

Lee began his career with the Elgin Police Department, then served the Union Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Toledo Police Department, Oregon Department of Corrections, Pilot Rock Police Department, Madras Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. In 2002, Lee was sworn in as the Chief of Police for the Culver Police Department. He served the citizens of Culver with honor and dedication, and was well-respected.

In March 2005 while on duty pursuing a high speed vehicle, Lee’s police car was struck by a semi-truck.  He was ejected from the vehicle and sustained life-threatening injuries. Even after making a remarkable recovery, Lee’s injuries were severe enough that he was disabled from active duty and unable to return to work.  Lee officially retired from the Culver Police Department in December 2005.

Lee turned his attention to his other great passion--his faith in God--and for the last 15 years was an active member of Metolius Friends Church. He served as an elder, visited church members, participated in missions work, and taught Bible Study.  Lee was a beloved member of his church and his absence has been felt deeply.  

In church, the community and especially his family, Lee was always ready to lend a helping hand. He was kind, loyal and had a great sense of humor, and never turned down a cup of coffee and conversation.  He loved butter pecan ice cream, animals, cooking, trips to the mountains and anything outdoors related, real life police shows, movies about police work, and televised church services. Above all, Lee loved God, his country, and his family.

Lee was called to heaven March 23, 2020 in Madras, Oregon.  He is survived by his wife, Fawn Farrester;  four children, Rebecca (Bryan) Farrester-Milligan, Jacob (Brenda) Farrester, Travis Farrester, and Kristen Farrester; three grandchildren: Bradley, Ashlee and Lane Farrester; his parents Dorothy Hinds and Claude (Brenda) Farrester; his brother, Dan (Samantha) Farrester of the Madras Police Department; and several nephews, nieces, and cousins.  He was preceded in death by his sister, Donna Lynette Van Horn March 5, 1990. Though dearly missed by all, Lee’s family is grateful for the years they had with him and proud of his constant and faithful service to his community. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

5 years later...

Today is a wonderful, yet bittersweet, day.

5 years ago today, I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. It was a day full of joy, culmination, and anticipation. I had just been appointed to my first church as the lead pastor, which would begin soon. It had been a long journey full of hard work and I was ready for what came next. I am still so grateful for those with whom I shared that journey and those who supported me along the way.
I will always remember how tangibly I experienced God’s Spirit when my Bishop placed her hands on my head, called me by name, and instructed me to take my authority. I took seriously that ordination and truly meant the vows I took, though even then I felt the tension between my commitment to uphold the Book of Discipline, and my baptismal promise to resist evil and oppression in whatever form they would present. My heart spoke clearly to me that if I ever had to choose between the two, I would always choose love and would do all in my power to resist evil and fight for justice. Five years later, so much has changed, though my conviction to choose love at all costs has only strengthened.
Yesterday, the clergy session of the Oregon/Idaho Annual conference voted to welcome me as a member in full connection of the Oregon/Idaho conference. It was wonderful and full of joy! I have come full circle, back to where my faith was nurtured and where I first experienced a call to ministry. I was surrounded by colleagues I have grown to love, trust, respect and call friends. I have loved being in ministry with them and am so excited to continue this work together.
Yet, there was sadness too. It means a long chapter in my life and ministry has closed, as I officially say goodbye to Michigan. Though I know that because we are a connectional church, I will stay connected to my friends and mentors in the Michigan area. I still realize the gravity of this shift in my life--and this change is a reminder of the other painful, unexpected changes in my life this last two years, pain that has shaped me in ways I never anticipated. I have made so many mistakes, thinking my way was the right way, trying to move quickly through a grieving process for which there is no time schedule or easy path. For those left behind as our roads have forked in different ways, I am thankful, and they remain with me, a handprint on my heart and an invaluable part of my journey. For those I have hurt as I have been consumed by my own brokenness, I am sorry and carry many regrets. But, I am grateful for the things I have learned and the grace I’ve found along the way.
At the same time, along with all of this, I feel great anxiety about the church as a whole and I am worried about the future and our continued mission in the world. I mourn the harm the church continues to do to people who are queer, people of color, and people still on the margins, and own my complicity in that harm. I wonder if -and often doubt- there is any relevance left in the institution to which I have committed so much of myself and my life. I wonder if my persistence and tenacity in leading through these uncertain times this broken, crumbling, and too often oppressive system means that I myself am a perpetrator of harm.
Still… I remember with clarity and passion the promises I made along the way in this journey: when I was 7 and claimed Christ as my own, when I was 14 at church camp and first realized a call to ministry, when the words of John Wesley and his message of holiness of heart and life led me to choose membership in the United Methodist Church, and, five years ago, when I knelt before the bishop and was ordained-. I promised to love, to preach the gospel, cast vision, administer the sacraments, teach, care, serve, speak on behalf of those who are silenced, stand for those who have been pushed to the margins, to use the power of my ordination and privilege to fight against racism, sexism, violence, hate, homophobia and all aspects broken, stormy systems--even ones that are within my beloved church. To those vows, I am still fiercely committed. Even as the institutional church swiftly crumbles around me and loses its power, relevancy and, even, its integrity, I believe the love of an inclusive, creative, universal, gracious creator, known by many names, is still powerfully relevant.
I am humbled and grateful for my ordination and the way it shapes my life and my heart and my ministry. I will do my best to choose love as I walk the stormy path to which Christ has called me as I move through stormy waters. I will continue to work towards love, inclusivity, justice and peace. Whether that journey will remain in the church or draw me closer to the margins, I will listen, pay attention, go, and, always, love, as long as I am able.
It has been a long, winding, joy- and sorrowful five years. Thank you to all who continue on this journey with me... for your love, support, your willingness to hold em accountable and for your belief in the dreams of my heart. I am grateful to you beyond words, and always will be.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Visiting Buchenwald

