Reflections on The Line Becomes a River ©

Moving into the heart of January, we tend to slide easily over the first part of the life of Jesus and settle back into our lives.  Amid the chaos of international events, the clamor of impeachment hearings, and the ongoing drama of our everyday lives, there remains an important biblical story to be encountered. 

Ancient church tradition holds that the magi (or wise men) arrived to present their gifts to the baby Jesus on January 6th.  This is celebrated as Epiphany Day.  Epiphany means the “appearance” or “manifestation” of light, in
“The Massacre of the Innocents,” an 1824 painting by Léon Cogniet.Credit...Léon Cogniet/Musée des Beaux-Arts, via Alamy
the person of the baby Jesus, to the Gentiles.  A closer examination of the biblical text in Matthew 2 suggests that the wise men possibly arrived up to 2 years after the actual birth.  (see Matthew 2:16) The Epiphany is that Christ has come, God is revealed in human form to the Gentiles, that is to us. Whatever the date of arrival you put on it, what is clear is what happened next.   It is often referred to simply as the “slaughter of the innocents.” 
Herod orders all the children in the area two years old and younger to killed. Evil stalks the ancient we call holy.  The Bible tells that the baby Jesus, with his parents, fled as refugees. 
 

“When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

I wrote on this reality a few years ago and actually got a letter from someone who angrily argued that Jesus was not a refugee fleeing for his life.  It surprised me that anyone could seriously make such a wrong-headed assertion in light of the biblical evidence.  New Testament scholar after New Testament Scholar, across the theological spectrum from conservative evangelical to progress neo-unitarian, have pointed to the clear refugee status of the infant Savior and Lord.

As we move into the year of our Lord 2020, I urge us to pause in prayer and reflection over this truth.  Today around the world, we find ourselves in a growing refugee crisis.  The cacophony of the American debate over a wall is echoed in various other forms across the world.  Whatever our political position, whatever our nationality or ethnicity, those who flee seeking a better, safer life, are children of God.  We may well argue with each other about how best to respond but those who profess to follow Jesus Christ must do so understanding that He was once a refugee. Our Savior and Lord came for all and died for all.

From 1980 to 1984 I served as a pastor in the Rio Grande Valley.  Routinely, when a guest came to town to visit us, we took them across the border for dinner or shopping.  Traffic across the border both ways was a part of life.  Today it is dramatically different. Recently the active bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) in our Texas Methodist Foundation Conclave (a clergy study group for serving bishops) read The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border.  It is written by  Francisco Cantu who was an agent for the Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, a former Fulbright fellow, and the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. 
At one point, about 2/3 of the way through the book, after Cantu has left the Border Patrol to work on a Masters’ degree in writing, he encounters a friend who has lived in the United States for a number of years.  Cantu does not know if his friend is a legal immigrant or green card worker. 


The friend goes back to Mexico to be with his dying mother.  For reasons that are unclear, he has difficulty getting back into the United States after his mother dies. Cantu writes, “He doesn’t know, getting back across isn’t what it used to be.” (Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River, p. 177). This is a profoundly true observation.  I found Cantu’s book, The Line Becomes a River, to be challenging, fascinating, and disturbing. 
 

The Wall Street Journal has written that it, “veers away from propaganda and stereotypes and into the wild deserts and mountains.” The New York Times Book Review has commented that it “lays bare, in damning light, the casual brutality of the system.” 

I commend to you a reading of The Line Becomes a River.  It won’t turn a Republican into a Democrat or a Democrat into a Republican.  Instead, it will challenge to go much deeper into nuanced reflection and prayer on an incredibly complex and complicated moral issue.  We, who follow a Savior who began life fleeing the brutality of King Herod as a refugee, are invited to bring our faith into a much deeper engagement about how we might best respond to others in similar situations. 
 

H. L. Menken is reported to have asserted that “for every problem, there is a solution that is simply neat and wrong.”

 The Line Becomes a River has helped me move beyond simple solutions to greater Christian moral reflection leading to action in response.  I commend this outstanding, disturbing, enlightening book to your learning. 
 

Previous Posts

white-cross-on-top-of-church.jpg
The Possible Future of Multiple Methodist Denominations ©

Yesterday was Epiphany Day, the day of the traditional celebration of the wisemen’s (magi’s) arrival in Bethlehem. Matthew shares this profound offering from Gentile non-believers (probably followers of Zoroasterism).  When they saw the star, they ...

dont get lost banner.jpg
With Christ Into the New Year ©

Kathleen Crane, a Presbyterian pastor in Wisconsin, shared an incident that happened to her while flying a number of years ago.   “Two Sikhs, men from northern India, with their heads in turbans, sat down beside me (on the plane). We had a pleasant ...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
God Came Down! ©

Behold the truth of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - we are the visited planet! God came down and took up human form among us. The Bible states this profound, universe changing truth in such plain words. Christ Jesus, the baby whose birth we ...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
The Great Truth of Christmas ©

