Grace Notes in the Desert

Grace Notes in the Desert is written for the saints of Rio Grande Presbyterian Church and the surrounding community.

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Grace Notes acknowledges we need God's grace and forgivness as much as the desert water.



My latest ’saying’ (in Spanish, ’Dichos”) for when things get difficult is:“Well, at least, it’s not Syria” ( a country where millions live, or have lived in , or died because of, the dark—both literally and metaphorically).

When Jesus was born, he, also, entered a world with a lot of darkness. Maybe that’s why the Star of Bethlehem—which some believe was not a star at all, but a conjunction of three planets—shone so brightly?  As if God wanted to say in Christ’s birth what the writer of John’s Gospel did say: “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” 

Advent—beginning Nov. 27—is a time to hold on to that thought; and to remember God’s light is greater than this world’s darknessSometimes we’re tempted to disbelieve that;  or, to imagine the time in   which we live as darker than others in history; but, Jesus was born under a blanket of night (figuratively and literally) in a time of Roman oppression,  invading, foreign armies, and, almost as many problems, as...Syria. 

I hope you will hold on to that in whatever season you journey; and we will hold on to God’s light, together, in this season of Advent.

Yours in Christ’s Service,
 Pastor Linda


Grace Notes 

Texas poet Naomi Nye writes in her poem: “What People Do”
"November    November     November  the days crowd together                          like families of leaves    in a dry field  
I pick up a round stone    take it to my father   who lies in bed                      waiting for his heart to mend…  
 …More and more I understand what people do                                                           I appreciate the daily braveries    clean white shirts                                              morning greetings between old men  
 Again I see how    once the boat tips    you never forget                                       the sensation of drowning  even if you sing yourself the familiar songs  
 …I would tell my father      I cannot move one block without you                           I will never recover from your love   
 yet I stand by his bed saying things I have said before    and he answers              and we go on this way       smoothing the silences      nothing can heal..."

It’s been eight years since my father was alive to grace our Thanksgiving table.  I miss him.  I don’t know how your table has changed this year-- God knows there’s always a bit of a new configuration (an empty chair, a new high chair, a guest, a college student?).

Whatever Thanksgiving looks like for you this year, I hope you’ll make plans to join us here at Rio Grande Church, Sunday, November 13,, following worship at 10:00 am for what we’re dubbing an ‘Alternative Thanksgiving Banquet’ (no turkeys, just bring your favorite New Mexican side dish). Session will bring the entres and desserts. Sign-up sheets in Fellowship Hall.

That Sunday, we’ll also bring our pledge cards (watch for them in the mail) and share thanks for what God’s doing in our life and ministry and mission together.  Some folks like to say ‘we’re all replaceable’, but that’s not true.  Each of us are unique, one-of-a-kind; and you and your gifts are needed here.

With gratitude and thanks-giving for each of you,
Pastor Linda



"For my grace is sufficient for you; and my power is made perfect in weakness."
--2 Corinthians 12: 9
Each year, around this time, I sing a song to my children that goes like this:

 "Christmas is coming/the goose is getting fat/
please put a penny in the old man's hat;
if you haven't got a penny/a ha' penny will do;
if you haven't got a ha' penny/then God bless you!"

Truthfully, I can't remember when I learned this song? Sometimes I suspect it just bursts forth from my collective Scots-Irish-English DNA. I don't even know it's origin, but I know I love to sing it; and my children seem to tolerate hearing it year after year.

Singing is what angels did that first Christmas in a field of sheep, under a sky of stars, to the least likely of people, shepherds. Evidently, it's what stars do, too: sing (remember God's question to Job: "Where were you when the morning stars sang together?"). And, it was a star God used to announce, in a very quiet way, the most extraordinary event of all time: the birth of the Savior of the world.

This Advent (the forty days that proceed Christmas) I hope we notice... not only stars, but the extraordinarily ordinary ways God shows up: in the poor, the least, the vulnerable--a baby!--whose extraordinary truth and life and love has the power, paradoxically, to change the world and us...

...inspiring our songs and, if we're willing, our reconciliation and forgiveness?

For what is Christmas without our willingness to give, forgive, and love?

"Christmas is coming..."

Yours in Christ's Service,
A Pastor in the Desert




In an age of "social media", some people find web sites like Face Book pretentious, preposterous and, depending who's posting, down-right boring; I don't feel this way, however.

Where else can you learn that a gathering of starlings, suddenly descending by the thousands, from heaven to earth, is called a "Murmuration"; or that whole communities of Christian writers, artists, musicians, preachers and poets, routinely, gather to share their faith and work at places like The Glen on St. John's College in Santa Fe, or Laity Lodge in Leaky, Texas?

So, I'm grateful for the posts of a virtual community of friends and acquaintances who, by sharing, enrich my world and its views. And, I find myself asking: "How could we share more of our life and love, music and worship, study and service, hiking, gardening, and hospitality in ways that are a blessing?"

How will we grow unless we get involved? That said, I hope you and I will take the initiative to do so. There are plenty of ways: a new church web site; monthly hikes; weekly gardening; new and old fellowship and study groups; monthly church teams; worship; study; service.

It's a blessing to learn; it's a joy to grow; it's a privilege to share. With God's grace, I hope we will recommit to do so in ways that bless one another, the neighborhood, and world around us.

Yours in Christ's Service,
A Pastor in the Desert




                 "...And Jesus said, 'Come away by yourselves and rest a while.' --Mark 6:31

Last summer my 9-year-old son, Jacob, traveled with me to Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Abiquiu, NM, to stay at the ranch where Georgia O'Keefe painted and generations of Presbyterians and fellow pilgrims have traveled (to likewise paint, sculpt, study, reflect, and otherwise take in the breathtaking panorama of red plateaus and ancient cottonwood trees).