I was 12 when first read The Diary of Anne Frank. It was my introduction to the horror of the Holocaust and my first glimpse into the darkness of the human spirit, of how creatures capable of such beauty and love and creativity could also be capable of insurmountable evil and destruction. I read with great anticipation of a happy ending, expecting this teenager who was much like me eventually to escape the secret annex to find her world again at peace, a world in which she could grow up and chase her dreams. The ending broke my heart. I was devastated to realize that this was no fairy tale and that Anne's legacy was birthed from the tragedy of her death, not from the uniqueness of her life.    

A student of history who read everything I could find about World War II, I attempted to carry with me the story of Anne and people like her as I studied the war and the Holocaust, determined not to lose sight of the staggering human cost in the overwhelming statistical data. I struggled to comprehend numerical values like 6 million Jewish people killed by the Nazi party's "Final Solution," so I concentrated on the experiences of ordinary people-the loss, terror, heartbreak, and-sometimes-incredible acts of bravery and courage.  By the time I visited the Holocaust museum in Detroit, Michigan with my step daughter's seventh grade class, I thought I had at least a small grasp of the enormity of loss and destruction.

I carried all of these thoughts and experiences with me on my visit to the Buchenwald Camp Memorial.  Before the Nazis took power, Weimar was home to the German poets Schiller and Goethe, as well as the birthplace of the Weimar Republic, German constitutional democracy. Driving through a thick forest on Blutstrasse, which means "blood street," it was easy to see why this had this area had also been a popular recreation area for the people of Weimar before the war. It was a lovely drive. I even told my friends that I felt guilty for appreciating the sunny beauty of this place when it had such a dark past.

We arrived at the camp and picked up our audio-tour-guides, then walked down a path towards the reconstructed buildings where the Nazi police were headquartered and the camp records were kept. The pre-recorded voice said that the name Buchenwald would eventually become synonymous with the Third Reich's crimes against humanity.  Here political opponents, Jews, Gypsies and Roma, were persecuted, along with those considered "non-residents" of the German "Volksk├Ârper": homosexuals, homeless people, Jehovah's Witnesses and convicts. I felt like a tourist on a museum tour, automatically following the map down a marked path and trying to connect what I knew from my education to what the voice was saying over my headphones.

But as we approached the simple entrance to the main gate marked with "jedem das seine” (you get what you deserve), I was overwhelmed by emotions for which I was not prepared. Just outside the gate inside the wall was the jail. The door was open and the sign said “eingang” (entrance). I did not want to walk through the cell block where the SS carried out the worst cases of torture with a motto "continue until confession" -  73 years later I could still feel fear and agony and desperation hanging in the air - but I also could not come this far and not go in. I tried to walk silently, so I did not understand why people around me were talking and laughing. As a pastor I have officited many funerals and the sadness I felt here in this place was deeper than at any of those services, yet people who would never laugh then, laughed now.

The tour-guide over my headset talked about the unimaginable cruelty that had happened in these cells.  The SS tortured people for intel, though what kind of information they wanted the voice did not say and I could not imagine.  I paused outside each metal cell door and looked inside the small window. There were pictures on the back walls of the people who had spent the last hours of their lives here. The placards were in German so I could not read about their lives or discern the reason they had been imprisoned. But, I paused long enough to read each name and honor them with a moment of my own deep sorrow.  When I left the row of cells, I carried a deep feeling of loss and a profound sense of guilt, both for the vitality of my own life, the fact that I live while so many people died here unjustly, and also for my own humanness and culpability in social brokenness, knowing we all have light and dark, good and evil, within each of us. What we choose to act on is who we become. How easy it is for some of us to choose the darkness over the light.  

I went through the gate to the camp and walked slowly through the memorial, listening to the audio-guide talk about the inmate’s canteen, which served more as a reminder of everything they had lost than a store, and about the rows and rows of black rocks marking where the prisoners’ living blocks used to stand. I walked by the now crumbled SS zoo, the most infamous part of which was a bear pit, which served as “needed entertainment,” according to its creator, for the SS officers and prison guards and their families.  I learned about the execution station, designed so the killer could avoid looking in the eyes of the one he was murdering. Prisoners, most notably Soviet prisoners of war, would be forced to stand against a wall and were told they were receiving a medical exam, but instead were shot at the base of skull through a hole in the wall. I walked through the empty depot that used to hold prisoner clothing and other supplies, and through the sanitation building, which now displays artwork by former inmates of the camp. I looked at every photograph and read the signs, most of which included an English translation.  I listened to information about the medical experimentation center, but did not walk down the hill to see it. I could not fathom actual medical doctors who could be willing to misuse their training so cruelly that they would inject contaminated blood into healthy people to see how they would react as they became ill. I was overwhelmed by tragedy at every stop. Yet, in the midst of painful stories and copious amounts of historical data, I also heard about how people found hope in the midst of horror, forged friendships, made sacrifices for each other, and still held onto shreds of hope and bits of their faith.

