Youth Sunday!

Yesterday’s worship service was AMAZING…under the able direction of one of our adults, the kids planned the entire service. They welcomed, they ushered, they prayed, they took up the offering, they preached, they sang…it was a phenomenal worship experience.

Then adults and kids met in Sunday school to debrief the worship service. Here’s some of what I heard: Youth: “Our youth group became a little closer working on this service.” Adult: Oh, man. I don’t remember anything specifically…but there was tender sharing all around the room. Aduls listened to teenagers, teenagers listened to adults, we told each other we loved each other. (Okay. One adult did say that our church was “groovy.” I said that I thought that if you said you were groovy, you probably weren’t.)

Sunday we definitely mucked around in the holy. A tremendous experience.

I’ll end with an image and a quote…IMAGE: Children’s Time–6 or 7 children and 10 teenagers gathered together in the front of the church. In that gathering, we saw the church’s future…and it was very bright.

QUOTE: Youth (at the end of Sunday School…in tears t the adults): “I just love you guys, and I love this place.”

A bright future, indeed…

Real Life Community: Jean Vanier

One of the disappointments of pastoring is when members who once were gung-ho about the church slowly pull away. A quote from Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities suggests one possible reason for some people’s disenchantment with community…

“Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase–that of realism and true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people–each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”


Common Prayer and Social Justice

I just finished the reading for the day from “Common Prayer.” What a great resource for thinking about social justice in a faith context! Traditional prayers and songs are interspersed with stories about saints of old and contemporary saints–all people who sought to do what they could to help all people live free and unimpeded lives.

Today’s prayer in “Common Prayer” began by marking the 17th anniversary of the Hebron Massacre, the day when a Jewish settler entered a mosque in Hebron, Israel, and opened fire on worshipers. Twenty nine Muslims died that day. The paragraph ends with this statement:
“It is a reminder that extremists of all faiths have distorted the best that our faiths have to offer, and it is our prayer that a new generation of extremists for love and grace will rise up.” (p.158)

“Extremists for love”…Several years ago I ran across a definition of love by Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison that transformed my understanding of the word. She said (I’m paraphrasing a bit): “love is the power to act each other into well-being.” My favorite thing about this definition is that action is central to it. To quote another old saying, “Love is something you do.”

Maybe that’s part of what connects social justice and church–the impetus for it. Why work to ensure that all people are able to live free and unimpeded lives? Because of love, the power to act others into well-being.

Two more things from today’s “Common Prayer”… “Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.'” So, doing is important. Doing the BIG thing isn’t always necessary. And sometimes doing the big thing–if done for the wrong reasons–isn’t even as helpful as the small thing, if the small thing is done out of love.

Today’s “Common Prayer” reading ended with this prayer: “Today, Lord, help us make our lives an offering of quiet commitment to thread love through the torn garments of society. Amen.”

That might be the best defintiion of social justice I’ve heard…a commitment to “threading love through the torn garments of society.”

Got your sewing kit?

Peace for your journey…

P.S. you can find an online version of “Common Prayer” at

Social Justice and Church?

I know I’ve already blogged today…I guess it’s feast or famine with me…but Allen and I just finished wrestling with a question I was asked last week: How do I, as a pastor, engage in social justice?

Great question, right? Hard to answer. At the church I pastor, some people have left because we’re too focused on social justice, while others have left because we’re not focused enough on social justice. The thing is, it seems like, though we all assume we use the term in the same way, everyone has their own definition of “social justice.”

For some people, social justice is about demonstrations and lobbying and “changing systems” (another term that means different things to different people). For others, social justice is about LGBT rights or anti-war protests or working to eradicate poverty or lobbying for a livable wage for all people. For some people, working for social justice is about “living lightly on the earth”–driving hybrids and reducing carbon footprints. For others, social justice is about working with the poor or on behalf of children or with the disabled or for gender equity.

If we had one definition of “social justice,” it might be easier to answer the question…but we don’t. I guess I’ll have to devise my own. Here goes.

It seems like you have to begin with the idea that all human beings–every last one–have the same right to live free and unimpeded lives (to the extent that their freedom does not impede anyone else’s freedom). A global/political description of this idea is the United Nations’ “Declaration of Human Rights.” A couple of Christian descriptions of the idea: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28) “God so loved the world that WHOSOEVER believes in God…” (John 3:16) “God shows no partiality” Peter says in Acts 10:34.

If you begin with the idea that everyone has the same right to live freely, then you engage in social justice when you notice places in the world where people are not treated the same, where people do not have the same right to live free and impeded lives, where some people have more rights than others. You engage in social justice when you do whatever you can to make it possible for everyone to live free and unimpeded lives.