Of course, Ghost Ranch is not the Hyatt (which Jacob promptly let me know as soon as we got there by exclaiming, 'We're staying here? You're kidding, right?"'); but he soon acclimated to the great views of unencumbered stars at night, and the bunk bed, from our very rustic, mesa-top cabin.

To tell the truth, luxury hotels have lost their appeal for me; instead, I favor quiet retreats in unlikely places like Laity Lodge (a place I discovered, for the first time, last fall) in the remote blue bonnet hill country of Leaky, Texas (where Madeleine L'Engle used to write her books) and artists, writers, musicians and people of faith visit, annually, for year-round retreats.

This year, at the request of Presbytery, groups of clergy will travel somewhere together to discuss a book entitled Acts written by Beverly Gaventa, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. My group opted to travel this month to the Pecos Monastery (where guests are welcomed and hospitality extended to anyone wishing to make a retreat). Other monasteries around the country welcome guests, too, including The Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA, or the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee--both beautiful, prayerful, peaceful places.

All of this to say, if you travel this summer I hope you find peace in one of these, or another, special place you know where you can think, pray, rest, and 'come away', for a while, refreshed and renewed; and I thank you, at Rio Grande, for the gift to do so.

Blessed Trails,
A Pastor in the Desert




“And Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Touch my hands and side. Don’t doubt anymore; believe.' ” --John 20:27

I use to think it was kind of corny to compare Easter to Spring. Maybe it’s because I’m around ½-century old; or maybe I’m getting accustomed to clichés; whatever the reason, I now think, “Well that makes sense: Easter/Spring--life from the dead--flowers blossoming from dead branches.”

Actually, everything is kind of miraculous when you think about it:  an‘ordinary' ball of fire, suspended in the sky, that never goes out; utterly, actually, completely dead things coming back to life; birds that sing in winter?

What's astonishing is how anyone could suppose in all this beauty and all these wonders such things happen, randomly, spontaneously, without a Superior Intelligence behind them?  No wonder the Psalmist wrote, thousands of years ago (because he was ‘primitive‘ or because he noticed stars?):

“Only the fool says...’There is no God.”

May the God who made the stars and sun and seasons and us help us to rejoice in Easter: God’s definitive, flowering, fullness that walked out of a tomb one day as easily as flowers bloom in Spring, as if to say,

“See? It’s all about life, even in the deadest, darkest winter. See my hands and side?...

...And, all because I love…you.”

To God be the Glory in Jesus Christ.

Easter Blessings,
A Pastor in the Desert



Sign Here?

"A new commandment I give you," Christ said, "love one another."

Late last century, I served as Associate Pastor to a church in Portland, OR, which liked to talk a lot about their congregation's "identity and culture". At the time, I wasn't altogether clear what they meant.

A decade later, I understand how every church, perhaps like every organization, has various characteristics and traits--ways of being and doing--that make each distinct. Lately, I like to call these things "a church's signature."

So, "What's our signature at Rio Grande Presbyterian Church?

Here's how I hear folks in the community around us answering. The homeless and visitors alike say: "Rio Grande is (one of) the friendliest churches in town: I feel welcome here!"

Participants in worship say: "I love the music, the sermons, and am grateful to God to worship here!"

Visitors and volunteers (as well as myself and most of the congregation) say: "I'm glad there is a Community Garden and Food Project to help others here!"

And, 18,000+ families say to the Food Project, and many of us, each year: "I'm grateful for the help you gave us when we needed it."

I, for one, am grateful that Rio Grande Presbyterian Church is a place where "God's grace happens".

May that be "our signature": God's grace, and the 'organizing principle' by which we set goals in this New Year!

Yours in Christ's Service,
A Pastor in the Desert




I remember when the world of Christmas carols opened up for me around the age of 8 when I found them in an old book lying around my parent’s house. I marveled at the lyrics whose melodies I did not know at the time.

Now, forty or so years later, I still marvel at these hymns and how they endure, not just as wordless tunes played over shopping mall speakers, but as the Gospel-in-Miniature. “O Little Town of Bethlehem“ could have been written about any street in this still dark world of ours where:

“…Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth/The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in thee to-night

Written by Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), Philip was a preacher and patriot in the Episcopal Church who held a Doctorate of Divinity from Oxford and taught at Yale. Harvard College even established a house in his honor dedicated to “the ideals of piety, charity and hospitality.”

Silent Night”, a hymn we close with at our 5:00 pm Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, is sung, the same time, each year, in an Austrian Church in Salzburg (near the place where it was composed by two men, Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr who first sang it a capella on a Christmas Eve in 1818 after their church’s organ broke down). They sang these words:

Silent night! Holy night!/ Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from Heaven afar,/ Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ, the Savior, is born!/ Christ, the Savior, is born

The same words troops on both sides of the border would sing, together, during the First World War in French, English and German (because it was one of the few songs they all knew by heart) in a rare Christmas Eve cease-fire called “The Christmas Truce.”

Merry Christmas, Peace, and Goodwill to All!
A Pastor in the Desert




Being a Christian is a lifelong journey to embody
the scandalous love of Jesus Christ.”
--Roger Gench, pastor

For one week in August, 60 pastors attended the Synod of the SW’s Kaleidoscope Conference at Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Roger Gench, Senior Pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (located 2 blocks from the White House) and his wife, Frances, professor of 20 years at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA--led us in a conference titled ‘Struggling with Scripture’.

A more apt title might have been “Wrestling with Scripture”--not unlike Jacob, who wrestled a man all night on the banks of the river Jabbok, and would not let him go until he blessed him--as, together, we spent a week learning, what I would call, ‘how to overcome a superficial reading of the Bible to grasp its deeper, internal meaning’; and ‘the importance of faithful interpretation in light of the whole of scripture.”

