Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On the Not-Gods

Mere echo of divine,
We are beautiful,
Blessed, And broken.

And so: We try
filling the God-spaces
With not-God.

Playing at divinity,
We are royalty,
Retainer, Retinue.

And so: We suffer
For loyalty
To our not-Gods.

Washing away
The not-Gods
Is harder
Than it looks.

A reflection after
studying 2 Samuel 11,
2 Samuel 12, and Psalm 51
in preparation for worship

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Not too familiar

Holy. Holy. Holy.

You are the Holy One,
(although we have been
known to forget it).

We have been known to
treat you in overly familiar ways,
miscategorizing you as a mere friend
or bearer of good advice.

Forgive us for that presumption.

There is something in us
that wants to shrink you
to a manageable size.

So – although we tremble
to ask it, from time to time,
impress upon us

Your wild imagination,
Your crazy schemes,
Your Holy call.

Shock us (from time to time,
but only when we really need it)
into faithfulness.

Remind us that Holy has chosen us.
The source of Freedom has chosen us.
Remind us that, as Christ taught and lived,
Love has chosen us. Amen.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Raising a Child to Think Theologically (or teaching yourself to)

We've been playing 'Spot the Jesus' for a while now.  It's become second nature in our household - as much as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is for more normal families or friends.  Of course, not being mainstream movie or TV watchers, we tend to find ours in sci-fi.  Apologies to my beloved preacher's kid for saddling her with this affliction. I think she knows it all started innocently.

For me, this road began (mumble) years ago when I ran a short-lived pizza & movie series at church. While prepping for it, I bumped into a lovely little site called Hollywood Jesus and I never looked back.  That site's gotten a little blinky for my taste but still offers great connections if you're intimidated. We never got to the discussion part of the night when we did it at church, because we were mostly homebodies, and by the time the movie was over, everybody just wanted to get home.  But in the comfort of your own household, with family or a congenial group of can talk back to your Netflix feed all you want.

You don't have to look too hard to find the Gospel images, death-and-resurrection, and other Jesus-themes in entertainment media.  It doesn't even have to be Christian media.  Actually, the ones that don't come out of the Christian media-entertainment-complex tend to be better.

You also don't have to be a pastor to inflict this curse on your own child (or spouse).  Read a Bible passage together. Make it easy on yourself...pick something familiar, or short.  Parables work - try the feeding of the 5000.  So does whatever the pastor talked about in Sunday service.  Or choose Christmas or Easter.  Then talk about where you saw it in a book, in a TV show, in a movie...or in your own life.

Some sightings that we're fond of:

  • Harry Potter...that was easy.  Way. Too. Easy.  This is a gimme.  The whole train station scene in the last movie?  Go watch it.  But there's also Wizard Chess in book 1/movie 1.  Give that a whirl.  
  • Divergent (series)...there are incidents in all three books.  
  • The Matrix...another gimme.  If you can't see it, then you're not looking.
  • Gran Torino...that was Mom's movie night.  The PK didn't get to see that one. You probably shouldn't let your kiddo watch it either.  But this is another gimme.  You'll understand when you watch it.
  • Les Miserables...Read Isaiah 2:4. Then 1 John 4 (the letter, not the Gospel).  Then listen to the finale.
  • Doctor Who...We just rewatched a 3-episode arc from 2007.  Start with Utopia, then watch the next two episodes.  How many Jesus things can you spot?  Of course, if you're a real Whovian, you might need to rewatch all of the New Who episodes and catch the Christ imagery.   

I dare you to start playing spot-the-Jesus. It'll start to grow your own faith, your Biblical knowledge, your connection to the sacred stories.   If you do, leave me a note.  I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Words of Assurance, for those who love the stage

Hear and remember:
Christ is waiting in the wings
To meddle with your assumptions.
No matter how far off script you have gone,
No matter how convoluted the plot,
There is always a new way through,
A divine gift, offered freely for you.
(Thank the heavens. Thank God.)


Developed for a God on Broadway worship series,
Used on the Sunday when we took our theme from the show 'Pippin.'

Monday, August 04, 2014

7 Arguments for Hymnal, Songbook AND Screen (and sometimes none of the above)

If there is a neutral or agnostic stance on the matter of screens vs songbooks/hymnals in worship, I have yet to encounter it.  There seems to be a great deal of passionate either/or thinking in this skirmish in the Great Worship Wars.