I cried twice. The first was just after entering the gate. I skipped ahead to the 25th segment, because although it was intended to be the end of the tour, its placard was right next to me and I wanted to hear it now before I ran out of time. This section was about the day of liberation, when the American troops took command of the camp.  Liberation was on April 11, 1945-the hands on the clocktower are permanently set to 3:15, the time of liberation. The inmates erected a tall wooden memorial near the main gate, and though it no longer stands, its four corners are marked by metal forms. When they were rescued, the 21,000 inmates who remained swore that they would eradicate Nazism and build a new world of peace and freedom.  As one man reflected, “For one short hour of the world, one might have thought things were fundamentally different.”

His words crushed me and brought me to tears. I thought about the world of today and all that is happening in my own country. I thought about egregious human rights violations (families ripped apart by deportation and by detainment at the border, children separated from their parents, some of them put into American foster homes with a slim chance of ever being reunited with their families, people suffering violence because of their sexual identity, those experiencing hate and persecution because they are Muslim or a part of another non-Christian faith group, homeless people kicked out of public spaces with no other place to go).  I thought about the Trump administration’s criticism of the media, shutting down the free press and favoring censored, sensationalist news stories. I thought about humanity sacrificed for money, and the corruption that is bred by power. And then I thought about how all of these things so characteristic of Trump’s America look so much like Hitler’s Germany. Though the world is a different place, the hate and evil that breeds this kind of dehumanizing behavior and oppressive rule is still very much a part of human society. The world is not fundamentally different than it was 73 years ago, and that in itself is heartbreaking. How could we as a global community experience something like the Holocaust, experiencing the very worst of which the human spirit is capable, and still treat other humans with such contempt and degradation?  This in itself is unfathomable to me, yet, it is the world in which we live.

The second time I cried was at the crematorium. The sign at the entrance requested silence as many consider the crematorium a gravesite to the people whose bodies were burned here.  This was another place I did not want to visit, something else I did not want to see. But I walked through the building anyway, through the room where gold fillings were removed from the teeth of the murder victims, where inspections were done and fake causes of death were recorded on official records.

I avoided looking at the photographs of piles of corpses that hung on the wall, and focused instead on the candles and memorial plaques and symbolic urns that represented lives lost, before walking up the short staircase to where the actual crematorium was. The ovens had pits beneath them, a large cellar dug out below so that bodies could be burned continuously without ceasing.  The voice over my headset said 400 to 500 bodies were burned here every day at the height of the war, and that although the chimney towered above everything else in the area, it was the smoke that would remain always in the inmates’ memories.

I stayed in that room for about 20 seconds, which was about 20 seconds longer than I could handle. I walked down the steps and back outside, around the far side of the building, vomited, and cried. I was grateful that my stomach was mostly empty and that there was no one else around to see me. I was overwhelmed by feelings of grief for a past that was not my own and people I had never met. I wondered again how human beings could be capable of such systematic cruelty towards other human beings. I thought about my own faith and the faith of these people and wondered why God abandoned God’s most beloved creatures in an indescribable hell they did not deserve.

There was a break in the fence that led past a guard tower, and just outside a path lined with stories about the history of Weimar in the centuries before everything here went to hell. I walked down it a few hundred meters to give myself time for composure. I thought about the people who lived in Weimar during the years that the camp was active. Couldn't they smell the smoke from burning corpses? Didn't they have friends or colleagues who were Jewish, or any of the other categories the Nazis considered less than human or enemies of the state? Did they know what was happening and ignore it, or were they really blind to the atrocities that were happening just up the hill from their city? I was angry that a place like this could even have existed without people rising up against it.

Then I thought about my own country and my fellow American citizens. So many times I have heard those who are more conservative than I am, people who support Donald Trump and his policies, use nationalistic, discriminatory, racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic terms to talk about how the people who look and think like they do have more rights to life, freedom, happiness, and opportunity than those they clearly believe to be inferior and, even if they don't say it out loud, obviously consider to be less than human. Some of the people who hold these beliefs are people I have always known to be decent, kind, respectful human beings, friends and even members of my own family.  It is so hard to reconcile their actions with the people I know them to be.

But even more telling than this is how even I have responded to the growing spirit of injustice and prejudice in my country. How often have I in the past two years watched as my own government has eroded, sometimes subtly and sometimes quite overtly, the human rights of people in my own neighborhood, and done nothing? And even when in my outrage I have spoken out against the evil acts of the president and his administration, I have done so within the comfort of my own freedom and safety, sad and angry but incapable of affecting actual change, and willing at least subconsciously to risk only so much.