Wrestling with Scripture is an act of faithfulness”, said Frances Gench, who more than proved her commitment to do so; &, despite the inherent difficulties, and certain cultural and historical abuses some scripture has engendered, rather than ‘throw the baby out with the bath water, Francis advised,'there is much to glean and learn in the wrestle.'

Roger and Frances facilitated days and nights of lively discussion among those present(colleagues who’s views I found genuinely insightful and meaningful). I was thankful for the opportunity to be a part of what, for me, was a treasure trove of theological discourse/resources, grateful for the opportunity for my own continuing education.

As another church year begins (traditionally in September), I hope you will see in these pages ways you can continue to embark on your own continuing education, here, (and, also, offer suggestions about what we yet can do, together, to bless one another and the world around us).

Blessings on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert


Fruitful Leadership

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Called Back to the Well workshop with pastors, police and firefighter chaplains, and interesting as sundry group of people.

The Rev. Paul Hopkins, past director of the Samaritan Counseling Center for 20 years, was the leader and the workshop, titled after his book, called “Pursuing Pastoral Excellence, Pathways to Fruitful Leadership.”

For those of you who may not know about this book published this year by Alban Press (and I didn’t until I happened to attend this workshop), Paul Hopkins dedicates a chapter to each of seven local pastors whose ministry, he believes, reflects the following characteristics of fruitful leadership, namely that it is:


As Paul puts it, “Life in ministry must constantly be grounded in the lively practice of faith and confident hope in God’s providence, even through the dark days of discouragement and loneliness that inevitably come for most pastors. Staying connected to the vine of Christ is the most essential task. Fruitfulness springs from tender and tangled branches watered and fed and pruned by the vine grower.”

The same could be said of all of us growing in faith, in hope, in love, in Christ. I hope together, we are cultivating purpose, authenticity, relationships, along with a servant’s heart that is adaptable, persistent and spiritual, in our journey with God.

This is my prayer for all of us at Rio Grande, and, particularly our young people this summer as they embark on a week-long backpacking adventure with others in northern New Mexico: that, together, we cultivate purpose, authenticity, relationships, and a servant’s heart, that is adaptable, persistent and spiritual, rooted and grounded in Christ.

Blessings on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert




Jesus said, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ “ Mark 6:31

All year, some of us at Rio Grande have dedicated second Saturdays to hiking in the wilderness with other people of faith, from many churches across the city, in a new ministry called Worship in the Wilderness.

Begun by a young Methodist Pastor, Melissa Bemis Madera, a graduate of Duke Divinity School and avid backpacker, Worship in Wilderness affords many of us ‘city folk’ an opportunity to get away, in the words of Christ, to a ‘deserted place…to rest a while’ and, perhaps, discern life and what God’s still small voice has to say to us from a new perspective.

As Melissa writes in her blog ( the Worship in the Wilderness website:

Throughout history, many theologians have spoken about the deep connections between spirituality and nature. Within the Judeo-Christian faith, wilderness imagery has been used throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament alike to illustrate both beautiful and difficult encounters between God and humankind -from the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, to the Psalmist finding comfort in God leading him "beside the still waters," to Elijah hearing the voice of God whispering to him in the mountains, to Jesus retreating to a mountain to pray...

Worship in the Wilderness attempts to bring these three things (physical activity, spirituality, and nature) together in the context of a monthly hike with elements of worship built-in. It is our hope that as we carve out time to encounter God amidst the beautiful, surprising, and sometimes even slightly harsh landscape that surrounds us we will grow to see the wilderness as a powerful metaphor for our lives spent with God.”

This summer, kids from Rio Grande have the opportunity to participate in just this kind of experience in New Mexico on a Youth Backpacking Adventure, June 26-July 1. We thank God and Rio Grande Church for such times of refreshment, renewal, discernment and rest as Worship in the Wilderness affords.

Join us!

Yours in Christ’s Service,
A Pastor in the Desert



Bright as Daffodils?

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Christ said, “whomever believes
in me will never die; and whomever lives and believes in me, though
he die, yet shall he live.”
--John 11: 25-26

Easter comes late this year, the last Sunday of April, while all the crocuses and daffodils bloomed in the heart of March.

For many, Spring is proof of resurrection: small shoots pushing out of once cold frozen earth; green buds bursting forth from every tree and branch whether in the desert or the forest.

Poet T.S. Eliot liked to talk about ‘the eternal present’ in much of his poetry and how, out of the wasteland, life blooms:

“…Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird…
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present

Truth is, in this world, nothing hurts more than death; and there is no one with the power to promise and to give life except…God. Life is a promise God alone makes and God alone keeps. Jesus Christ, like the Red Bud in my garden, is that life of God--of which Eliot wrote and saints of old and new profess--eternally present,here, now, new, now, full, now, abundant, now, blooming, evergreen.

I wonder if we are as alive as a Red Bud or a daffodil? I wonder if we long, or even hope, for the life God promises greener than a tree in bud, more formidable than a flower pushing through the dirt?

In this world, death is all around us; darkness; dis-ease; acts of nature; acts of us: fear and war and trouble; still, to us, God’s promise comes, ever new, ever certain, perennial as a flower.

This Easter, let’s embrace the life God gives and the promise and the hope that’s ours in Jesus Christ…so we, too, might bloom bright as daffodils.

Yours in Christ‘s Service,
A Pastor in the Desert




While a student at Princeton Theological Seminary (25 years ago already), a friend gave me a book by Wendell Berry called “The Unsettling of America” and inscribed inside these words: “Remember: we are animated dirt.”

In a sense, this is what the Church calls us to remember in seasons like Lent (literally, lengthening of days). As the days grow longer and brighter, we have this somber yet amazing time to reflect, anew, how we are dust and to dust we shall return yet, God, in God’s grace, continues to create, recreate and renew, not only us, dusty as we are, but the face of the earth.

