Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Dr. Luther E. Smith, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Church and Community at Chandler School of Theology in Atlanta. Dr. Smith spoke at The Gathering of the pastors of the Conference. In his remarks, Dr. Smith offered three themes for these days. First, he spoke about our need to embrace community, saying community is God’s gift to us and God’s passion for us. Secondly, he spoke about turning conflict into transformation; and thirdly, Dr. Smith declared to us that hope is here and he encouraged us to work together to keep hope alive.
These were pearls of wisdom to us as we anticipate changes that may come because of the special called session of the General Conference which meets from February 23-26 in St. Louis. The world is watching us as we meet. I anticipate that we will demonstrate that our United Methodist Church will continue to be a church unified about our mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ rather than to be narrowly focused on matters of human sexuality.
But for the moment, I want to focus on Dr. Smith’s encouragement to embrace community. We know that God’s expectation is that we humans live in community, in relationship with one another. We were not meant to live isolated and lonely in solitary self-confinement. Rather, God created us to love one another with Jesus as the model for our lives. In Jesus we know the extent to which our love for others should bring us into relationship with the community. Jesus teaches us that God wants us to love all persons, even the marginalized of society, even loving those who may not love us. We are created to embrace community and love all persons.
While at the retreat center where I heard Dr. Smith, I happened across two beautiful, majestic saguaro cacti. I couldn’t help but notice how closely they were growing, and I thought about how symbolic these cacti were of some of our human relationships. Know anyone who is “prickly” like a cactus? These are folk who are sometimes difficult to live with. Perhaps they are negative and complain about everything. Or perhaps they seem to lack social graces and speak and act in unkind ways. Maybe these two cacti remind you of someone with whom you are having a very, very challenging relationship with at work, in the community, or perhaps at church. Prickly people tend to repel us. But God creates us with the hope and expectation that we will live in community, in relationship with one another even with those who are “prickly” and hard to love. Let us work diligently to do so.
And let us pray that each of us will grow in grace and in love with God and one another following God’s call to love as Jesus loved us.
Robert T. Hoshibata,
The Desert Southwest Conference
The United Methodist Church