So, maybe my judgement of the German people is unfounded, uninformed, and unfair. I have no idea how I would have responded, or how easily I might have shrugged off the things I didn't understand as political actions that did not affect me.  I have no idea what it is like to live in fear of my own safety or to worry about losing my own freedom. I cannot judge a people I have never met when I never walked in their shoes.

Still, I think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who fought violently against the Nazi war machine. He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” This is the motto by which I strive to live. This is the way I want to create my own legacy.  When I turned to walk back up the path and back into the barbwire-protected camp, I thought about how I need to stop hiding behind the comfort and safety with which the privilege of my race, citizenship and education provide me, and use that privilege to speak and act on behalf of others-those experiencing persecution, deportation, discrimination, and abuse because of any of their human qualities, for, as Bonhoeffer also said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” I am good at handing out the bandages; now, I must attack the wheel.

I was silent most of the end of the tour. I walked back through reconstructed buildings and by the original building that housed the SS dogs. I walked by the youth hostels where young people stay now when they visit the camp to learn about their past in order to create a better future, past the auditorium, and past the information center.  I listened to a few more clips from the audio-tour-guide, realizing that in the two and half hours we spent at Buchenwald, we saw less than half of the memorials. But my heart was thinking about what kind of world I want for me and the kids in my life. It is not enough to me to say that nothing like the holocaust will ever happen again. It has to be deeper than even that kind of promise. We need a world where borders are about diversity and beauty, not about separating the “uses” from the “thems.”  We need a world where no one is persecuted because of what they look like, where they come from, what language they speak or what they believe.

I don’t know if any of this is possible.  I am one person, and obviously, as I considered the life work of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I know that in every generation there are people born with ideals such as mine, and yet hate and fear continue to rule human society. Of course, I am not naive enough to believe that utopia is possible. But… I am hopeful enough to believe that we as human beings have it within us to be better than we are or have ever been.

As I walked back to the car on that oddly beautiful, sunny day, I knew I would never forget the things I saw or the feelings I experienced at Buchenwald.  I will always see the faces who were on the wall of the torture cells. I will always remember the agony I felt standing in that concrete crematorium full of ovens designed to burn human bodies. I will see the pain and heartbreak and unfathomable resilience of spirit represented in that depot full of artwork made by survivors of this horrendous place.  I will not be the same. But, maybe that is the legacy of this place, for me at least. My heart is more broken than it has ever been in my life, but I realize that in its brokenness I find the power and the motivation I need to continue fighting for something better, for a world that could be fundamentally different, for all people, in all places.

I remember when my favorite college professor lectured about the Holocaust in my “History of Modern Germany” class.  He said that those who escaped the hell of the concentration camps feared being forgotten. Leaving Buchenwald I knew that I would never forget, and though it is not a lot, it is the one thing I know, without a doubt, to be true.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

On Friday, the International Holocaust Day of remembrance, the entire world paused to remember those who were murdered during the Nazi regime in World War II in Germany and Eastern Europe.

At the Nuremberg trials that followed the end of World War II, many of the war criminals involved in the Holocaust were charged with Crimes against Humanity. The global community - including the United States of America - piled the blame on Germany.

They blamed Hitler, of course, and the Nazi party, but also the German people for not speaking out against a fascist government that put such horrendous plans into action.

They blamed German Christians for not standing up for a gospel that says all human life matters and forbids murder and genocide.

They blamed ordinary people for going along with the plan and not fighting back. And they vowed as a world community to never let this happen again.

But there was more culpability. It wasn’t just Germany’s fault. The whole world was to blame. Even our own country contributed to this catastrophic loss of life.

You see, as Germany began to tighten its restrictions of freedoms for its Jewish citizens, many tried to escape. As they lost basic rights, their houses and businesses, and the freedom to thrive and prosper, some Jewish families made the heart-wrenching decision to leave their homes and start over. Many fled Germany and sought asylum elsewhere. Some of them looked to the US for visas and the chance to start over in the so called land of opportunity.

But fearing an influx of foreigners during war time, and concerned that these German Jews might be Nazi spies, most people seeking entrance into the United States were refused entrance. Most notably, in June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe. Heartbreakingly, more than a quarter of those people died in the Holocaust.[1]

Among those who sought refuge in America were Otto Frank and his family, including his wife Edith, and teenaged daughters Margot and Anne.[2] Mr. Frank desperately tried to get his family to America. When he was out of other options he even reached out to his friend, Nathan Straus Jr., the son of the Macy department store founder.

Straus, along with Edith’s brothers who had already relocated to the United States, wrote affidavits on the Frank’s behalf to the state department, imploring them to grant emergency visas to allow Frank and his family entrance into the United States. But as the Frank family filed mounds of needed paperwork, immigration rules were changing — and attitudes in the United States toward immigrants from Europe were becoming increasingly suspicious.

The American government was making it harder for foreigners to get into the country — and the Nazis were making it difficult to leave. By 1941, the United States closed its borders to people from Germany and surrounding nations, even those fleeing for their lives, leaving 300,000 people waiting for visas, including Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne.