Seasons like Lent remind us not only of our mortality but God’s grace that makes us more than earthen clods, but who we are intended to be: Christ’s friends made new to shine in a worn and weary world.

We don’t always do this, live brightly. A lot of times we hide. We pretend. We fear true, authentic, transparent life. But, seasons like Lent remind us not only of our weakness and mortality as human beings--the ways we’re subject to weather and temptation--but how we have this promise and possibility of new life, real life, resurrected life, in Jesus Christ.

Poet Mark Strand put it this way, in a poem to his daughter:

“…Jessica, it is so much easier/to think of our lives/as we move under the brief luster of leaves/loving what we have/than to think how it is that such small beings as we/travel in the dark…/Yet there were times I remember/…when I could believe/we were the children of stars/…with the same dust that flames in space.”*

I hope you will join us for an Ash Wednesday Worship Service, Wednesday, March 9, 7:00 pm, here, in Rio Grande’s sanctuary, to remember how we are both dust and, by God’s grace, God’s people meant to shine.

Yours in Christ’s Service,
A Pastor in the Desert

*from Mark Strand’s Selected Poems




"Prepare the way of the Lord….
Whoever has two coats let him share with anyone who has none

--The voice of one crying in the wilderness (Luke 3: 4, 11)

"Each year, God asks us to shed one more coat of awareness, one more dream state and come alive to the vision of God’s plan for each of us and the world-at-large.

The older we get, the harder this is to do. As children we had a sense of wonder. Our eyes were wide open and drinking in the fascinating gifts we beheld…Our thirsty souls could not have enough of the wonders of creation.

Then, somehow, we grew too old to dream. We tired of the abundance of the world, or at least grew weary of keeping up with the feast of life, and stepped away from the banquet of life.

The natural gift of wonder God gave us as children was meant to be kept alive.…Instead we let wonder go to sleep…

Why else does Jesus tell us, ‘Stay awake!’…Advent says, ‘Wake up and realize the gifts of love you have received (and share them).’…Psychology says, ‘Let go.’ Spirituality says, ‘Wake up.’

In both cases there is a withdrawal from the busyness of daily life and a waking up to the subconscious and spiritual depths of ourselves."*

Wishing You a Wonder-Filled Advent and Christmas,
A Pastor in the Desert

*Gift of Wonder, Rev. Alfred McBride, O. Praem




Money is one of the last taboos of our society--a subject many of us cringe to hear whenever it’s mentioned--especially in Church. However, God’s call involves our whole life--including our money--which, as Francis of Assisi liked to say, isn’t really ours, but, rather, a gift from God entrusted to us.

November, in the Presbyterian Church, is, traditionally, the time to talk about Stewardship; and to ask questions like ‘how do we share our time, talents and treasure in ways that glorify God and help one another?”

At my children’s school there is an annual tradition called “Shine”. It’s a time when kids share their gifts with one another on a stage, and, literally, shine. It’s an important part of their life together as students and an academic community. How much more so might it be for the Church who is called to shine forth with the love of Christ?

Contrary to corporate opinion, the truth is: ‘nobody’s replaceable-- everybody’s unique and everybody’s necessary’. Each of us have been given gifts and resources someone else needs and everyone benefits from by sharing. On Sunday, November 14th during worship, we will have the opportunity to share our money and make a pledge to support this congregation in 2011; and to give God thanks, afterwards, at our Annual Thanksgiving Potluck meal. I hope you will make plans to be there.

As I like to say, “None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.” I hope we’ll each prayerfully consider how God is calling us to shine as God‘s people, in this church, on the corner of Coors and Daytona!

Yours in Christ’s Service,
Pastor Linda Roberts-Baca



“How good and pleasant it is when (we) live together in unity.” -Psalm 133

Autumn in New Mexico: we, who live here, know it as a time of crisp walks; yellow cottonwood trees; hot air balloons; turquoise skies; red ristras strung together on adobe vigas; green chili roasting everywhere.

Autumn in the Church is, also, traditionally, the beginning of a new year; and this year promises to be a time of new partnerships and opportunities as we journey together, in faith, as God’s people.

If you have been looking for a way to grow in faith and in community with others, I invite you to consider getting involved in the ministries listed within these pages, as well as two, in particular, I’d like to highlight for you:

Ecumenical Study Group with our Catholic friends: offered six Tuesday evenings, 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm, beginning Oct. 12 for six weeks. We will be learning about the World’s Religions via a DVD series (narrated by Ben Kingsley) at Holy Rosary (on Fortuna).Bring a sack lunch and join us. I hope you will join us these fall evenings(we hope to host a similar series with live speakers at Rio Grande Church with Holy Rosary in the Spring).

Worship in the Wilderness, a wonderful new fellowship group, begun by Melissa Bemis Madera a graduate of Duke Divinity School,and pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, will offer hikes second Saturdays which include worship. My hope is that our intergenerational group will meet these 2nd Saturdays to hike with other Christians and people of faith in God’s great cathedral, nature. The first hike will be held Saturday, October 9, 10:00 am,at Tree Springs trailhead (I have directions) or meet at Trinity United Methodist Church on Silver Ave (and carpool to the trail head).

How do you grow in faith? Get involved--with God‘s work and God‘s people. That’s how. If you haven’t already, I hope you will do so now!

Yours in Christ’s Service,
Pastor Linda Roberts-Baca




We live in a society absorbed with ourselves and food. One study suggested we, as a nation, are the most obese people on earth (ironically, with the most anorexics). Either we obsess about what we don’t eat or what we do. Either we don’t care about what we eat; or we care too much (to fit some media stereotype carved into our collective vision).