"Screens will ruin the aesthetics of the sanctuary!" 
"We're too focused on the screen, and not on worshiping!"
"Those old hymns just don't make any sense to me.  What do those words mean anyway?"
"How do you sing harmony with any of these new songs?  Can't we just sing something familiar?"
"Do we have to sing all.five.verses of yet another hymn?"

A post on the "use hymnals and not screens" side of the debate from Ponder Anew ( has been circulating among my pastor friends on Facebook.  Without disparaging any of the well-thought-out points the author makes, I'd like to rebut the assumption that this has to be an either/or proposition, and gently suggest that there are strong reasons to both/and.

7 Arguments for Hymnal, Songbooks, and Screen (and sometimes, none of the above)

1.  Hospitality.  

Having the words projected as well as in a songbook gives worshipers options.  Those folks juggling young ones have a shortage of free hands.  (ditto, some of our unsteady seniors who need both hands to balance while standing).  On the other hand, I've been that short person in the back row who can't see the screen over the person standing in front of her. When I announce the availability of both, I tell the worshiping congregation, "use whichever lets you worship more fully." 

2. Follow the Bouncing Ball.  

Sometimes the notation in a hymnal or songbook is confusing.  Ever seen an odd series of repeats, done to meet a certain page count? Ugh!  For someone who is not secure in their music-reading skills, these can be a  huge barrier.  By providing the text on screen in all its glory - verses, choruses, repeats, second endings - in a linear fashion, you can avoid overwhelming the reader. We've been known to warn the congregation, "there are some tricky repeats in the print version; you might want to lean on the screen here." You don't have to literally have a bouncing ball to show the reader the way through, but if you dedicate some attention to your visual presentation, you can mitigate the effects of bad editing.  

3. Try It, You'll Like It.  

To a congregation used to a traditional hymnal, a more contemporary songbook can be off-putting.  If you look at a page of syncopated notes, tied notes and dotted-whatevers, you might blanch because you can't figure out how to count it. However, if you hear the piece, it's much easier to pick up (most of those pop-music earworms are syncopated, don'tcha know)! 

Have a song leader teach it to the congregation by ear before you ever crack the songbook.  There's plenty of literature out there on how to do this - I won't presume to cover material covered so ably by John Bell and others.  What usually works for us:  Teach the tune. Put the text on screen with line breaks at musical phrases, and let the congregation feel where it's all supposed to go. (Interestingly, the choir struggles the most with this. Syncopation does not come naturally to those used to traditional anthems and metrical hymns.  Our compromise is to let them have their music in print and not fight it. During rehearsal, we teach the choir from the text, and they're our 'ringers' spread throughout the congregation during the service.)   

4. Expanding the Canon.  

A good hymnal and/or songbook is a great asset to a congregation.  But a church wedded to its hymnal is working with a closed musical canon.  Purchase a music license (yes, you do need one), and you've opened the horizon.  You gain access to new composers who might not be on editors' radar screen yet, and to brand-new pieces that are written to respond to breaking world events.  You are no longer hostage to denominational print houses' publishing cycles or editorial priorities; instead you can craft an ever-expanding canon that meets the needs and heart-song of your own worshiping community.  We've committed to increasing the congregation's worship music repertoire with a blend of formats:  hymns, contemporary pieces, popular music, and world music.  No one songbook does a great job of covering these.  A music license and the availability of the screen gives us affordable access to many more resources.

5. Eco-Friendly (and budget-friendly).  

To the point above, you might argue that you can accomplish the same by photocopying tunes and lyrics and providing as a bulletin insert or a custom congregational songbook.  If we printed every new piece we try, our Sunday morning bulletin would end up bloated...and most of that paper lands in the recycle bin an hour later.  We've been known to try a piece one or more times, realize it won't work for us right now, and (at least temporarily) retire it.  We'd rather put the lyrics on screen and see if the song will stick than kill endless trees and run up our photocopying expense.

6. Better Sound.  
When people sing up and out, the sound fills the sanctuary much better than when their nose is buried in a songbook.  Only our most experienced singers, singing their most familiar songs, managed to pull this off when we were a mostly-print-based worshiping body. When we made the switch to offering the screen as well as print materials, the energy level in the room increased.   Again, screen not required, if you have a confident song leader, but there are great benefits to getting your nose out of the book, no matter how you manage it.

