Buen Camino

Nothing quite prepares you for a pilgrimage.

Christian PilgrimSure, there is the research on the pilgrimage route, choosing the proper walking gear, exercise preparation, and the strategic packing of just a few clothes and essentials, but the pilgrimage itself calls into question any illusion of control we think we have in life.

Camino Frances is a 500 mile walk across the northern part of Spain that begins in the Pyrenees Mountains along the border with France and leads to Santiago de Compostela where it is said that the bones of the first martyred Apostle, St. James, are buried in a Crypt in the Cathedral. It is one of three major pilgrimage sites for Christianity. The other 2 are Jerusalem and Rome.

My husband, Jeff, 21-year-old daughter, Hannah, and two dear friends, Jane and Rob, began our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Sarria, Spain approximately 116 km from Santiago. This is typically a 5-6 day walk into the old city where close to 2,000 pilgrims arrive everyday after walking up to 500 or more miles.Camino with friends

The first day was overcast and cool with the forecast of rain but that didn’t dampen our high spirits and energetic pace as we calculated the hours it would take to walk our first day goal of 14 miles. Like a typical North American my focus was on the destination and my race to get there. At one point I caught myself trying to pass other pilgrims much like my experience in Oregon at the Portland to Coast Relay race in which those passes are called “road kill”. This is fairly easy to do given the fact that we had started this journey after others had been walking for over 400 miles carrying everything they needed on their backs. We, on the other hand, were walking the last 73 miles of this pilgrimage – quite an advantage in the competitive scheme of things!

It took me a day of walking with increasingly achy plantar fasciitis feet in the rain to begin to realize that this was not a race; this was a pilgrimage experience. I went to bed that first evening exhausted with throbbing feet worried that I would not be able to walk in the morning. Surprisingly, I woke up buoyant with rested feet ready to head out for the next destination, but Hannah awoke to pain shooting up the back of her knees – tendonitis.

Seeing other pilgrims head out for the new day, I started walking fast, leaving my daughter behind. Then I remembered part of the Camino blessing that I had just read that morning, Blessed are you pilgrim if what concerns you most is not arriving, but arriving with others. Blessed are you pilgrim if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without awareness of those at your side. Ah, yes… I determined then that this day I would walk with my daughter at her pace.

Step by step I found a new rhythm of being present to the moment and the people that I encountered, as well as the sights, the smells, the sounds, the touch of the wind on my body, the feel of my feet touching earth, and the new tastes of Spanish food and drink.

As I slowed down I realized that everyone walks the Camino in their own way — like Gary, an 80 year old man from Oregon who walks about 5 miles a day at a very slow pace, his two walking sticks echoing a steady beat as they hit the ground or Bill, a humble Gen Ex vagabond from Michigan, who instructed Hannah how to walk with tendonitis — short, slow steps, flat footed up hill, or Chris, a recently retired teacher from England, who walks at a fast clip because she has lots of energy.

The greeting on the path is Buen Camino, meaning “Have a good journey”, but it can also be a gracious reminder that all ways of walking are good ways.

As I allowed the Camino to have its way with me I began to enjoy the simplicity of the journey. Walk, Eat, Sleep is the 3-fold practice of the pilgrimage. That easy rhythm allowed me to begin to let go of the stressful baggage that I constantly and unconsciously carry with me – the to-do lists, performance anxieties and fears born out of scarcity, not enoughness, and shame. It opened me to see that every pilgrim suffers with both physical and existential pain and yet we walk, we endure, we find joy in the simplest pleasures like taking off our shoes and rubbing our feet at a roadside café while drinking a cold beer or smelling the eucalyptus trees as we walk under their forested canopy. With each step my heart opened wider to a sense of abundance – that this is enough and I am enough and this day is a sacrament unfolding in time and space.

Soy El CaminoThen like manna from heaven I came across a sign posted along the path that said, Yo Soy El Camino, y La Verdad y La Vida. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Yes, El Camino, the way… this camino, this way. The pilgrim journey is a metaphor for life. Everyone walks it in their own way and it is all good.

Our call is simply to take that next faithful step, find our rhythm in unhurried calm, acknowledge our pain and in so doing find our common humanity — our deep connection to the fullness of life that we thankfully have no control over. This is the deep truth of life – that it is sheer unmerited grace, love incarnated in community.

Several days later during the Pilgrim Mass at the Cathedral in Santiago tears of awe and wonder flowed down my cheeks as I hugged and shook hands with my fellow pilgrims from around the world sharing the peace in our own native tongues.

All these people, all this pain, all this joy, all this good will, all this common journey is a glimpse of the kingdom. El Camino of Jesus is the “Buen Camino” of life.


And They Had All things Together

We live in complex and polarizing times. Our institutions are declining and our sense of job security and family safety is on heighten alert. Our neighborhoods are growing in diversity with a multiplicity of cultural expressions that challenge our assumptions and codes of conduct. And we are beginning to question lots of things – truth, gender identities, race relations, the economy, politics, education, and global warming — which leads us to a generalized fear and anxiety with just about everything. This has become our new norm — the background noise of life in the 21st century.