I think about this every time I go to the grocery store and pass the olive section: three rows of beautiful, all variety, olives. Olives with garlic. Olives with almonds. Olives that are dark green. Olives that are light green. Olives that are black. Olives with pimentos. Olives without them.

I think to myself, “Look at all these olives. I live in a country with grocery stores full of olives I can sample, while half the world can’t find a cup of rice to feed their family.” Maybe I’m odd, but I find myself thinking about this lately, every time I pass the olive section. I think about this country’s obsession with food; and weight; and media images that have the power to shape a whole society’s(many society’s) idea of ‘beauty’.

The prophet Jeremiah, called ‘the weeping prophet‘(whose messages from God we will be reading every Sunday in September), looked at the society in which he lived, around 2,600 years ago, and said things like:

O that my head were a spring of water/and my eyes a fountain
of tears,/that I might weep day and night for…my poor people…/
(who) have grown strong in falsehood and (weak) in truth.

Like Isaiah--who said “For lack of knowledge, people starve”--the prophet Jeremiah reminded his contemporaries how quickly the fortunes of the rich can change and the so-called 1st become the 3rd world and vice-versa.

It’s clear, in this society, we are not starving for food. Not now. But, I wonder, if we are starving for a vision beyond the images on our television sets and in our magazines? If so, where will we find it if not through the Church? Are we, in the Church, ’feeding’ people--in a culture good at appearances and blind to the rest--what they need the most?

I hope so.

In Christ’s Service,
A Pastor in the Desert



God's Question

These past few months we, at Rio Grande Church, have said ‘goodbye’ to several people we know and love. You would think the Memorial Services we’ve had here, one after another, would be dismal and sad events. They are not. Rather, they have become one of the blessings we, as a church, share with one another, and all who attend, as, together, we ponder the mysteries and promises of God.

Christmas is one of those mysteries. Oh, it may not seem so walking through the malls; in the rush of shopping and all the many preparations that keep us too busy to notice stars or the words behind that Christmas muzak in the malls . But, Christmas is a mystery: the mystery of God come down to earth in Christ’s Incarnation.

Throughout history, many have pondered God’s Incarnation when, ‘in the fullness of time, God became man’; heaven came down to earth; God’s glory becoming small in a tiny baby--as if to say: we matter, matter matters. God is not aloof or far away. No, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God is with us. And, not just with us, but one of us, coming as the least of us. Imagine? God choosing, for our sake, to become the least of us: poor, weak, vulnerable, dependent on what? On kindness. The kindness of strangers. The mercy of you and me. The possibility of love.

Christmas is about the actuality and possibility of love: God’s love for the world and you and me in it; our love for God expressed in kindness to each other, and the least in our midst. Let’s remember, as we mourn the loss of loved ones here on earth, that death, however sad, however tragic, is not God's final word: Christ is. And, because of that--what God has done in Jesus Christ-- it, truly, can be a Merry Christmas.

In Christ's Service,
A Pastor in the Desert

Post date and time



A Season of Waiting

Advent, from the Latin root, advenire, means 'to come'. Advent, for the Church, means 'to await Christ's coming'; and begins this year the last Sunday of November, November 29.

It marks what the Church calls the change from 'Ordinary' to 'Holy' Time; as we prepare for the wonder and the mystery of God's Incarnation during the four Sundays prior to Christmas.

It is the royal season of God's coming reign (which is why the colors in the church change from green, symbolizing 'Ordinary Time' to purple, symbolizing royalty and God's 'Holy (extrordinary) Time'. Some churches skip the season of Advent altogether, preferring to sing Christmas Carols every Sunday, as if there were no waiting period and no need for a season of preparation for the One who's coming changes everything.

Not so, at Rio Grande. Here, we recognize Advent as a season of preparation to renew our faith and rededicate our lives to the One whose coming we anticipate and who is worthy of our adoration (which is why we don't hear Christmas carols proper until Christ's birth on Christmas Eve). John the Baptist, like other prophets before him, put the season of Advent this way: "Prepare the way of the Lord/Make God's paths straight."

I hope Advent will be that kind of season for you and for me; and I hope, together, and individually, we will take time to discern what God is calling us to do and be as we celebrate, anew, the coming of the Savior of the world.

Yours in His Service,
A Pastor in the Desert



Better than Apples?

My mother and I started a new tradition. Each October, we drive the miles it takes to get to Cochiti Dam, turn west down a 6-mile, rutted, sometimes muddy dirt road, all for the purpose of purchasing 20 pounds of apples; not any apples, but northern New Mexican champagne apples, grown in Dixon.

This year was a bumper crop with bins overflowing with green and yellow apples. “If next year is like this one,” the owner said, “without frost, or harsh weather of any kind, next year should be as good as this one.

Of course, nobody can predict what next year, let alone the next day, will look like; but the fact that champagne apples grow at all is a testament to God’s goodness and God’s provision. The fact that, even in hard times, people drive for miles to buy apples is a testament to human ingenuity: what won’t we do for something or someone we care about, value sufficiently, and think good? Why, look at what we go through to purchase an apple!

So, what about God’s Church? Are we willing to drive miles and miles to be there, in the presence of God, and God’s people? Are we willing to endure rutted roads, unpredictable seasons, all for the purpose of seeing God’s goodness take root and blossom? Are we willing to spend what money we have to help grow God’s love, in our churches and communities, better than trees with apples?

As autumn begins and apples are harvested, let's ask ourselves: Is our love for God, for God’s Church, for God’s people, for God’s world, as nourishing, sustaining, life-giving (and delicious) as a Dixon apple? If not, let’s ask God to help renew our faith and love to continue working at it.

