Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A New Year, Three Kings and Discernment

We Three Kings
Happy New Year! Wait, no. Happy Epiphany!! In the church’s calendar the year is already well begun. With Advent we began our time of anticipating the presence of Jesus. Now we’ve celebrated Jesus’ birth and wait for the world’s clock to turn with champagne, confetti and fireworks into 2015. But the story of the nativity isn’t quite over yet. This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday, the day of hearing the story of wise men from the east who followed a prophecy and a star to find the infant and his family in Bethlehem.

The day of Epiphany itself is on the 6th of January (at the end of the 12 days of Christmas) but on Sunday we’ll worship with this as our theme. This is a Sunday full of light and gifts. In some cultures this day is more a day of celebration and gift giving than the day of Christmas itself, even dressing up and enact the journey of the kings, camels and all. This article a the Huffington Post has some pictures of how the holiday is celebrated in Latin America and Spain and around the world.

Beginning and Ending a Journey in Discernment
It’s appropriate that we celebrate the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new life at this time that coordinates with the closing of the old year and the beginning of a new one. Much has happened this past year in the life of the congregation. We’ve followed a path this year much as the wise ones did and that might be worth some sparkle and fireworks. We say goodbye to Gordon, who began his time as Intentional Interim Pastor with us one year ago on Epiphany Sunday. It has been a year of listening and letting go and maybe coming to new understandings. What will the journey beginning look like?

One way to approach the New Year in a more thoughtful way that making a list of resolutions (who keeps those, anyway?) is to hold the year gone by and anticipate the new year with Ignatian practice of Consolation and Desolation, or the Examen. This is a practice that may be embarked on both individually or with others, for example as a household or small group or in listening and sharing with a friend or partner.

As a daily discernment practice, the Examen can be boiled down to asking the questions, “For what moment am I most grateful today?” and “For what moment am I least grateful?” Ignatius would say that our consolation – that for which I am most grateful – is that which helps connect us with our selves, to others, to God and to the universe. Our desolation disconnects us.

Reflecting on these questions daily, you can be encouraged to ‘hold what gives you life.’ This is the subtitle to Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn’s Book Sleeping with Bread, in which they explore the practice of Examen. In a yearly practice, as we look back over the year gone by, we can reflect on the moments which have been life giving and fulfilling. How are we called to live more into moments like those? How can we let go of that which disconnects us? Finding the answers to these questions alone or with others, is practicing discernment – a completely different thing than list making.

Three Kings Stories
Worshiping with Children is specifically about Sunday morning worship, but sometimes Carolyn Brown has great ideas for children’s books to accompany a season or Sunday. (Some of her ideas would be very adaptable to activities at home). She says that two of the best of these stories for children on this Three Kings Day are: The Legend of Old Befana, by Tomie dePaola. and Baboushka, retold by Arthur Scholey. (I’m not familiar with Arthur Scholey, but I can vouch for de Paola, who has multiple children’s books on biblical themes, including an illustrated children’s Bible).

Of The Legend of Old Befana Brown says: “In this well-loved European folk tale, an Italian grandmother meets the kings, then spends the rest of her life leaving cakes and cookies for children during the night on January 6.” Some questions and observations might accompany this story as you read: Stop after Befana has seen the star and complained that it kept her up at night. Wonder about “possibility of missing out on something wonderful because you were stuck in a grumpy rut. Note that the new year has many possibilities.” What are the possibilities in your family? Compare Befana’s grumpy face at the beginning to her happy face on the last page. Wonder what made the difference.

Baboushka is a Russian folktale. It is also about busy grandmother who meets the magi and is invited to come along. “At first she declines with lots of busy excuses, then decides to follow, but never catches up. An angel points out that the shepherds left immediately after the angels sang to them. The kings followed the star as soon as it appeared. She is simply too late. She keeps searching, carrying with her toys that she leaves with sleeping children in case they are the Christ child.” I didn’t see the Scholey version in the Seattle Public Library, but there are two other versions of the story.

