My role entails a lot of flying, both in state and out of state. A quarter of our churches in the Alaska Conference can only be reached by plane. For a couple more which are on the road system, it is more economical and also more time efficient to fly than drive. Being part of the Greater Northwest Area Cabinet means regular trips to either Portland or Seattle. Add to that the Western Jurisdictional meetings I attend twice a year also because of this role and the role of Director of Connectional Ministries which is part of my portfolio.
I think you get it. I travel a lot. I am in airports a lot. And I go through security a lot. And half the time, I get "in trouble" because of what's in my bag. Let me explain:
When I travel, I always bring my totem cross with me. Every clergy person being commissioned for ministry in the Alaska Conference receives a cross with a miniature replica of the Easter Totem pole carved by Rev. David Fison (Click here to learn more about it). Typically, we receive our commissioning crosses at Annual Conference after having served a year in our appointments. There have been instances, like this year, when the clergy persons were in attendance at the Annual Conference prior to starting their appointment and so were commissioned then. Regardless of when it is presented and received, the totem cross has been for me and for many, a reminder of our being called to mission and ministry in this special place with and among its wonderful people.
So, I love my totem cross. It is a simple reminder of my call. It also allows me to represent. It is a conversation starter that allows me to share the many wonderful stories of what God is doing in and through the people called United Methodists in Alaska. So I bring it with me in all my travels and wear it whenever appropriate.
And because of that cross, I "get into trouble" at security. I travel light and rarely check-in my bags. So when my bag goes through the TSA x-ray machine, more than 50% of the time, the agent cannot figure out what this suspicious shape is. They say it looks like a small knife. So my backpack gets whisked out and checked. Thankfully, after they see what it is, they let me "off the hook" without further hassle. Some have even asked what it is so I briefly share the story. Then I go on my way.
The "trouble" I go through for the sake of the cross is really no big deal. It just means a few more minutes to my time through security and the occasional suspicious stare from people at a person of color whose bag is being checked. Like I said, no big deal. It's nothing compared to the trouble our ancestors in the faith faced for the sake of Christ- persecution, scorn, abuse, even death. And it's nothing compared to the trouble many of our sisters and brothers today face for the sake of their faith in Christ. I think about people practicing faith where it is outlawed to do so. I think about people who stick out like sore thumbs in schools and workplaces because of the Christ-like life they live. I think about our LGBTQ sisters and brothers whose faith in Christ gets them in trouble with the very people they feel called to live in Christian community with. I think about our Native American and Alaska Native sisters and brothers whose faith in Christ is enriched by their own cultural traditions but are branded as pagan by many in the body of Christ.
Whenever I travel, I get in trouble for the sake of my totem cross. But it's a risk I am willing to take. In a much deeper sense, I invite us to ask ourselves as individuals and as communities of faith:
What risks are we willing to take for the sake of Christ?
What trouble are we willing to go through for the sake of our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
Are we willing to stand in solidarity with sisters and brothers who are already in trouble for their faith, willing to get "in trouble" with them for the sake of Christ?
What risk is Christ calling us to make?
Your fellow disciple,