Yours in the Orchard,
A Pastor in the Desert



A Hundred Little Communion Cups

Last month, I had the privilege and blessing, to attend a Faith/Arts Conference at St. John’s College. Image Journal, a 20-year-old Seattle faith/arts magazine, hosts this conference each year in Santa Fe.

Gathered, together, were Christian artists, poets, sculptors, painters, and songwriters from everywhere. It was the first time, in my experience, I heard people, like me, talk freely about their art and their faith, and how the two intersect. I was inspired: both at the quality of the conversation and the excellence of the art; and thankful for the time and support you at Rio Grande gave me to attend.

St. John’s College is a lovely, meditative campus--complete with towering fir trees, bell towers, and, even, a Koi pond. On the last day of the conference, one artist strung hundreds of little plastic communion cups together, from a floor to ceiling window, each with a red bead in them, signifying the blood of Christ, through which light shone.

In the evenings, there were speakers and, once-in-a-while an open mic for poets and songwriters. There was, also, a worship service, led by Debbie Blue, pastor at House of Mercy Church in St.Paul, Minnesota, and author, too. In her book, Sensual Orthodoxy, she writes:

During a meal with his disciples, Jesus takes off his clothes, wraps a towel around his loins, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet, wiping their feet with the towel which he was using to cover himself.

That’s a crazy story to tell to illustrate the love of God… It makes sense that the whole thing would arouse indignation. How could God be so immodest and insensible, to not only become incarnate in the world…but to…suffer and die naked on a cross?You would think God would show a little more restraint than that…(be more)…pious and sensible…

I don’t know how you feel about your feet or having someone rub them with a towel? Maybe you find it hard…to believe God loves passionately…(Discipleship) is not about posturing. It’s about being who you are, the beloved. "

May this new year at Rio Grande, which traditionally starts in September, be one of renewed vision of how we can better love…God and one another.

Yours on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert



Faithful Gardeners

Life is what happens when we‘re busy making other plans…”

“ This summer people, here, at Rio Grande, are rolling up their sleeves to plant little fragile rows of vegetables and herbs and flowers, outside, north of the church, in the Community Garden; and, once again, members of this congregation will, literally, be rubbing elbows with people from the neighborhood.

In the process of planting, watering and weeding, I hope some of their conversations will be about more than beets and eggplant and tomatoes…but how they came to be here; how God called them to this garden…and what God is doing in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I want to meet people where they are…to hear their real questions; and ponder, with them, how God may be speaking, in their lives and mine; what God is calling us to do and be (individually/together).

The other day, I said as much, in the course of an ordinary conversation with a parent in my son’s school’s who was attending a student art exhibit. We were just standing around eating veggies in a crowd when I said,

Don’t you think, deep down, everybody really wants to talk about God…but where are they going to have that conversation? Who’s going to listen to their questions and where are they going to rub shoulders with folks who care enough about God and them to listen and meet them where they are?”

Will Willimon, former Dean of Duke University Chapel, now Methodist Bishop, recently wrote, in his blog, “A Peculiar Prophet”, “A growing and effective church:

1)Loves its particular community… and has found ways to reach outward
2)Does what’s necessary to welcome change, movement…even disruption
3)Welcomes strangers and practices Christ’s radical hospitality
4)Keeps its focus on what God is calling it to do and be
5)Empowers others to get involved, participate, and lead.

So, are we a growing and effective church? More: are we committed to continue to learn; to grow; to roll up our sleeves, to tend God’s garden,to become God’s faithful gardeners, meeting people where they are?"*

The Church, the world, our lives, the lives of others…depend on it.

Yours on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert

*excerpts from a sermon, God’s Gardeners, preached on Mother’s Day



God's Chrysalis?

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity!" --Psalm 133

Last month, the "Emerging Church Conference" was held in Albuquerque, sponsored by Albuquerque's Center for Contemplation and Action. I had been reading about this grass-roots, ecumenical movement, and decided to attend to learn more about it.

Over 1,000 people, representing Catholic and Protestant churches, 47 states, 8 countries, (and even one Jewish and one Orthodox congregation) attended this first-ever event. About 10 of us from Santa Fe Presbytery, also, attended.

I was interested to know why folks were there, so I asked everyone I met: "Why did you come here?" The answers ranged from "learning different worship styles from different churches"; "because I read Father Richard Rohr's* books and wanted to hear him"; "to work for social justice with other faith communities”; "to join with others in Christ to do more, together, than we can do separately."

One speaker, Phyllis Tickle, author of "The Great Emergence--How Christianity is Changing and Why", described how "every 500 years there is a change of historical proportions effecting the Church--the last being Martin Luther's Reformation.” Phyllis believes we are in the middle of the church’s next 500-year change, an historical process she refers to as ‘The Emergent Church.’

What will emerge is yet to be seen. One thing is clear: there is potential for greater works of love and faith in action as the power of God's Spirit works through the Body of Christ, the Church, us, together.

My favorite speaker at the conference was a woman from the Bronx named Alexie Torres-Fleming, who described what I thought was best about this conference, as she concluded her compelling testimony, saying:

"My mother had a dream. In her dream she saw people, outside her church, crying,'Lord, when will you come? When will you come?' And, then, again, 'Lord, when will you come?And, again, a third time, 'Lord, when will you come? When will you come?'And a little voice, a still small voice, answered, ‘When will you come? Not to be a fan, but to follow me?"

The next "Emerging Church Conference" is slated for 2010, also, in Albuquerque.

Yours in the Risen Lord,
A Pastor in the Desert

*Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and Director of the Center for Contemplation & Action



He Calls Your Name

He comes to us hidden and salvation consists in our recognizing him.” –Simone Weil, Waiting on God

She does not recognize him. Jesus, her teacher and her Lord, is a stranger to her. But can we blame her for this failure? She is lost…lost in her grief and blinded by her tears. Her despair is so deep that she does not even pay much heed to the angels who are there, and simply replies to them by mumbling an excuse for her weeping. Her world is now too small to admit the presence of angels. There is no more wonder. There is no more joy. There is only death.