Unable to leave, like so many of their friends and neighbors, the entire Frank family went into hiding. However, they would be discovered and end up in Nazi death camps. Edith, Margot and Anne did not survive. After he was liberated, Otto discovered a diary among a pile of papers collected from their hiding space. It had been written by his daughter Anne during their time in captivity. It was later published as The Diary of Anne Frank.

On Friday, while the world was remembering people like Anne Frank and mourning again the horrors of the Holocaust, the decision was made by the powers that be to issue an order that again closed our borders to refuges, people fleeing dictatorial governments and war torn countries for their very lives.

Just like during WWII when the ban on refugees was specifically targeted at Germans, Friday’s order specifically banned immigrants from several Muslim nations. People who had sold everything, gathered their family, and fled for safety stepped off the airplane on Friday into a country that had promised hope and a new start, to be told that they were no longer welcome, essentially because of their religion.

At the same time, those same powers began planning to build a wall along the southern border of our country, in order to keep people from illegally crossing into the United States from Mexico.

Between the wall and the immigration ban policies, the message this week coming from Washington to the rest of the world was clear: STRANGERS ARE NO LONGER WELCOME HERE.

This weekend social media has published miles of opinions about what all this means and whether it is good or bad or right or wrong. But as Christians we are not called to examine these issues politically, but through the lens of faith. And from the pit of public opinion on this shift in American policy rises one question loudly and clearly: What would Jesus have us do?

What would Jesus have us do? How would Jesus respond? And how must we as followers of Jesus Christ respond to the closing of our borders and the clear mandate to turn our backs on ones who so desperately need us?

Our scripture lesson today is about a similar situation. When we read the story of Ruth, we usually focus on Ruth herself. We talk about her uncommon loyalty and the fact that she left everything she knew and loved in order to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. We celebrate Ruth’s selflessness and sacrifice, and we praise her love for and dedication to Naomi.

But sometimes overlooked in this passage is the story of Boaz.

Boaz was an upstanding, law-abiding Israelite. He knew the rules of his faith and he followed them. When he met Ruth, he knew she was a stranger, yet he opened his heart and his home to her. Boaz made sure she had plenty of grain so that she could feed herself and her mother in law. He introduced her to the other women working his fields so she might find companionship and friendship. And then, even though it was not the custom of his people to marry a foreigner, Boaz married Ruth, legitimizing her and giving her a new start, a renewed hope, and a legacy.

Ruth was, technically, an abomination. She was a Moabite and Moab was an enemy nation to Israel. The two countries competed politically and militarily. Their religions were incompatible and the Moab god was called an abomination to the Jewish faith. The people were warned to not have any relationship with the Moabites.

Boaz knew this. He understood that keeping the blood line pure was important to his people and their faith. But Boaz also knew Jewish law required him to care for the strangers amongst them. We read such laws in, for example, Leviticus 19:33-34 which reads:

When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. (CEB)

So Boaz followed his heart AND the spirit of the law. He went against popular sentiment that said nothing from Moab could be trusted, and not only did he provide Ruth with food, shelter, and kindness, but he married her, mixing bloodlines with the enemy, to give her a hope and a future.

And this decision made all the difference for Ruth and Naomi. But more than that, God also rewarded Boaz with a son—Obed. Obed would become the grandfather of King David and, of course, a Patriarch of Jesus of Nazareth. Because Boaz extended kindness to a stranger, even one who came from a distant land that was so different from his own, even one whose native religion was in contention with his own faith… because Boaz showed compassion and kindness and practiced justice… history was altered, and Jesus was the result.

As Christians, the way we respond to what is happening in our nation will tell the world a lot about who we are, about the faith we proclaim, about the Jesus we claim to follow, and about the legacy we intend to leave behind.

We have to ask ourselves that crucial question: How would Jesus respond? Thankfully, we don’t have to speculate on the answer to that question. The Gospel itself is one of welcome and equality. And scripture is full of mandates on how to treat the least of these.

In Matthew 25 Jesus is explaining that the rewards of our life’s endeavors will be based on how we care for others, how well we reach out to the needy, how well we share what we have. The king welcomes those who have fed, clothed, visited and welcomed him and he throws into the fire those who did not. In verse 44, the people say, But Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.

In Luke 10:25-37, after Jesus has said that the most important thing after loving God is loving one’s neighbor and is asked how to define neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, and how it was the foreigner just passing through who showed compassion and mercy—this was how one loves one’s neighbor. Crossing cultural and religious boundaries and risking one’s very life to heal and help and offer hope.

I mean, that’s part of the spirit behind these new orders, isn’t it? The idea that we have a right to refuse a person in need and a right to protect ourselves. And we do have a right to personal safety.

But refusing someone one in need the help they require to survive simply because we want to protect ourselves, especially when the other is in desperate need and in eminent danger, is not what Christianity is about. It’s about helping the stranger, even if it carries some risk. That’s the very point of the Good Samaritan.[3]

In John 13:35 Jesus tells us that the only way the world will see who and whose we are is by how well we love. Love. Not how loudly we proclaim we are Christians. Not by how certain we are that our beliefs are right. Not by how ardently we condemn everything we believe to be a sin. But. By. How. We. love. Love is the only measure by which we will be judged, by the world, and by God.