7.  Singing and Playing with Heart.  
Have you ever performed with an amazing ensemble, where you get to the stage where you can feel one another's performance, rather than having to work hard to be "together"?  That's the kind of spirit-filled magic that can happen when a congregation and their accompanist can let go of the "as written" ethos and offer up their musical gifts as one cohesive unit.  Nothing about singing from a hymnal prohibits that from happening...but sometimes reliance on a hymnal can inhibit it.  If the more eagle-eyed among the congregation are not comparing notes on the page and tempo markings to how the accompanist actually offers the piece, the Body of Christ can relax and be more fully present.

A Coda...

A guest in worship recently remarked upon the strength of our congregational singing.  She said she didn't know any of the music we were singing that day - but the mixture of tools we offered made it easy for her to participate.  In the end, it goes back to hospitality.  As worship planners and worship leaders, how can we provide the tools that allow more people to worship more fully?  Sometimes it's the heft of a hardcover hymnal and the weight of time-tested lyrics that we need.  Sometimes it's new rhythms and new lyrics that challenge us to consider new ideas.  

Any of these resources can hold good theology, offer meaningful teaching, and stir the soul.  It's all in how we use them.  Let's not worship our traditions.  Instead, let's worship God.

Postscript:  the original post that this responded to has received over a quarter of a million hits.  OP has put up a response hereA Call to Think About Worship, with which I am largely in agreement.  Neither reactivity, nor sentimentality, nor new vs. old are productive avenues for conversation.  Kudos to the OP for a calm, non-anxious approach!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thou Shalt Not (a sermon on the child refugee crisis)

As I was made more aware of the child refugee crisis at the southern border of the United States, I felt the call to preach on the issue.  Although we were in the midst of our summertime 'God on Broadway' series, I found an unexpected parallel in our previously announced selection for the week.  As it turns out, Shrek - in both its film and Broadway musical forms - happens to provide an entry point into the issue of refugees fleeing violence.  Bear with the first couple of paragraphs that made the contextual link for the people who were in the room, to get to the meat of the message...  

Thou Shalt Not (preached on July 20 2014 at McFarland UCC)
The most famous self-help book ever written was – is – “The Power of Positive Thinking.”  Since it was published in 1952, a whole industry has grown up around the idea of stopping negative self-talk.  Coming from the same stream, we find the “Law of Attraction” and the “Power of Intention,” in which focusing your energy on the positive is supposed to bring all the good things you want in life.   It’s in the parenting and teaching and leadership literature, too: “use positive language”.  “Please do this”, not “stop, don’t.”   (When you hear the question “Can I have a cookie?” at 5 pm, the best answer, according to the latest authorities is not "no," it’s, “you may, after dinner.”)

It would be nice if positive language did it for us all the time.  And yet, it's not quite sufficient.

At the opening of Shrek, the Musical, the young ogre’s parents sing him a song, “it’s a big bright beautiful world...but not for you.”  At the age of seven, they warn him against men with pitchforks.  They let him go out on the road, telling him, “Just keep walking…and you’ll find somewhere to go.”   There’s something a bit warped – broken - about a world in which parents have to put those images into their children’s heads, for their own protection.  It’s enough to drive you to live in a swamp. By yourself.  With a ‘Keep Out’ sign.

There are good reasons to frame things in the positive.  But sometimes, for the most compelling reasons, we have to identify ourselves in the negative.    In the story of the nation of Israel, a good portion of the law is occupied by statements of,  “we are the people who do not ___.”  
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:   Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.  You shall not follow their statutes. My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the LORD your God. You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the LORD.
   - from Leviticus 18
In the story of the Israelites, there is much attention given to identifying as the people who do not - who will not, who shall not.  Surrounded by other cultures that worship other gods, cultures which demand sacrifice in the name of cultural stability, it is important to be the people who do not – who never would.

Among all the thou shalt nots, there was a particular kind of sacrifice that was singled out for attention in the law of the Israelites, as given to them by God - child sacrifice:
You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech,
and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
- Leviticus 18:21
Molech was a god worshipped in the region, and in the worship of Molech (those who study such things tell us) the sacrifice of children figured prominently as an act of deepest devotion.