Her eyes, and her heart, are shut. In sorrow she turns around to leave, and Jesus is there. But she does not recognize him. Did he frighten her? Is she scared? Does he seem dangerous? She does not recognize him; she does not expect to see him standing there. Of course, he must be the gardener.

And even when he talks to her, asks her questions…”Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”…she does not realize that it is her Lord. It is not possible. She does not recognize him. But Jesus…Jesus recognizes her. “Mary,” he says. He knows her, and he calls her by her name. “Mary”.

And in that moment, that instant, everything is changed! She is known, and in being known, being fully known by him, her eyes are opened. She can now see, and a new world is opened up before her. A world of light, of beauty, of resurrection. A world with love, a place of fantastic possibilities, is born.

The tomb of death has become the womb of life. He is risen! He knows her and he calls her by her name, and everything is changed!

“Mary,” he says. And she turns to him, and sees him. And in that turning of her heart and soul to him, her broken heart and her wounded soul are healed. She, too, has now been resurrected!

“Mary,” he says. He calls her name – he calls her out of her despair and back into life…real life, abundant life…Listen. Listen with your heart wide-open. Be still, and listen closely. He is calling your name.

--Brother Bruce Neal, Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, MA (used with his permission)



Wilderness Tests

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil -Matthew 4: 1

We Protestants don’t talk much about temptation or the devil; gone are the days of Jonathon Edwards, and other Protestant pastors, preaching “fire and brimstone” sermons. It just doesn’t happen in most American Protestant Churches.

But, anyone who’s lived long (I, myself, am almost as old as some trees, fast approaching the ½- century mark) knows, if they’re honest, the reality of temptation--which, you might be interested to know, comes from the Latin “temptare” meaning, literally, “to try the strength of", to stretch”; “to test”; and “to provoke.”

Temptation is certainly not something anyone would relish. One has only to watch the evening news--with its ‘Pryamid Schemers’ or ‘Senate Seat Sellers’-- to know that’s true. Maybe, that’s why, in The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prays, “lead us not into temptation”--because, God only knows if we will have the strength to overcome some tests?

But, if temptation shows us who we are; what we value; what we’re capable of; and what, with God’s power, we can overcome--then, in an odd way, it‘s something we need in order to mature, understand ourselves better, and, if we’re willing, trust God more. Perhaps that’s the very reason, the Gospels describe: “God’s Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted…”

This Lent, may our pray not only be “Lead us not into temptation” but “God, give us the grace and power of your Holy Spirit, to overcome it.”

Yours on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert



Wilderness Lessons

“The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness…for 40 days.” -Mark 1: 12

In a cabin in the Columbia River Gorge, my husband and I learned a little about wilderness living: in winter, never buy more groceries than you can carry (or pull on a sled); but, always have groceries (in case a major storm blows through); never assume water or electricity are facts of life (they aren’t); get a good wood stove (a cord of wood and matches); know your neighbors; expect the unexpected; learn to delight in the quiet of trees, the howl of coyotes, spring flowers.

In short, simplicity is necessity in wilderness, so is being prepared. We learned this when we lived there, but, I confess, it’s easy to forget in the apparent comfort and convenience of a city. We don’t have a wood stove, anymore, for instance, or even a cord of wood. We tend to take water and electricity for granted; and, we aren’t really expecting any major storms.

We need the wilderness. It reminds us “what matters most”, and inspires us to get “back to basics.” Wilderness has a way of repudiating the frivolous and unnecessary, demanding, in their place, focus and direction. Maybe that’s why many of God's friends, throughout the Bible, spent time there: Moses, David, and--for the 40-days before Easter, in the season we call “Lent”, which begins this year on Ash Wednesday, February 25th--even Jesus.

May this Lent be a kind of wilderness journey for us: a time to remember “what matters most” to God, and, then, rekindling our focus & attention on doing it!

Yours on the Journey,
A Pastor in the Desert



Christmas Reflections for the New Year

During these twelve days of Christmas, which end on Epiphany, January 6, I offer these bright words of Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky--some of which were quoted at Rio Grande's Christmas Eve Service. I share them with you who long for 'something more' taken from one of his greatest works, The Brothers Karamazov:

"Mitya had a strange dream, utterly out of keeping with the place and with the time.

He was driving somewhere in the mountains, where he had been stationed long ago, and a peasant was driving him in a cart with a pair of horses, through snow and sleet. He was cold, it was early in November, and the snow was falling in big wet flakes, melting as soon as it touched the earth.

...Not far off was a vilage, he could see the black huts, and half the huts were burned down... And as they drove in, there were peasant women drawn up along the road, a lot of women, a whole row, all thin and wan, with their faces a sort of brownish colour, especially one at the edge, a tall, bony woman, who looked forty, but might have been only twenty, with a long thin face.

In her arms was a little baby crying...The child cried and cried, and held out its little bare arms, with its little fists blue from cold.

"Why are they crying? Why are they crying?" Mitya asked, as they dashed gaily by.

"It's the babe," answered the driver, "the babe weeping."

And Mitya was struck by the saying, "the babe"...

"But why is it weeping?" Mitya persisted stupidly, "why are its little arms bare? Why don't they wrap it up?"

"The babe's cold, its little clothes are frozen and don't warm it."

"But why is it? Why?", foolish Mitay still persisted.

"Why, they're poor people, burnt out. They've no bread. They're begging because they've been burnt out."

"No, no," Mitya, as it were, still did not understand. "Tell me why it is these poor mothers stand there? Why are people poor? Why is the babe poor? Why is the mountain barren? Why don't they hug each other and kiss? Why don't they sing songs of joy? Why are they so dark from black misery?