Even Paul speaks to the way we are supposed to care for strangers in our midst when in his letter to Galatia, chapter 3 verse 28 he writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

No Moabite or Israelite.
No Mexican or American.
No illegal immigrant or legal resident.
No Muslim refugee or Christian citizen.
No impoverished or wealthy.
No president or constituent.
In the eyes of Christ we are all the same.

As people of faith, we are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We must work for justice and peace for all people and envision a world where institutions are transformed into true servants of the people, full of the compassion exemplified by Jesus Christ.

As United Methodists, we have a particular commitment to least, the last, and the lost. Our policy has always been one to welcome refugees and care for immigrants, regardless of their legal status or religious affiliation. It’s in our DNA as Methodists and a part of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church book of discipline.

In New York Harbor at Ellis Island, a place that is famous for receiving immigrants, stands the statue of liberty. Her base bears the inscription:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Today there are more displaced people in our world than at any other time in our world’s history. Families who have lost everything. Women, men, children, young and old. They are clinging to their religion for strength. They are clinging to their family because it’s all they have left. And they are clinging to the hope that those words on that inscription still mean something.

And right now, as I speak, because of fear, hate and political rhetoric, they are people with nowhere to go. No home. No country. No one to wrap them in love and welcome and say, here, let me show you how my faith compels me to act and what Christian really means.

During the second world war, over 10 million people died in Nazi death camps. Mostly Jews, but also homosexuals, people with disabilities, people with different political ideas, like communists, people with different religions, like Jehovah Witnesses, and Christians from the confessing church who stood against Nazism and fascist ideals.

Today, we stand at the top of a slippery slope that makes a repeat of these horrors of history seem not all that far-fetched after all.

Today, just days after the world remembers this horrible human atrocity and vows never to forget it, it’s our turn to decide where we stand. It’s time for us to raise our voices, engage our wallets, and stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing the oppression and injustice.

Like Boaz we must commit to welcoming the stranger, loving the foreigner, and caring for the needy, just as Christ commanded us to do, to speak out against injustice and model the love God has for in the way we treat even the ones we have been taught to mistrust, hate, and fear.

I know “what ifs” mean nothing in history. But, I wonder, what if? How it might have been differently if 70 years ago the United States would have chosen a different path, to open the doors as wide as possible and to welcome in the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the ones seeking asylum?

Perhaps the Frank family would have gotten their visas and rebuilt their lives in Boston. Perhaps Anne Frank would have fulfilled her dream of becoming a writer. Maybe she would be alive today, 87 years old, telling her great grandchildren what it was like when the Nazis rose to power and how so many died…and that it was almost her, but this country, the land of the free and the home of the brave courageously opened the borders and granted her family a new start.

But of course, that never happened. Instead, Anne Frank was just 15 years old when she died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

But she did leave us a legacy.

Anne Frank is remembered as having written: "Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness."

Friends, we are living in dark, dark times. But the light of Christ living within you invites you to shine in the darkness, to be that candle and to both defy and define the darkness by resisting evil, speaking out against injustices, welcoming the stranger, and choosing to love even when it means sacrificing self.

Be that candle.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the Methodist thing to do.

And, it’s what Jesus would do.


[1] Daniel A. Gross (2015) “The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed 1/28/2017 at

[2] Elahe Izadi (2015) “Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S.” The Washington Post. Accessed 1/28/2017 at

[3] James Martin, S.J. (2017) “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” American Magazine. Accesses 1/28/2017 at

Monday, July 25, 2016

Late night political ponderings....

I could not sleep last night. It is not uncommon. I spend half my nights lying awake thinking, praying, worrying, hoping, and planning. I like to think that God wakes me up in the middle of the night when there are no distractions or other things to busy myself with so that I can really listen to the whispering of the Spirit. 

But last night all I could think about was Donald Trump.

I have done a pretty decent job of staying above the violent fray of political discord this season. Opinions are too polarized and colored by fear and anger for me to enjoy debate like I used to.  But that doesn’t mean I have ignored the political posts of my friends, or the candidate debates, or the campaign media spots.  And last night I realized that Donald Trump very well might become the next president of the United States of America.

This whole situation is hard for me to even fathom. I struggle to comprehend how good, generous, kind, educated, Christ-loving people can look at me and argue with genuine conviction that Mr. Trump is intellectually, politically, or personally fit to be the president.  I struggle to understand how the evangelical church can listen to a man whose very campaign platform is hate and say that he is the candidate Christ would have us elect. 

-A man who has been married three times but argues gay marriage destroys the sanctity of marriage. 

-A man who is married to an immigrant but argues immigration is destroying America’s greatness and that we must build a wall to keep people out.

-A man who openly and with great joy, on worldwide television, ridiculed a reporter who has a physical disability.

-A man who made his millions at the expense of the poor but argues he is the best hope for the working class. 

-A man who is old enough to remember the horrors of World War II but is insistent on making people register with the government based on religion.   

-A man who says he has no need for forgiveness because he has never been wrong. 

-He lies, without apology, with gusto.

-He belittles women and people of color. 

-He encourages violence as a means of resolving difference.