For the nation of Israel – our faith ancestors - child sacrifice was utterly forbidden.  And yet, it was apparently common enough that God needed to say it, over, and over again – through the law and through the prophets – with the strongest language imaginable.  An abomination, it is called.  Something that defiles.   Something that cuts you off from the worship of God, from the sacred assembly.  
… I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech…
- Leviticus 20
And yet, despite such dire warnings, the people do not listen.  By the 7th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet is raging against the Israelites themselves, because something has broken in the sacred relationship.  The people, while still claiming to worship the Lord, have embraced the sacrifice of children.  In a valley outside of Jerusalem – a valley from which we get the image “the valley of the shadow of death” – there, they have built a place of worship to another god.  A place where children are turned over to be sacrificed, and the sound of the drums and the tambourines is made loud so the city will not hear the children’s cries.

Never was this commanded by God.  Never did it come to God’s mind, the prophet laments.  Through Jeremiah’s voice, the Holy One tells us what happens when the children are turned over to the fire:  
I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth,
the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”
Jeremiah 7:30-34
The horror of this is beyond imagining.   We want to turn away.  We do not want to imagine this in scripture, we do not want to hear this in worship, something so terrible that it causes God to mourn and simultaneously, to condemn. Might we have some more pleasant scripture, on a week when the news has been unremittingly negative?  Yet, in our demands for relief, we are just as guilty as those who turned up the volume on the music so as not to hear the children’s cries.  There is no secret chord that can make this go away.
When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.
 - Ezekiel 20:31
Hear this:  The children come from places with names like, “Little Hell.”  El Infiernito.  Burning with violence.  Read some of their stories. 
The Children of the Drug Wars:  A Refugee Crisis, Not An Immigrant Crisis, NY Times.
It’s a terrible kind of desperation that would drive a parent to send children that young, hundreds of miles away…or a children that age to leave all they had ever known.  It is clear that to send the children back is to send them into likely death.  Into the valley of the shadow, the valley of the fire, the place where children are sacrificed to a burning god and we turn up the volume so we don’t have to hear their cries.
The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.
- Malachi 3:5
There is much more to say on the topic of welcoming the stranger, but if we focus on whether we should secure the border or leave it wide open to immigration, we are asking the wrong question.   Christ comes to our doorsteps in waves of children.  One, two, ten, ten thousand.   Christ sleeps on the floor of the detention center, under a donated blanket.  Christ comes to free us, knocking at the gates of our hearts. How is it that we turn him away?

Being made a Christian means getting a heart transplant, and a new identity to go with it.  We become the ones who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned.   We become the people who do not neglect the stranger.  

We are the people who do not turn away the children.  
We are the people who do not send children back into the sacrificial fire.  


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God on Broadway: Herding Cats

Since mid-June, I've been preaching and planning worship around themes pulled from Broadway musicals.
I tried God on Broadway as a short preaching series last summer as way to get myself out of a preaching rut.  As it turned out, it's also good for worship attendance.  The church vitality folks will tell you that visiting musicians bring along a fan club of friends and family.  I can't claim to have been that strategic. I just wanted to have a little bit of fun.

Having stumbled into a winning strategy, though, when it came time to plan this summer's worship arc, I knew what I had to do.  In my innocence, I committed myself to rounding up twelve consecutive weeks of singers who were willing to offer their talents for free.  I thought I could have this accomplished by Easter, so as to promote the series.  In the end, it was a bit like playing 3D chess to match up singers' availability with weeks we still had to fill, and ensure that it wasn't for a show we'd already scheduled at another point that summer.  After a few rounds of shuffling, the season looked like this:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What I thought I knew....

From the God on Broadway series at McFarland UCC, June 15, 2014
The text from Broadway: "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
"I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain,
To see for certain, what I thought I knew.
Far, far away, someone was weeping,
But the world was sleeping. Any dream will do." 

Things that I thought I knew:

Children are supposed to be safe at school.

The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would be the beginning of the end of 
the fight against licensing restrictions on firearms.  

I thought I knew that t
he solution to poor dating prospects generally does not lie in ramping up one’s antisocial behaviorI thought ‘day of retribution’ referred to a dusty, archaic Biblical prophecy…or maybe a new video game…not a YouTube clip full of threats against women.