Why don't they feed the babe?"

And he felt that, though his questions were unreasonable and senseless, yet he wanted to ask just that, and he had to ask it just that way. And he felt a passion of pity, such that he had never known before, was rising in his heart, and he wanted to cry, and he wanted to do something for them all, so that the babe would not weep anymore, so that the dark-faced mother should not weep, that no one should shed tears again from that moment, and he wanted to do it at once, at once, regardless of the obstacles, with all the recklessness of the Karamazovs."


A Saint's Life

"It was a late Easter, the days were bright, fine, and full of fragrance. I remember how (my brother) used to cough all night, and sleep badly, but in the morning he dressed and tried to sit up in an arm-chair. That's how I remember him, sitting, sweet and gentle, smiling, his face bright and joyous, in spite of his illness.

A marvelous change passed over him, his spirit seemed transformed...My mother would go to her room and weep, but when she went in to him she wiped her eyes and looked cheerful. "Mother, don't weep, darling...Don't cry, is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we won't see it, if we would, we should have heaven on earth the next day.

Every one wondered at his words, he spoke so strangely and positively; we were all touched and wept. Friends came to see us. "Dear ones," he would say to them, "what have I done that you should love me so, how can you love any one like me, and how was it I did not know,I did not appreciate it before?"

When the servants came in to him he would say continually, "Dear, kind people, why are you doing so much for me, do I deserve to be waited on? If it were God's will for me to live, I should wait on you, for all (people) should wait on one another."

Mother shook her head as she listened. "My darling, it's your illness makes you talk like that."

"Mother, darling," he would say... "every one of us has sinned against all (people), and I more than any."

..."Why, how could you have sinned against all people, more than all? Robbers and murderers have done that, but what sin have you committed that you hold yourself more guilty than all?"

"Mother, little heart of mine," he said (he had begun using such strange carressing words at the time), "little heart of mine, my joy, believe me, every one is really responsible to all people, for all people and for everything. I don't know how to explain it to you, but I feel it is so, painfully even. And how is it we went on then living, getting angry, and not knowing?.."

The windows of his room looked out into the garden, and our garden was a shady one, with old trees in it which were coming into bud. The first birds of spring were flitting in the branches, chirping and singing at the windows.

And looking at them and admiring them, he bagan suddenly begging their forgiveness too, "Birds of heaven, happy birds, forgive me for I have sinned against you too." None of us understood that at the time, but he shed tears of joy. "Yes," he said, "there was such glory of God all about me; birds, trees, meadows, the sky, only I lived in shame and dishonored it all and did not notice the beauty and the glory..."

There was a great deal more I don't remember. I remember I went once into his room when there was no on else there. It was a bright evening, the sun was setting, and the whole room was lit up. He beckoned me, and I went up to him. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my face tenderly, lovingly; he said nothing for a minute, only looked at me like that.

"Well," he said, "run and play now, enjoy life for me too."

I went out and ran and played. And many times in my life afterwards I remembered even with tears how he told me to enjoy life for him too. There were many other marvelous and beautiful sayings of his, though we did not understand them at the time. He died the third week after Easter."

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov



"The light shines in the darkness..." -John 1:5

I'll never forget one winter evening in Nashville, TN, when 300 homeless men, a dozen women, a couple seminary professors and myself all stood in the dark, behind Room in the Inn, waiting for it to open so those in need of shelter could be driven to some of Nashville's, then, 800 churches and a few synagogues to get out of the cold.

As we waited, someone, with a guitar, began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Others began singing with him. Soon, a whole chorus of people were singing in the dark. I listened and, hard as I tried, I could not keep from crying. Tears streamed down my face, hitting the ground. A homeless man nearby noticed and, motioning others to come over, said “Why, would you look at that? She’s crying because we're homeless.” And, they all stood around me in a kind of astonished silence.

But, that wasn't the reason, really. It was because, at night, in an alley, in winter, people with nothing were singing a song about God's grace. Not exactly a song sung by angels, but the sort of song shepherds, also with nothing, might have heard, on another night, as they, too, watched and waited.

Advent is that kind of waiting: waiting in the dark for God's light to shine; waiting in winter for Christmas, God's grace, to happen--to be born-- in unexpected, unpredictable places. May that happen for you this Advent.

In God’s Grace,
A Pastor in the Desert



"...More and more I understand what people do/I appreciate the daily braveries, the clean white shirts/morning greetings between old men/Again I see how once the boat tips/you never forget the sensation of drowning..." -Naomi Shihab Nye, What People Do

Last month I had the pleasure of welcoming Presbyterian Pastor and Moderator of the Synod of Cuba during his visit last month, among other places, to the desert Southwest.

Daniel spoke about the devastation Hurricane Ike left on the island of Cuba and how, among the 200 houses in one town, only 17 were left standing. This month, folks from this Presbytery will be joining Daniel and other pastors and churches in Cuba--bringing with them needed supplies and, especially, money--to help.

Of course, Cuba was not the only place damaged by Hurricane Ike. Folks in our own country, even now, scramble to rebuild the damage done to towns, businesses and houses along the Gulf Coast.

On November 16, Rio Grande will gather for its Annual Thanksgiving Banquet (when we will give our pledges for 2009). As we do so, I hope we will remember not only the “daily braveries” of which a Texas poet wrote, but how God has seen us through to live another day; to be a blessing to another; to share our time, talents and treasures with each other, this congregation, and the world in which we live.

As a woman in our congregation reminded us one Sunday, “"I used to give a dollar to folks in need. Recently, I gave someone a twenty... without hesitation. And, that money I've given, I've never missed it!"

May the same be true for you and me!

In Christ’s Service,
A Pastor in the Desert