Three Kings Bread
I’m going to try this recipe. But Google will give you plenty of options for the bread that resembles the crowns of the magi and have baby Jesus hidden inside!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Favor > Fear

“Glory to God in high heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”
              - Luke 2:14, The Inclusive Bible

When I was ordained I was invited to choose the texts that would be read and preached in the worship service. I chose two: Mary’s song – the Magnificat – and Jesus’s proclamation from the scroll of Isaiah. It was the beginning of his public ministry. I chose these both because of their content – the declaration of God’s just reign – and because they both marked no-turning-back points of change for the speakers, mother and son. They seemed appropriate to the moment of ordination to ministry.

During the ordination service, David Morrow, who was then our District Pastor, preached these texts and revealed what I had not seen in them. They have in common the declaration and celebration of God’s favor. In fact, references to God’s favor are threaded throughout the first part of Luke. Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, the angels and then Jesus himself declare or are recipients of God’s favor.

In many of these stories, fear is a companion of favor. Angels telling their audience not to fear, people boing fearful of what God is doing in their midst. Favor does not by any means have anything to do with respite or safety or privilege. What has become clear to me after reading Luke’s take on ‘favor,’ or charis in Greek, is that God is not doing anyone any favors by bestowing this favor upon them. In fact favor is where the trouble begins.

Just for starters: the child of Elizabeth and Zechariah becomes the prophet to makes way for Jesus, cruelly beheaded because of conflict with a corrupt monarchy. Mary’s song declares that God’s favor rests on the lowly, poor and hungry, but she’s still one of an occupied people (never mind being a pregnant, unwed teen). The song of the angels declares that peace will be for those on whom God’s favor rests – people like those very folks - terrified, occupied, lowly and watching their sheep on a hill.

But the thing about favor is, that where there is fear there is also praising and glorifying God. The shepherds were amazed and they returned from their encounter with the holy family praising! They wanted to tell it on the mountain. They wanted to spread the good news. With the declaration of and living into being favored, there is a mighty hope that the lowly will be lifted up, that the hungry will be fed. Those who accept God’s favor head right into that trouble because a trouble like that is a trouble the favored want to be a part of.

The baby whom the angels announce to the shepherds, when he first called out the year of the Lord’s favor in his Nazareth synagogue, that sounded pretty good to the people who were listening to him. Until he went one step further to talk about the love of God demonstrated to Gentiles and almost got himself thrown off a cliff. Later, well into his ministry of healing, Jesus raises a widow’s son in Nain and the first thing we hear of is fear! “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’”

Fear and favor and glory to God are all mixed up together with the prophetic and prophesied action of Jesus – healing, preaching, calling disciples. Being favored by God is indeed a fearful thing. It is also a wonderful and joyful engagement with the reign of God. It is singing with Mary and the angels and preaching and healing with Jesus. Favor is greater than fear – far greater. May we give Glory to God in high heaven and may peace be upon those of us who rush head-long into God’s favor. No turning back.

This blog will be cross posted Christmas Day at Advent:Healing and Hope

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A (Mostly) White Congregation and Conversations about Race

We are a (mostly) white congregation.  Individually and as a group we have for the most part been insulated from experiences of discrimination, violence or even the ‘micro-aggressions’ which face people of color face regularly.  I’m encouraged that we are trying to raise our awareness of this in a variety of ways, including our recent worship series on the Doctrine of Discovery and how the last 500 years in its wake have led Europeans and their descendants to treat all non-white persons and the lands on which they’ve lived as individuals and spaces to be either colonized, subjugated or ‘civilized’ by any means necessary.  Although the Doctrine of Discovery is no longer something the majority of the population knows about, its impact continues to be lived and experienced both by people of color and by white folks.

The violence against African Americans by police in high profile events recently and the subsequent vigils, protests and campaigns for justice are a result of the last half millennia of this subjugation and internalized understanding of who we are in relation to each other.  I am left wondering about a) how to talk about these events, about this injustice with my child and b)how to respond and enact a lived justice that I believe I’m called to.