It seems like yesterday that the wildly popular Christmas movie Home Alone came out. It was so popular they made a sequel (four sequels actually, but no one can blame you for forgetting about Home Alone 3-5). You likely remember the original movie ...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord ©

Today, The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church released our annual Christmas letter. This year's letter was penned by the President of the Council, Bishop Ken Carter. I offer this letter as a guest blog post as we continue our Advent ...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
A Time of Choice ©

One of the truly great passages from Holy Scripture that is often a part of the designated Advent lectionary (readings assigned by the larger ecumenical church) is contained in Luke’s epic first chapter and is simply called The Magnificat because of...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
Lying in a Manger ©

As we move through the season of Advent, I invite us to take a fresh look at the old story. Even more, I invite us to lay the Advent/Christmas journey alongside the trials and tribulations of our world today – and, more specifically, alongside our ...

advent-candles 2019 edited.jpg
An Advent Hope ©

Thanksgiving fades into the background. We are home again from precious time away with family. After a three-day break from the news, we are back into the regular routine with news reports flooding back into our consciousness with jarring, even ...

jesus is lord on white bkgd.jpg
Jesus is Lord – the Heart of Discipleship ©

The earliest creedal affirmation of Christians is the simple phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” Such a confession stood in sharp contrast to the central claim of the Roman Empire with its assertion that Caesar is Lord. At the heart of discipleship lies the ...

incarnation - why it matters banner.jpg
The Incarnation Part 4 ©

In the final installment of this four-part teaching series on The Incarnation, we’ll explore Why It Matters – why does the doctrine of the incarnation matter so much to Christians? As we have walked through all the lessons in this series, we have ...

Elements for Consideration in a “Deeper Conversation” over the Future of the United Methodist Church ©

Last week, I joined with other bishops in signing a letter that called for a “new form of unity in the Methodist witness.” Collectively, we went on to say, “We believe God can use our current brokenness as a springboard to multiply our Wesleyan DNA ...

council and controversies blog primary grx.jpg
The Incarnation - Pt. 3 ©

In this week’s teaching on a key doctrinal element at the core of the Christian faith known as The Incarnation, I build on the previous two lessons “The Incarnation (week one) and “Something Different, Something Deeper” (week two) and take us into ...

Seeking New Expressions of Methodist Witness ©

I have joined a group of United Methodist bishops and issued a letter calling for deeper conversations regarding new expressions of the Methodist witness. It is my deep conviction that God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new form...

wig-logo-bishopblogsize.png
Making Disciples of Jesus Christ: A WIG Report ©

Our core mission is as basic as it is biblically grounded. It comes straight from the Risen Lord.  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to ...

blog primary grx.jpg
The Incarnation - Pt. 2 ©

  Last week (Oct. 29), I began a four-part teaching series on The Incarnation - a key doctrinal element at the core of the Christian faith. This followed a live four-session teaching series entitled “Sin and Salvation.” that debuted earlier this ...

Confession. Conviction and Response ©

The headline in Tuesday morning’s Fort Worth Star Telegram read, “A Day of Outrage in Response to Shootings.” Such a headline calls to mind our need for confession, conviction and response. It is morally bankrupt to simply receive the news of the ...

incarnation (1).jpg
The Incarnation - Pt. 1 ©

Christian conviction is that something incredible took place in a Bethlehem stable over two millennia ago. “Christian teaching” Martin Luther is said to have asserted, “is that God became flesh. Compared with that, no particular miracle matters ...

Putting Our Prayers Into Action ©

On Monday, Oct. 14, in the wake of a shooting involving Fort Worth police that claimed the life of Atatiana Jefferson, I issued a statement calling for prayer for all involved in this heartbreaking situation. However, I don’t want us to stop there. ...

Prepare for Advent as a Theologian ©

There is a story which comes back to me as I look forward to Advent and Christmas about a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys (and everything else imaginable), and after ...

Trust God ©

Recently, Jolynn and I were listening to The Seedbed Daily Text. It has become a part of our nightly devotional time. J. D. Walt, the writer/recorder, was sharing about how his family had a sign up in their home which simply read “Trust God.” As I ...

Entire Sanctification (A Guest Blog) ©

As I have indicated in previous blogs during this time of crisis in The United Methodist Church, I find myself being driven back to core purposes for The United Methodist Church. In doing so, I cannot avoid wrestling on a deeper level than I have in ...

The Spiritual Forces of Wickedness ©

A while back, I was in a worship service where someone joined the United Methodist Church via a profession of faith. As the pastor went through the vows, the following question from our official order of worship was asked: “Do you renounce the ...

“Who Do You Love?” (A Guest Blog) ©

I have on more than one occasion run into the perspective that all religions are, at their core, essentially the same. The expression I often hear is, “Well, we are all climbing the same mountain,” to which my response is, “No. We are not all ...