An example: Every human being needs food, right? The human body doesn’t function well without proper nutrition. It’s hard to live a free and unimpeded life if you’re starving. The places where people do not have enough food to eat–that is the result of an imbalance of justice. Thus, working on the issue of hunger is a means of engaging in social justice.

But there are so many ways of engaging the issue of world hunger as a social justice issue. At our church, we collect food for the local food pantry; we prepare and serve food on the fifth Tuesday; we work occasionally at a different food bank; we participate in a summer lunch program to help feed children who wouldn’t have a midday meal otherwise; our youth and some adults participate in the 30 Hour Famine each year. We also contribute to ecumenical offerings, part of whose funds go to relieve hunger in places around the United States and the globe. Are we engaging in social justice? Absolutely.

And yet…there are some people who say that simply giving people food only perpetuates the problem of hunger. If we don’t address the systems that create a glut of food in some places and a scarcity of it in others, then the situation will never change. My dad, an agriculture professor, once said, “World hunger isn’t a food problem, it’s a political problem.” When asked how to solve the world’s hunger problem, the Dalai Lama said simply: “Share.” Perhaps the most striking comment about hunger as a justice issue was spoken by Dom Helder Camara, a 20th c. Catholic bishop in Brazil. Camara said this: “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why there were poor, they called me a Communist.”

Okay…I haven’t really reach any resolution, have only barely begun to answer the question…but I can tell this is going to take a while. So I think I’ll stop for now. I’m certain I’ll return to the topic.

Any other thougths about social justice and the church?

Peace for your journey…

Self-care–God’s for it!

This real life pastor gets tired sometimes.  Like most folks, I over-commit, over-function and rationalize all my busy-ness because I’m “doing God’s work.”  The thing is, the cells in my body can’t distinguish between God’s work and other work.  To my body, work is work and when I’ve done too much of it, it gets tired.  Really tired.

The thing I hate is when exhaustion hits on a Sunday morning.  I remember one time several years ago falling asleep during the Silent Confession.  I fell asleep leading worship!  Man.  That was too tired. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was dragging again.  Often when I drag, I say a little prayer:  “God, please use me, despite my exhaustion.  And, if you can, give me a little extra energy.”  I was, after all, working for God, right?  A little miracle in the synapse action of my brain shouldn’t be too much to ask.  Here’s how God responded: “Honey. I’m not going to be able to use you until you get some rest.”


When I received that response, I realized that I was asking God to take better care of me than I was taking of myself.  It wasn’t much different than a teenager asking God to help her ace a test for which she hadn’t studied.  “God, give me energy, even though I haven’t done what I know I should do to create that energy for myself.”  God isn’t a puppeteer.  God doesn’t want to do our lives for us.  God wants to work with us in our lives, co-creating  with us a life of wonder and joy and love.   Doesn’t that sound like lots more fun than simply saving us from ourselves?

When that “Aha!” came in the middle of the worship service, I realized I was going to have to muddle through somehow, foggy-headed though I was.  God wasn’t going to save me from myself this time.  I had to live with the consequences of neglecting self-care.  So, I did.  I muddled through…I muddled through worship, muddled through Sunday school, muddled through all the hand-shaking, muddled through lunch with Allen, went home…  and slept.

I can’t be sure, but just before dropping off, I think I heard these words:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Peace (and rest!) for your journey…

Grace of the Next Moment

You know those weeks when everything goes right? You follow through with everything you say you’re going to do, the creative juices flow, the house is clean, the desk at work is clean, you let down no one, and check everything off your to-do list every day? In this perfect week, you might even you blog every day!

Yeah. This wasn’t one of those weeks for me. I must have gotten 5 (maybe it was 10) emails from people reminding me of things I’d forgotten to do. Sigh. The people pleaser in me really hates letting people down…

..but you know, every moment is a chance to start over. The one good thing that came out of my dissertation was the idea of the “grace of the next moment.” Because time continually moves forward, every moment–every moment!–is a chance to start over. Sometimes you have to mop up the mess from your failures, but then, life goes on again…sometimes even to the point where you have one of those really great weeks again.

Here’s hoping!

Peace for your journey…

Nelson Mandela: “To be free…”

February 10, 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa. Do you remember where you were when you heard he’d been released? Do you remember how you felt? And that was just 3 short months after the Berlin Wall fell. What an amazing time of liberation! It felt like the whole world was getting free!

…and yet…we cntinue to pray for people in Egypt, North Korea, Tibet, the list of un-free places is long. Too long.

