Growing up in Southwest Florida, I had no concept of what a mountain was.
My nana lived four hours north of me. I remember rollerblading down her street, on what I thought was the biggest hill in the whole world. Where I lived, the only roads with a slope were bridges, built high enough to let the boats through. The highest point in Florida is Britton Hill—only around 300 feet high—and it is 10 hours away from where I grew up, far outside the world of my childhood.
So imagine my awe to just see the sidewalks in Pittsburgh…much less go hiking and driving around this state’s mountains. Where I grew up hills count as mountains; I am humbled by the limits of my viewpoint. I remember Richard Rohr saying “every viewpoint is just a view from a point.”
I also think about how Jesus should change everything we see. An old Puritan prayer, “The Valley of Vision,” begins:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory…
Picture this…being in a valley, where the depths and the heights meet! Where is Jesus? Well, we can see Jesus standing with us. Jesus loves us. He comes to us to meet us where we are. That is our viewpoint. But there is more to it than that.
Imagine me as a young boy, taking Jesus with me to rollerblade on Nana’s hill, the steepest place I can imagine. It’s a sweet picture, but it does not capture nearly enough. A life of faith is more than rollerblading with Jesus. Even if we see ourselves doing the grandest most important things we can think of with Jesus—on our biggest ‘mountains’—there is more.
Jesus finds us in our small corner of the earth, but not to just tagalong. He’s not there to just affirm what we want to do and echo our perspective. Jesus is truly God. We know Jesus because he’s down in the depths with us. But he is also in the heights.
We all must reach the Valley of Vision. We need to stand in a place where we can both appreciate our personal history…and grasp the bigger picture at the same time. But that Valley of Vision is a really special place. People have to really care and be willing to work to create a special space like that.
This past weekend on World Communion Day, our global connection lifted up the witness of Ellery Paraso Ortiz who grew up in the Philippines, received a scholarship funded by World Communion offerings, and now works to share his Filipino UM heritage as well as its connection to the whole. Ellery appeared on all of our denomination's posters, inserts, and envelopes for World Communion Day 2018. If you missed it, his story is at umcgiving.org/impact-articles/giving-an-old-story-new-purpose
As someone who serves on our conference’s Commission on Archives and History, I now see how Ellery’s story brings life to our efforts. In Bedford County, where I serve the Alum Bank/Point Charge, we are less than an hour’s drive from First UMC in Johnstown, the site of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) merger in 1946. Our local churches here have a unique heritage and perspective, too. And next year, May 7-9, 2019, we will host people from across our Northeast Jurisdiction—spanning from West Virginia to Maine—to visit the historic sites in the Johnstown area.
In Western Pennsylvania, we worship and understand tradition the way we do in large part because of our strong EUB perspective. Yet many of our neighboring annual conferences, and even some of our own, have little exposure to the EUB viewpoint.
Think about that. For many United Methodists, a visit here might be like the first time I ever saw one of Pennsylvania’s great mountains.