Report from the Mission Field ©

Among the many insightful statements from Gil Rendle (recently retired Sr. Consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation) is the comment, “the narrative [stories of faith transformation] change before the metrics do.” Recently, we began our Fall ...

professions of faith carousel.jpg
A Key Sign of Spiritual Health and Disciple-making Vitality ©

I returned home from a month of renewal leave last Monday (Aug. 19), and quickly found myself re-immersed in the regular routine of the episcopal office. There were predictable emails awaiting me about this initiative or that problem. A slew of ...

el+paso+crossses.jpg
A Still More Excellent Way ©

The recent spate of mass shooting leaves me (and I believe most of us) reeling. Texas has been my home for virtually all of my adult life. I have lived and pastored a church in the Rio Grande Valley (Wesley UMC in Harlingen). Our daughter was born ...

Spiritual Warfare, the Crisis on the Border and the Wrestling of My Heart ©

John Wimber There is an urban legend about John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church movement and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. The story goes that after his conversion to Christ, he started to attend a local church in his area. ...

New Faith Communities, Missions and CTCYM ©

While I am on renewal leave, I have invited Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth to share a guest blog.  This report was originally published June 19, 2019.  Bishop Mike Lowry At ...

Calling for Swift, Non-Partisans Solutions ©

Today, I joined my fellow active bishops of Texas, as well as several retired bishops living in the state in calling on our state and federal officials to set aside party politics and deliver a solution for the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding ...

Summer Reading and the WIG ©

As a part of my summer reading, I have enjoyed 8 Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches. With our focus on the WIG – the Wildly Important Goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – the words leaped off the page: ...

The Importance of Time Off ©

I returned to work the first of July after a week off in Northern Virginia with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. While the grandchildren (6 and 3-years-old respectively) left me exhausted, it was a good kind of exhaustion. For a ...

As the Storm Rages: Part III ©

This Blog is part three of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video ...

As the Storm Rages: Part II ©

This Blog is part two of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of ...

As the Storm Rages: Part I ©

This Blog is part one of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of ...

Living with the Bible ©

Dean David Watson of United Theological Seminary will serve as the Guest Teacher for the 2019 Central Texas Annual Conference meeting. At the 109th annual gathering of the Central Texas Conference, we have the special privilege of having one of ...

The Centrality of Worship ©

This coming Sunday night we will open the 109th gathering of the Central Texas Conference at First United Methodist Church in Hurst. Worship is central to who we are and what we are about. The Psalmist writes... 1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, ...

Amid the Fluid Chaos ©

For those following larger issues in the United Methodist Church in America, it is an understatement to assert that this is a time of fluid chaos. Conversations, and even threatened action for or against the recently concluded General Conference, ...

Q&A from Reflections and Response to GC19 Meeting ©

On May 1, Bishop Lowry and the CTC Cabinet met with the Central Texas Conference clergy and lay leadership to reflect on and respond to the decisions made at General Conference 2019 and the subsequent Judicial Council rulings on those decisions. ...

Vital CTC Laity Event ©

I want to emphatically encourage every church in the Central Texas Conference to send at least two people to the Laity Summit planned for 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday June 9 (just before the start of Annual Conference 2019). Mike Ford, our outstanding ...

On the Road Again ©

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 4th) opens a period of activity that comes around with all the regularity of blooming, perennial spring flowers. I will fly to Chicago to participate in the regularly scheduled spring meeting of the Council of Bishops of ...

Easter Reflections ©

The fire rages. The steeple consumed in a reddish-orange blaze topples. Unrehearsed, a collective gasp erupts from the watching crowd. A great symbol of the Christian faith, Notre Dame Cathedral is gutted. On Easter morning itself, seven ...

The Cross ©

It is sign and symbol. It towers over the religious landscape of our day even in a post-Christendom world. It remains both an offense and a glory. The cross of Christ looms before us on Good Friday. Before we arrive at Easter, we must first stop ...

The Entry ©

'How do you imagine the Savior enters the Holy City? Images abound. Some are famous and others merely prosaic. We have an artist's rendering hanging in our front hall at home. I like to stop at it periodically and ponder. The Lord's entry into the ...

A New Thing ©

After the called General Conference in St. Louis, I (along with others) was asked to write a brief article for Circuit Rider, an online magazine put out by The United Methodist Publishing House. The writers were asked specifically to not re-argue or...

The Question Lingers ©

The question lingers from a sermon delivered by Dean David Watson. “When people look at your Facebook page or your Twitter profile, do they know you are a Christian? Okay, you say, I have repeatedly posted Bible verses with colorful, flowery ...

Iglesia Jeme or Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing ©

We now have a house church in Italy, Texas worshipping 8-10 regularly in Spanish. This narrative, which was shared during our latest Cabinet meeting, slipped in almost softly behind the continuing upheaval caused by the recently concluded General ...

Lessons from a Christian Hero ©

It is the morning after St. Patrick’s Day and I find myself musing about what this great Christian hero would teach us. I invite us to get past green rivers, green beer and the wearing of the green for there is a towering Christian who stands both ...