On this anniversary of Mandela’s release, it is good to remember all the places in the world where relative peace has been attained. At the same time, we will do well to remember Mandela’s words: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (Quoted in “Common Prayer”, 140.)

May the freedom we seek and celebrate be freedom for all people.

Peace for your journey…

One Really Intense Worship Service

Sunday’s worship service was very intense. Amazingly so. Before I tell you about Sunday, though, I need to tell you about a book club meeting last June.

The book group had read a book about women’s spirituality. The ensuing conversation led us to a point where we began wondering how we might encourage and support young girls and women on their faith journeys. At that point, one of the women remarked on the recent news that Atlanta is one of the top five cities for the sexual exploitation of children–child prostitution. Bewildered, the woman cried: “We’ve got to do something about this!”

I pastor a really good group of folks, people who, with every fiber of their beings really do want to make a difference in the world. So often though, as with most well-meaning people, the conversation ends with “We’ve got to do something!” because that’s usually the point at which we get so overwhelmed that we begin to feel so very small that we give up. Oh sure. We feel guilty about giving up…but the problem just seems too big. We don’t see how anything we could do would change anything.

So…I asked the next question. “What are we going to do?” Dead silence. More dead silence. Then one person said, “Well, I know this attorney who works with children’s issues; maybe I can talk with her.” And another said, “I can look some things up on line.” “Yeah,” someone else said, “I can do some research, too.”

And from that night, a movement was born. We visited an informational session at a neighboring church. We invited someone from an advocacy group for vicitms of the child sex trade to come speak at our church. We bought Christmas gifts for residents at a safe house for girls who have left “the life.” A large group in the church became and has stayed involved.

Which brings me to Sunday’s worship service. I asked Donna Papenhausen, a UCC pastor who is a member of our church, to preach for me the Sunday after Christmas. The text for the day? Matthew 2:12-23, the passage we call “The Slaughter of the Innocents” (the one where Herod sets out to kill all the boy babies in the area). Donna wrote a powerful sermon (she sent me a copy beforehand) likening Herod to contemporary psychopaths…like pimps of young girls.

Then, the snow came. Church was cancelled. But Donna’s sermon was so powerful, I started thinking of a time when she might preach it. Then it all came together this past Sunday. Donna preached. Allen (my husband and Pilgrimage’s Music Director) picked some amazing hymns (“Little Children, Welcome” which has the line, “Little children, welcome! We, the church of Jesus, we will help your growing, little children, welcome!”) I led a healing ritual in the 8:30 worship service, where all present stood in for healing by proxy for the victims of the child sex trade. And I led a communion service in both services where we were reminded of the brokenness of all children…and of the power of the table–somehow–to heal us, a little bit anyway. (See the communion liturgy below.)

After the second worship service, we heard Pamela Perkins from Interfaith Children’s Movement speak. She showed us ways to become involved in advocacy for children, things we might do to prevent children from becoming victims of the sex trade. On the way out the door, several members already were talking about ways to become involved.

A powerful, powerful day. Powerful because, (1) it was a group effort (very much guided by the Spirit) and (2) it helped us to make the connection between our worship and our service. Somehow, Sunday felt like kin-dom work.

It was powerful…AND we’re not having a worship service like that again for a while. Intense worship is good…when taken in small doses!

Peace for your journey…

Here’s the communion liturgy from Sunday:

Communion: February 6, 2011

The night before Jesus was wrongly arrested, paraded through the streets, abused, and eventually killed, he knew he would need strength for what was coming….so he gathered with his friends for a sacred meal—sacred because it was Passover, and more sacred still because he shared with those friends the cares of his heart, the things he most feared and dreaded and hoped.

If nothing else does it, Jesus at the last supper sharing his final meal with his friends shows us just how human he was, just how apprehensive, just how much he identified with the most vulnerable in our world.

Why else would he have said, “This is my body, broken for you?”
Why else would he have lifted the cup and said, “This is my blood, poured out for you?”

Today, as every communion day, we remember Jesus. On this day, let us also remember the people, the children, especially, who have no safe place to share the things they most fear and dread and hope. Let us remember today the children who are broken—

The children who are unloved…broken…
The children who are uncared for…broken
The children who are hungry…broken…
The children who are thirsty…broken…
The children who are vulnerable…broken…
The children who are homeless…broken…
The children who are beaten….broken…
The children who have to grow up too fast….broken…
The children who end up on the streets…broken…
The children so hungry for love, they go with the first person who acts loving, never suspecting he’s a pimp…broken…

The children who lose their innocence in seedy motel rooms…broken…
The children who contemplate taking their lives they are living are so horrendous….broken…

The children looking for a village, their village to step up…those people who will nurture them, advocate for them, keep them safe, and act them into well-being…broken…

As we come to this table today, let us remember all the broken children and all the broken adults who exploit them. Let us remember, too, our brother Jesus, whose own brokenness, somehow, can heal us all.