Speaking of ancient history, I 
thought I knew that we were done with Wild West showdowns over grazing rights.  I thought past due grazing fees in the amount of one million dollars was a pretty good reason for not being able to graze your cattle on federal land.  I was pretty sure that it didn’t meet the definition of tyranny to pay a 20-year-past-due tax bill.  

thought I knew how to kick my sarcasm problem.  Apparently not.

I thought I knew that it was a reasonable expectation to go
 shopping at a Target (no double-entendre intended) or eat at Chili’s without seeing someone carrying long guns.  That there was no plausible reason one would need them while buying a grande-nonfat-caramel-ribbon-crunch Frappuccino.  


I did not think, when I completed seminary, that I would have developed an entire sermon series on violence and terror – most of it gun violence – in less than five years of ministry.  

I checked.  I went back and counted.  My ninth sermon to this congregation was on the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, January 9, 2011.  

Then, March 24, 2012, following Trayvon Martin’s killing.

I somehow missed the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in July 2012.  I think I was away from the congregation that weekend.  The same summer, the Sikh temple right here in Wisconsin.  I was away for that one, too.  No sermon.

I did preach on December 16, 2012, following Newtown.

April 21, 2013, following the bombings in Boston.

July 14, 2013, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.

And today.  In the wake of the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, in the wake of Tuesday’s shooting in the state of Oregon, a foiled plan for a high school mass shooting in Tennessee and countless others that I didn’t have time to read in my news search.

“How long, O Lord!”

Seventy-two incidents of gun violence in schools since Sandy Hook.  Forty-one deaths in 62 documented incidents in US schools.  Eighty-six people die from bullets in the US on an average day.

Hear these words from the prophet Joel:

Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land!

Has such a thing happened in your days,

    or in the days of your ancestors?

Tell your children of it,

   and let your children tell their children,

   and their children another generation.

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten.

What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten,

and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers…  (Joel 1:2-5a, NRSV)


Joseph says, “far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping…

To this sleeping world, the prophet Joel says, “Wake up!”  

The shooting in Oregon last Tuesday was the thirty first firearms attack in a US School since the start of the year.    Where are we – not even halfway through the year?  That’s more than one incident a week.

And the solution we get?   One-thousand-dollar-a-piece “Bodyguard Blanket” made of bulletproof material five-sixteenths of an inch thick.  For our students.  

That's a thing now; there's a company marketing it.  To schools where they can’t afford enough textbooks and paper and teachers.   What if we spent that $20,000 plus per classroom to provide the support they desperately need so we don’t have more kids growing up to choose the violent solution?

We close our eyes, and we draw the curtain on our national sickness.  We treat vulnerable bodies a human shields, arraying them between us and what we do not wish to see, what we do not wish to confront:  that our worship of the right to keep and bear arms, the lifting up of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as a false idol, has led directly to a culture of death.

The prophet Joel, again:

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near (Joel 2:1, NRSV)


Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;

gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged;

gather the children, even infants at the breast.


Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.


Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17, NRSV)


One mass killing a week.  I could be preaching one of these gun violence sermons EVERY WEEK.   What if I did?  What if all of us did?  What if the seventeen percent of the United States that attends to church refused to close its eyes, refused to sleep through this problem?  What if we refused to admit defeat?  What if we refused to make of our heritage a mockery?  

What if we stood on the side of the Risen Christ, the visionary Spirit, the Great Creator who is the source of Life and not Death?  What if we didn’t just stand, but spoke, and acted, and insisted– held our government accountable for these deaths, for its failure to act?

What we have had, to date, is a lack of vision.  

Remember who we are.  We are followers of a visionary who dared to act and speak as if money and military might were not power.   We are followers of a visionary – and we walk in footsteps of visionaries – who gave everything for the sake of the work of God.

Remember who you are:  You are dust and ashes, and you have the breath of God within you!  You have seen death and you have risen.  You have seen apparent defeat, and yet here you are, walking and talking and singing Alleluia!  Community of Christ, how dare we act as if we had no power?  

Peter’s first sermon -- after the arrival of the Holy Spirit set the church aflame -- used this text from Joel as its anchor.  Hear it again:

“I will pour out my Spirit

   on every kind of people:

Your sons will prophesy,

   also your daughters.

Your old ones will dream,

   your young ones will see visions.

I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants,

   men and women both.

I’ll set wonders in the sky above

   and signs on the earth below:

Blood and fire and billowing smoke,

   the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,

Before the Judgment Day of God,

   the Day tremendous and awesome.

Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’

   gets help.

On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem

   there will be a great rescue—just as God said.

Included in the survivors

   are those that God calls.”   (Joel 2:28-32, The Message, adapted for inclusive language)


Community of Christ, you are those whom God calls.   

There will be a great rescue.  This a great and holy work.   The world is waiting.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Christian Soul-Origami (a sermon at the end of the Easter season)

Text:  Philippians 4:4-13.  Preached on the 7th Sunday of Easter.  (I write my sermons to be spoken in community, not to be read.  Apologies to every English teacher I ever had, who would likely quiver at the sentence fragments herein.)

Have you ever had a letter that you read over and over again, so much that it was falling apart? A real letter, on paper, not made up of cascading electrons? Hand-written, probably, although composed on all kinds of paper – lined paper with frilly edges torn out of a notebook; fine stationery; a scratch pad once kept by a telephone.

You know the sort of thing I mean? A piece of correspondence that’s a treasure. A letter that is more than mere words on a page, but holds something that was once so true for you that it was worth holding onto. Maybe it’s bittersweet, a note from a lost love; encouraging – words of praise from a teacher or mentor, endearing sentiments from a child or your life partner. Maybe it came in an actual envelope, with a stamp on it and a return address – or perhaps it was tucked into your palm at passing time in the hallways. You might come across one in a family Bible, in an estate-sale book from a secondhand bookstore. Maybe you put yours in a special box, or between the pages of a journal. When I was a teenager, you might tuck a note like that under your mattress. 

The best ones – the ones really worth saving – don’t stay tucked away for long.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Prayer for Parents, as Commencement approaches.

Dear God,
There is so much cleaning to be done,
and invitations should have gone out
yesterday - when he was 
still a kindergartener, and I had 
veto power over her wardrobe choices.

Did you feel this way when Jesus walked -
proud, and scared for him, wondering
where the years had gone to?

Dear Lord, I would like to know,
what time Martha will arrive 
to take charge of the kitchen
before I lose my mind

Did you feel this way while tolerating yet another
change of plan: carpentry, wilderness studies, 
teaching, hospitality management, political science?

Divine Spirit, breathe in me this day, 
as I cannot hold back holy tears.
Shall we baptize this turning together?


Monday, May 05, 2014

May the Fourth Be With You

We are proud geeks.  Well, my child and I are.  The cats refuse to admit they know us.  Star Wars Day  (May the Fourth....get it?) fell on a Sunday this year.   I was baptizing 3 children from a family of geeks.  I had every excuse.   Thus, the 3rd Sunday of Easter this year became Star Wars Sunday.  I am, as ever, grateful to serve in a setting where the congregation is willing to embrace a playful spirit.   I'm happy to share some snippets of liturgy in case you want to plan your own Star Wars service - although it'll be a while before May 4th falls on a Sunday again.  Free use, with credit.

Easter Season Call to Worship

One:      It is so good to remember...
Many:    To remember the sacred stories together, and connect them with the everyday.

One:       It is good to remember the Easter message,  A saga spanning generations -
              From death to life.  From despair to A New Hope!
Many:    We have this hope because Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!”
              and a roomful of once-frightened disciples said, “We have seen the Lord!”

One:      The Good News is a powerful Force! It has continued to this day,
             Because one person told another, Master to Apprentice, Teacher to student,
             Until it came to us: Christ is Risen!
Many:   Christ is Risen indeed!

A Prayer of Confession

Holy One, risen from the dead --
In dark places, we find ourselves,
with just a little knowledge to light the way.
You see more of our faults than we would like.

Forgive our fear, our anger and hate.
Forgive all that we do that leads to suffering.
When we enter the murky swamps of the human heart,
we find a disturbing lack of faith in your power,
a disturbing reliance on our own power.

We have tried our own way.
We know that Your way leads us through the suffering,
and on the other side, returns us to life.

Teach us to claim this new hope,
based upon your resurrection --
to live in love and harmony
with the whole of your universe.

Focus Scripture  

Acts 9:1-19.   Our accompanist played the Imperial Death March as the theme for Saul.  :)

Sacrament of Communion

Invitation to the Table 
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Great Feast of Rejoicing. All people welcomed to the table, enough and more than enough. A feast where the power of life reigns. This is Christ’s table, and whether you have kept close, or come from a galaxy far, far away…you are welcome here!