-He is hungry to engage the war machine.

-He has said many times that he has no interest in diplomacy. 

In fact, I have yet to see even one tiny example of decency, compassion, virtuosity, integrity, honesty, or servitude in Donald Trump or his campaign promises. Yet the Republican Party hails him as their best choice for president?  It is as if there is a shroud around Mr. Trump that prevents people from recognizing the truth and I am overwhelmingly confused, and saddened, by it.

What bothers me the most is not that this man is running for president.  In truth, actually the very fact that Mr. Trump can be and is a candidate for President is one of the things I love best about our country—that anyone can be anything if the right opportunities present themselves (in his case excessive wealth and unearned privilege). Diversity is in my estimation the most beautiful trait of American culture, and I love this country enough to say that part of being free is allowing all to speak, even those who would oppose the very things to which I have dedicated my life.  I do not get his appeal, but I do concede that others do not share my opinions or my perspectives.

So no, it is not Donald Trump’s candidacy that disturbs me, nor is it the fact that the Republicans have embraced him.  (Honestly, it is just one more reminder of why I am not associated with the Republican Party.) What bothers me is that Mr. Trump is claiming to be a devout, God-loving Christian, and even more incredulous, that the right-aligned church is buying it!  That’s what kept me awake last night.  That’s what stirs angst and discord in my heart.

See, Christian means by simple linguistic definition “Christ-like.” How on earth can someone possibly see Donald Trump as “like Christ?”  Now please understand, I’m not suggesting that I or anyone else gets to determine whether someone’s faith is real.  That’s not my job.  But I/we do get to determine whether the rhetoric being fed to us by those in power is genuine, real, authentic.  And we do have a responsibility to test whether or not what is being attributed to God really is from God (1 John 4:1, for example).

I have three Master’s degrees—13 years of post-high school education.  While it doesn’t make me better (or even smarter) that anyone else, my education has taught me how to test what I am hearing to determine whether it is factual and truthful.  As far as facts go, Mr. Trump misquotes other people, has a very warped understanding of history—both ancient and recent—and he says things that are intended to incite panic and fear, even though they are not factual. Several independent and nonpartisan studies have proven that you cannot trust what Donald Trump says (though when stacked up next to other political candidates, Mr. Trump is not the only one to lie, twist the truth, or hide things from the public.) 

As for truth, at least according to the scripture by which I measure my life, everything that claims to be from God must be held up against the great consistent theme of scripture—God is love.  If it is not love, it is not from God. If it is not from God, it cannot be “like Christ.”
I am not writing this to attack my friends who have committed to voting for Trump or to call you names or say that you are wrong.  

But I do ask my Christ-follower friends to consider this:  based on only the things I’ve heard and not the many posts of my fellow liberals, Trump theology includes belittling, discriminating,  and degrading other human beings (based on gender, race, religion, ability, and wealth), joy in the suffering of others (including a promise to bring back torture techniques like waterboarding), a love of money and an insistence that greed is a human characteristic that should be celebrated, deception and flat out lying, and arrogance and a lack of humility. 

Does this sound like “Christ-like” theology to you?  Would Jesus stamp his approval on any of those things? Does this align with scripture that teaches us to care for the poor, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, embrace the outcast, and care for women and children? Does Mr. Trump’s theology hold up against Jesus who said to lay our very lives down for others, give everything we have to the poor, love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves?  

If you cannot answer yes to those questions, then please stop telling me that Donald Trump is the “Christian” candidate.  Vote for him if you want.  That’s a celebrated right of a free America.  But please, DO NOT tie the faith that I cherish and to which I have dedicated my life to a rhetoric that is NOT remotely like the author of that faith, Jesus Christ. 

Because it is only accomplishing one thing—proving to those who want nothing to do with Christianity because they see it as a religion of division and hate that they are absolutely right on, and it makes my job—a Christ follower, evangelist, preacher-teacher who believes God is limitless love—impossible. 

And here's the thing....if Donald Trump really WAS the quintessential Christian, then I would NOT be a Christian, either.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

I am not lazy

"I'll tell you how to not be fat anymore. Stop shoving food in your face.  Want to lose weight? Eat less. Don't be lazy." A well-meaning woman at one of my churches once said this to me.  You might imagine I didn't receive that well.  Though my role as pastor had conditioned me to simply nod and smile politely, inside I was seething.  I am NOT lazy. Obviously, I am not a slender person.  My BMI and height to weight ratios put me squarely in the "obese" category.  But I am not lazy.

There is a widely held misconception that FAT equals LAZY.  I've experienced the consequences of that perception (rude comments that have hurt my feelings, not being hired for a job where I was told I was the most qualified applicant, but was too "heavy," a doctor who told me they couldn't treat my ailment because it was most likely weight-related - no matter what the ailment was!). Most of my life I have been fat (heavy, chubby, obese, whatever you want to call it), yet I made a decision early on to embrace life as a person, not as a fat person. This decision has allowed me to do everything I've wanted to do (except bungee jump... I'm not quite there yet!)  I decided to simply be a girl who is fat, not a fat-girl.

