Midway Oasis

Midway Oasis

Apache Junction, Tempe, the Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren and the Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren have all offered a peaceful oasis for the past four days.

After a long day of driving last Wednesday from Albuquerque through the Acoma and Zuni Pueblos, into Arizona, through the Navajo and Fort Apache Reservations, the Tonto National Forest, and down through the Salt River Canyon, Hannah and I arrived in Apache Junction, at the winter home of my dear friend and mentor, Grace Marie Hamilton. After a delicious home-cooked supper, we walked out into the desert and stood beneath giant saguaros to watch “the greatest show on Earth” – a Southwest sunset in ever-changing hues of pink, blue and purple. Marie and I talked late into the evening, marveling at the journey of the past two and a half years that led us both to this place. “What were the chances?” and “Who could have ever imagined?” we kept repeating.

The next morning, Hannah and I set off for Tempe, did a bit of sightseeing, then went to the home of Pastor Greg’s aunt and uncle, Karen and Jim Walters and their son, Tony. “Salt of the earth” was the phrase that came to mind as these humble, thoughtful folks shared stories of their lives and work over many decades. It was a privilege to spend time with them. (I also got to hear some great “Pastor Greg” stories and see some entertaining high school photos, with all of the hairstyle and fashion elements the 1980’s had to offer!)

Hannah and I spent most of Friday at an auto repair shop, getting the van checked out, as Wednesday’s long journey over the mountains at Salt River had resulted in a strange burning smell and odd noises coming from the front end of the van. After a thorough check and a test drive, the mechanic diagnosed the problem as a bit of axle grease that had gotten onto hot moving parts. He cleaned it up, and pronounced the van “in great shape.” The small inspection fee they charged was money well-spent for peace of mind as I face the very long drive (over 1000 miles) from Arizona to Kansas this coming week.

On Saturday, Marie and I led a workshop on “Healthy Conversations and Creative Conflict Resolution” for church board members at the Papago Buttes CoB. What a committed and thoughtful group of servant leaders, with Pastor Don Shankster at the helm! Though our workshop was competing with a gorgeous, sunny Saturday (one of the first they’ve had in a while after several months of heavy rains), we managed to cover a lot of material, have a bit of fun, and hopefully offered them some food for thought and fresh ideas for their continuing leadership of the congregation. I was especially impressed with how this congregation has incorporated their values about simplicity, accessibility, community, and caring for creation into both the physical structure of their church building and their approaches to being a community of faith.

This morning, Marie and I had the privilege to be a part of one of the most joy-filled worship services I’ve ever attended at Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren. They are in the midst of a study of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, and it was clear from the moment we arrived that they are walking the talk of Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. From Pastor Kate Spire’s gesture of radical love through foot-washing to welcome us, to powerful music during the service, to thoughtful questioning after Marie and I shared stories of restorative justice, and lively discussion (over a delicious lunch!) of how Circle of Peace might become involved in this work, it was clear their congregation takes seriously God’s call to be a missional church.

This week’s “oasis time” was made even more special by the opportunity to spend time with Hannah, who brought joy, thoughtfulness and laughter to our travels together and who was an incredibly good sport, going with the flow of each day’s stops and starts, including my many stops to take yet-another photo. (She tried to convince me that the ubiquitous “Photo Enforcement Zone” signs out here mean police may nab me for stopping to take too many oddball photos!) It was bittersweet to say goodbye to her when I dropped her off at the Phoenix airport this morning. I will miss my traveling partner.

With 4634 miles and five weeks of traveling and speaking now behind me, I’ve reached the midway point (at least time-wise) of this journey. It feels fitting to now be turning back east, headed, ultimately, toward home (by way of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky!)

I humbly ask for your prayers for traveling mercies as I spend the next three days driving (and driving and driving) to reach McPherson, Kansas in time for a Thursday evening speaking engagement. It will be a long, lonely stretch of this journey, and one that will surely test me, mentally, physically and spiritually. But knowing I have the love and support of so many dear friends and family members will continue to sustain me, as it has every mile of the way thus far.

I’ll close with a quote by the 13th century mystic and poet, Jelaluddin Rumi, that I think speaks to the true spirit and heart of what mediation and restorative justice are all about:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I will meet you there.”

Shalom,
Melanie

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where or with whom have you found an “oasis” recently?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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