Eucharistic Prayer
Ruler of the Stars and Planets, Spinner of Universes,
Creative impulse who gave shape to all things,
We give thanks for all your good gifts:

For the unfolding of tremendous diversity,
Species and songs and stories that each tell a tale of your handiwork.
For breathing life into us and calling us good,
even when we struggle to live into our promise.

When we turned from your way
and Embraced the Dark Side,
You did not forget us.

You came to us as Jesus, our Master and Teacher.
You journeyed with us into an abyss of betrayal and despair.
Threatened by agents of destruction, your dearest ones abandoned you,
but all was not lost. Even the blueprints of death are not hidden from you.

From the terror of the cross, you launched a sneak attack on Death
and set your sights on an impossible future, cracking open the tomb.

For all these things we give you thanks and praise,
singing with the faithful of all times and places, Holy, Holy, Holy.

[Continue with the consecration of the elements, 
Words of Institution and sharing the bread and cup
in the way your community is accustomed.]

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Risen Christ, we give thanks for this holy meal.
We reach for the stars and walk the good earth,
sustained by this Bread and Cup.
We prepare to leave this place, your Easter people,
overflowing with rejoicing and the power of Life! Amen!

Again, you are welcome to use these materials in your own setting.  
Please attribute per the Creative Commons License you'll find in the footer.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Time We Had a Confetti Explosion in the Sanctuary

So, this happened:

That's confetti.  In the chancel.  On Palm Sunday.  It started out the morning in two very large bowls on the communion table.  And then there was a children's time.  And a vow renewal celebrating the 25th anniversary of a couple in the congregation.  

Palms? They're great.  If you're an adult, you might choose to wave them listlessly during the opening hymn or worship litany.  If you were paying attention at the beginning of Lent, you might even remember they are saved and dried and burned for ashes for next year's Ash Wednesday.  The children and youth of the congregation know the great glory of the day, though: you can also poke your neighbor or whack your sibling over the head with your palms.

Really, though, nothing beats arming a gaggle of excited children with confetti and intentionally making them wait for five whole minutes while you're doing an actual vow renewal.  Bonus points if you rearrange the sanctuary for that morning so people are already nudged out of their comfort zones. Palm Sunday = great celebration.  Imminent disruption of the status quo.  

Liturgical use of party supplies FTW. 

I'm still finding confetti in my worship leader's notebook.  It took quite a bit of sweeping and vacuuming that afternoon to get this cleaned up.  It helps, when you're a little unorthodox in your worship planning, to have very tolerant building and grounds volunteers.  This image only used about one quarter of the confetti barrage.  I swept it together before someone came in with a shop vac:  

After the Great Confetti Incident, things did settle down.  We told the story of Holy Week, lessons-and-carols style, from the triumphant entry to an intimate dinner with dear ones.  We had communion around banquet tables.  At the end of the service, we brought in a rough cross to place in the chancel for the rest of Holy Week.  The remains of the celebration were still visible, just as they might have been as things started going very wrong once-upon-a-time-in-the-Gospels.  

edit, summer 2014:  People are STILL talking about it.  I had a meeting in early July with a community member and mentioned our website.  "Oh, yeah...the confetti cross!"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The drive-through soul wash: a prayer of confession

Mighty One, Everlasting One, Human One
(always more ready to hear than we are to pray):

We confess, we are not
what you have called us to be.
We long for the easy solution,
the quick answer,
The drive-through soul wash
to rinse off the season’s grit.

Generous, Mercy-Filled One
(always more willing to give
than we are ready to receive):
For the thousandth time,
we ask for forgiveness.
We know our need is deeper
than we let on.

Perhaps one day we will trust
That the promises are true,
and real, and for us.

In the meantime, we pray,
remind us (over and over again).


Monday, February 03, 2014

A Reflection: Meeting at the Well

Water. Give me water.  If you only knew. This is the well Jacob dug, and it might as well be the well where all the ancestors met God’s promises and stared them in the face. Maybe this is the well from which the flood once sprang, maybe an unknown well from the very beginning, buried beneath the fathomless depths of the ocean. Give me water and I’ll give you water, and won’t that be a miracle worth singing, Amen over, and we’ll pass the same cup back and forth all day long.

inspired by John 4:1-42