I always get a kick out of people figuring out where I live. The responses are varied and widely scattered, but there is always a response. Often it’s the weather: jealousy half the year, stunned disbelief the other half (So, hot enough for you?). Other times, it’s the perplexed look on the face of the security guard at the airport, trying to make sense of my driver’s license that doesn’t expire until 2041, when I am 65. Else, there is the political calculation that flashes across a persons’ face as they attempt to place me on a spectrum on the issues of the day. There is enough weird about Arizona, that there is always going to be response.
I did not grow up here. I am far more familiar with the green Midwest. Coming to Tucson almost 7 years ago, I did not know what to expect. The desert carries an air of mystery and challenge, being ever so little bit wild, even after it has been “civilized” with pavement and canals. It can be hard to believe that this geography that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss exists on the same continent as endless fields and lush forests. It can be intimidating.
There is an essential nature to living in the desert. The environment is harsh for its beauty, and it moves you to strip away that which is unneeded and encumbering and leave it behind, taking on that which essential to the task at hand. Small things like shade, water, and shelter cannot be taken for granted. You are led to value these things all the more, knowing that it is by grace that they are given. I have come to love the desert as a place that invites those who come here to know what is most important, and leave that which is extra behind. I have come to appreciate the ways in which the Spirit moves here, and to understand why, perhaps, Jesus sought God in the desert.
Coming to Arizona is a challenge. Especially in July. For a wide variety of reasons. But it is a challenge I think we as a church are up for. The desert asks of us a response, one way or another. And it will ask that of the church, in ways readily seen and more subtly hidden behind the scenes. As an Arizonan, it is my hope that we can come together in this place of challenge and be reminded of that which is most essential, most basic; our citizenship as people of the Kingdom, a gift of grace from the hand of God. This citizenship lies at our core. It is who we ultimately are. But it is often one that we complicate with that which would separate us from our essential identity that lies in God—our languages, our ideas of how to conduct church, and how we prefer to worship. But maybe, just maybe, we can be reminded in the desert of that which binds us together, and speak for the essential presence of God in all people.
It is my hope, my prayer, that in the desert we are met by the spirit of God who holds us all together as one, and will move us still to something
that we may not have even yet imagined. I look forward to welcoming you to my desert, to my home, as we look, listen, and wait together, keen to perceive the moving God who is around us always. May we be given the courage to see, hear, and respond to all that God is doing.
Bryce Miller is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson, Ariz.