My particular dance with all of this is in the church. Often I have heard, “The church is just not relevant anymore, even for many of those who still make it a habit of going to worship and engaging in church activities. We have lost our sense of purpose.” As I travel around the country as a church consultant it has now become the norm for me to hear stories of people and pastors who are on the verge of being done with the entire church enterprise. Not because they don’t care, but precisely because they do. Continue reading And They Had All things Together

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier

artworks_mediumMy friend Ben Yosua-Davis has launched a new podcast called “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” His vision is to have conversations with people working on the spiritual margins of our country.  Even though he is just beginning to live out this dream, I love his concept and the interviews that he has already posted. (Okay, one of those was with me!)

I have listened to all of them and have learned so much from others who are innovating fresh expressions of faith community formation – the good, the bad and the funny. Now I have a podcast that I can refer people to so that they can have a realistic snapshot of the journey of co-creating the new that longs to spring forth.

Ben is effectively curating and preserving stories that are like the Books of Acts — 21st Century Edition! So find his podcast, add it to your phone, and the next time you are stuck in traffic or on the treadmill have a listen and be inspired!

The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference

Naked Bike Ride

In May 2016 the world is coming to my home – Portland, Oregon — a place where we proudly claim our weirdness and laugh along with episodes of “Portlandia” in an endearing way. We are into communal and laid back living, farm to table eating, free swaps and DIY on just about everything including our spirituality. We are concerned about the environment and recycle our food scraps. We love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and even advocate for bike safety with our annual Naked Bike Ride through the streets of Portland. The coffee, beer and wine are always flowing and people who visit feel genuinely welcomed. Tolerance, understanding, diversity, natural fibers, life/work balance, communing with nature, good books, funky flavored ice cream and authentic conversations are important to us.

But frankly, we are having difficulty preparing for the General Conference delegates from all over the world who will be coming to our city for the quadrennial legislation of the United Methodist Church next May. You see, WE will tolerate differences as long as YOU tolerate differences.   We will welcome your expression of diversity as long as you welcome our expressions of diversity.

Here is our issue: We know you don’t want to welcome such diversity. Continue reading The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference

Progressive Fundamentalism?


I was recently visiting a church that is known as the progressive voice in their city. The majority of members are highly engaged in social justice issues and serve their larger communities in multiple ways. They are proud of their open and affirming welcome of the LGBTQ community, but also with how they have been in ministry with the local elementary school providing a free after school program for families with low incomes. The school principal, teachers, and parents love the partnership and the program has a waiting list of people wanting to be a part of it.

As I toured the church a key volunteer with the after school program turned to me and said, “We have this great program but our church is dying. Most of us are in our upper 60’s and 70’s and we won’t be able to do all of this good work forever.”

In further conversation I found out that, even though this after school program has provided love and care for children and their parents, no one has ever invited these families to be a part of the life of the church.

Why? Continue reading Progressive Fundamentalism?


What do you not have enough of?    If you had enough, how much would that be?

When I was a working parent with young children I didn’t have enough sleep or time for myself.  I dreamt of being able to crawl into bed at 7pm and not worry about the dishes, the laundry and the bedtime routines.  At times I would lock myself in my bathroom and call it my “mommy time-out” just to get a few minutes by myself.  Now, that my children are older, I wish I had more time with them.

Then there is the issue of money.  I live in a well-to-do suburb in a beautiful home with overflowing closets and a stocked pantry, but I continue to wish for more.  Not because I need more, but because I have been shaped by a consumer culture that implicitly reminds me that I am not enough until I have more. I feel at times that I am held hostage by the lie that there is not enough of anything to go around, and it is my job to squirrel away as much as possible to ensure the security of my family.

But truly, is this what life is all about? Continue reading Leftovers

This is the Kingdom of God!

Today I glimpsed the kingdom of God in an inner city church name Mathewson Street in Providence, Rhode Island. My day began with about 300 people sitting around tables drinking coffee and eating a hearty breakfast while a dear soul  played the piano.

I sat with two men who shared stories with me about how they managed in the colder months to keep warm and dry, going from shelters to libraries to churches. They talked about their hopes, joys and struggles. We toasted to forgiveness as Rev. Jack Jones invited us to a love feast and offered prayers of and for the people.

Jack and Russ
Jack and Russ

I met a man named Russ who volunteers in the kitchen starting at 5am every Sunday morning to cook his famous eggs and potatoes. He told me about how he ended up on the streets after breaking 3 bones in his leg days before he was to start his new job as an electrician. He had no health insurance and no support network. He lost everything — his tools, his possessions, his dignity and his truck. He walks with a cane and still questions how he so quickly went from living a middle class lifestyle three years ago to surviving on the streets. But today he moves with joy and renewed hope.

I met Scott, who has come back to the church, finding a community that walks the talk. He has invited over 100 of his friends to be a part of the prayer breakfast ministry. Many of them are from his connections with families from his little league teams. Continue reading This is the Kingdom of God!