The truth is, there is SO MUCH more to obesity than someone who hasn't struggled with their weight often understands.  It is not always about what you "shove in your face."  It isn't always about what you know or how much you work out.  My life is a testament to that:  I carefully count my calories, make healthy food choices, control my portions and refuse to eat anything that someone down the line has said "makes you fat."  I drink water by the gallons. I engage in cardio exercise for at least an hour at least six times a week. When my schedule lets me, I turn that 60 minutes into 90 and I add a half hour in the evening too. I do strength training with a personal trainer, and I have for years. I am strong and flexible. I have tried every imaginable "diet" for years at a time--low carb/high fat, weight-watchers, sugar busters, low fat/high protein, super-calorie restrictive, higher calorie/higher exercise.... not for a few days until I got frustrated but long enough to honestly say my body does not react to it. I have read absolutely everything I can get my hands on about metabolism, weight loss, weight gain, exercise, and health.  You might say I am OBSESSED with weight loss.  But, weight loss eludes me.

I work hard.  I've even consulted experts. The dietitian's response?  "Huh. I don't know what to tell you. You know more about food than I do and you're doing everything right. I really can't help you."  My doctor's response?  "Weight loss isn't an exact science. Your cholesterol is low. Your blood pressure is normal. You are healthy. Keep doing what you're doing and don't sweat it. People die from obesity-related diseases. No one dies from just being fat."  My husband's response? "You're beautiful. I don't care what your size is." My dad's response? "I guess I never really thought of you as being fat...."  And still I keep up with the struggle to lose weight, to find the magic formula between calories in and calories out, working my butt off (figuratively, obviously) every single day in an attempt to reach my goal weight. I have some contributing health issues too. I've been diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which brings with it hormonal imbalances. I have hypothyroidism. I have a propensity for developing blood clots due to a genetic disease that runs in my family.

All this means that, truthfully, I will probably never reach my goal weight (which is not the 165 that generic charts tell the world I SHOULD weigh, but a much heavier 220 lbs that is the actual "perfect ratio" that my particular makeup of skeletal weight and lean mass would be at its healthiest, according to legitimate metabolic testing that led the doctor to tell me I actually have a really HIGH metabolism--I just burn sugar instead of fat! )  Regardless of whether the numerical value of my gravitational pull every reaches 220 pounds or below, it has no bearing on who I am as a human being.  I'm a good person. I go the extra mile. I'm intelligent, well educated, generally kind and helpful and generous, and I AM NOT LAZY.

I read an article on NPR about fat-shaming that really riled me up because I have spent the last 30 years or so (I'm not sure I was ever really fat before I hit 2nd grade) experiencing firsthand the negativity of fat-shaming. I've heard people I know, love, and respect tell me that I'm not worth as much as other people because I'm fat, that I'm a sloth who doesn't take care of herself, that if I'd just try this, that, or the other thing I would lose weight easily, that I shouldn't sit on a particular chair because it's "fragile," and.... the list could go on.

I share my story for two reasons. 1) I have a lot of fat friends. Some of you hate yourself because you look in the mirror and see a body that the world says is too big.  I want to tell you to STOP.  Your worth, your beauty, and the wealth of amazingness you have to offer this world have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you're fat.  You have to learn to ignore the chatter and love yourself, because honestly, you're the only one who has the power to change how you feel about yourself.  Don't be one of these people whose lives are cut short because of the negative effects of being shamed because of your weight.

And, 2) if you're someone who looks at someone like me and wonders, "Why don't they just lose weight?"... get over yourself. You have no idea what it is like to walk in my shoes. You have no idea how hard I work every day to be healthy and fit. Fat does NOT equal lazy. But fat-shaming DOES equal inhumane.   And finally, you can be fat, and healthy, or skinny and healthy. You can be fat and unhealthy, or skinny and unhealthy.  I challenge you, whatever your weight, to begin to make healthy life-style choices, because the trade offs (energy, self-esteem, increased endorphins, longevity) are well worth the time and energy you have to expel in the process.

Anyway, this isn't a rant and it's not a plea to have you pat me on the back, or-worse-give me advice. It's simply me saying, there's more to me than being fat. And there's more to you, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Welcome to my blog!

This is my first actual blog, per se. But, I kept an online journal for years. It was deeply satisfying to see my inner monologue spewed across the screen, and even more satisfying to know it had viewership.  There is something comforting about knowing that you are leaving something for posterity (even if the inherent value of what is being left behind is negligible).

But somehow in the busyness of an enormous life, I forgot to write, and, more tragically, I forgot how much I loved to write.  So, after a 7 year hiatus, tonight I pick up the digital pen and begin again.

I imagine the posts to come will be part intended as soliloquy, and part intended for dialogue, a play by play of life in progress and a commentary on the process of becoming whoever it is I'm (still) becoming.

The last 7  years have been, to say the least, overwhelming.  I'll write about some of those experiences in days to come, but for now, I am ready to take some really big risks for the sake of becoming the change I hope to see in the world. (thanks, Gandhi!) I've practiced with some small ones, but I am deeply satisfied and I crave more. Somehow, I'm not sitting so comfortably in the skin I'm in. 

So, here's to next steps, possibilities, and words.