Let us pray. Mending God, today we ask that you would indwell each broken piece of bread, each tiny sip of juice—may they nourish us and strengthen us and, somehow, make us a little more whole than we have been. Amen.

(Sharing the elements)

Let us pray. Now that we have visited the table and been nourished, which is to say, healed a little, send us out to do your work in the world God…help us to work for justice, help us to act “the least of these” into well-being; help always, always, always, to walk humbly with you…for the sake of our children. Amen.

We invited Pamela Perkins from Interfaith Children’s Movement to come speak to us about ways we might become actively involved in helping children (hopefully, helping them before they ever end up with a pimp).

Dealing with Sadness

Yesterday someone asked a question I’m frequently asked: How do you deal with so much sadness, particularly the kind that attends the difficult diagnoses, the news that the cancer has returned and that there are no treatment options left?

How do I deal with so much sadness? I get sad. After walking with people through several years of their lives, I grow to love them. A lot. the prospect of losing them hurts…

…like the day I visited an elderly member–one I had grown to love deeply–and recognized that he no longer recognized me. That day I ran back to my car and sobbed. I sobbed because I was sad.

So, yes. It’s sad when someone you’ve grown to love begins the last leg of their life’s journey, but sadness isn’t everything I feel…because, as that person’s pastor, I have a job to do. And my job is this: to be present. That’s really it–just be present. There’s nothing more I CAN do. I’m not a doctor; I can’t cure anything. I’m not a nurse; I can’t make anyone more comfortable. I’m not a family member; I don’t do the things famly members do. I’m a pastor. I show up and offer my presence…and through my presence (and maybe a prayer), I remind the others in the room that God also is present.

That’s pretty much what we pastors do–we show up. We show up, we say a few words (and those are optional, I’m learning), and then, barring some crisis, we leave. And when we leave, we entrust the person to God’s care.

How do I deal with the sadness when a congregant’s devastating diagnosis comes? With sadness, with presence, and with the full knowledge that the beloved is in God’s hands. Always.

Thanks be to God.

Common Prayer Prayerbook

Each year I use a different prayerbook for my private prayer time. The diversity keeps me interested, you know?

I found one called “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” at the bookstore back in November. I love several things about this prayerbook.

1) It feels very ecumenical. The fact that it’s a prayerbook, that there are Psalm and Scripture readings, the Lord’s Prayer every day, feels like the prayer I’ve experienced with the Benedictines at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Indiana. Some of the songs we sing–folk songs and such–remind me of my Baptist days (even “Nothing but the Blood!”). Others are definitely Gospel (“I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”). There are also Taize, Hispanic hymns, chant…

Here’s what the compliers say about the different traditions represented in the book: “Folks are bound to ask if this prayer book is for Catholics or for Protestants. Our answer is, ‘Yes, it is.’ We want the fire of the Pentecostals, the imagination of the Mennonites, the Lutheran’s love of Scripture, the Benedictines’ discipline, the wonder of the Orthodox and Catholics. We’ve mined the fields of church history for treasures and celebrated them wherever we’ve found them. We’ve drawn on some of the oldest and richest traditions of Christian prayer. And we’ve tried to make them dance.” (10)

2) The quotes…nearly every morning, prayer contains some quote from a saint of some sort. Not all of these saints are Catholic. Some of them aren’t even Christian. But all of them get me thinking about how to live faith, not just in my head or in my recliner at home or the pulpit at church. They get me thinking about how to live my life out in the real world. The authors say this about the quotes: “Not all of these quotes are from Christians, nor was it our intention to endorse everyone we quoted, but we do believe that anything true belongs to God, no matter whose mouth it comes from.” (24) Cool, huh?

3) Artwork–at the beginning of each month is a beautiful woodcut. Gotta love those.

4) At the end of each month there’s a section called “Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: A Few Ideas.” Here’s one from the end of January: “Try to go a whole week without spending any money. If you have to, barter or beg a little to make it through.” Or “Join a Bible study led by someone with less formal education than yourself.” Or “Attempt to repair something that is broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you on a regular basis.” (126)

5) Here’s the best thing about this prayer book…and I just discovered it this morning! There’s a website that includes the prayers for each day! Check it out!

As gung ho as I am about it, I do have two disappointments with Common Prayer. The first is that it doesn’t use inclusive language. The other is that the book is meant to be used in community prayer. I’d like to be reading it in community as well.

Anyone want to join me?

Peace for your journey…