During the Loss of Turtle Island exercise, I experienced the visceral grief of my child when she learned about the way white settler Christian soldiers knowingly and systematically gave small pox blankets to indigenous people in order to infect (and kill) them.  We have taught our children that God loves everyone and that Jesus came to show God’s love to the whole world.  It is easy to believe this when your family looks like mine does - white, hetero-parented, middle class, educated - and our experience is not one of discrimination.

When confronted by the horrible injustice of small pox blankets, or of white police officers who are seemingly free to do violence to black people, the reality of the world collides with the reality of God’s world, that is the kin-dom which we are trying to teach our children is here and which we are a part of.  There is a collision and somehow at the same time a disconnect with what we – and God – long for and what is.

A couple weeks ago I shared an article by Peggy McIntosh about the ‘invisible backpack’ of white privilege.  The invisible backpack is all the ways that I don’t even realize that I benefit from systems that prefer light over dark skin, from knowing that I’ll be able to find books with characters that reflect me to not having to question whether the non-response to my resume was because of an ‘ethnic’ name.  Because of my own hope live in a community that is not all just like me, our family made a choice to live in a diverse neighborhood and enroll in a school that is highly diverse.  Our school is intentional about teaching respect for a multiplicity of cultures, focuses on peace heroes as a part of its yearly curriculum and approaches history from a variety of perspectives.  Right now a song about Rosa Parks and the bus boycott is being sung at my house and I am amazed and grateful.

I am also very aware of Peggy McIntosh’s point that even in this diverse school, I can count on most of my child’s teachers – even those who are teaching immersion Spanish – to looking like her.  I wonder what it’s like for a native Spanish speaking family from Mexico or El Salvador to have their child taught in Spanish by a blond, blue-eyed American.  In a way that her peers are not, my daughter can be blithely unaware of her color and even of theirs.  It takes me actively engaging the question of how I look different than many of my neighbors and may be treated differently because of it to raise that kind of awareness. 

That’s where I’m starting for now.  I’m not going out of my way to start conversations about Ferguson or about death, but sometimes I do encourage noticing.  When we’re reading a book about Ruby Bridges, I ask, what did you learn about Ruby?  Why do you think those people were so angry?  And when I’m asked questions about how I feel and why I try to be honest.  Here’s an approximation of a conversation that happened at my house last week.
“Mama, why were you crying at church this morning?” 
“Well, I was sad and frustrated.  In summer a young man who was black was shot by a police officer who was white and we found out this week that it doesn’t seem like there are going to be any consequences for the police officer.”
“Did he die?”
“Yes, he was shot and he died.”
“That’s not fair.  We’re not supposed to use guns.  He shouldn’t have done that.”
“You’re right.  It’s really not fair.  It’s also not fair that people who have white skin like us get treated different – better – than people who have brown skin like the person who was killed.  And that’s why I’m so sad and frustrated.”
We have often talked about guns in our family as not being okay.  We stress that Jesus wants us to be peace makers.  Why do the police have guns and but other people aren’t allowed to?  Not a question I can answer to my own satisfaction.
I am still sad and frustrated.  But I’m also determined to continue to re-examine my own attitudes, to listen to the experiences of people of color, and for the most part to keep my own mouth shut when in the context of people are sharing their experiences and to encourage other white people to do the same.  It’s not my experience that the world needs to hear.  For those of you in our congregation who identify as people of color, I am grateful for you and that you continue to walk with this congregation. I think a lot of what I can do is about acknowledging the power and privilege that I have and letting those who are giving voice to experience of discrimination or violence speak and, if I can, amplifying their voices.  That’s why I’ll be wearing black in worship this week at the invitation of Christian leaders and congregations of color to be in solidarity with the message, "Black lives matter."

I trust in the God, in whose image we are all made.  I trust that God is walking with the pray-ers and protesters and who is grieving with those who grieve.  I trust that God’s dream is for a kin-dom in which we are not blind to color but that we see it and value it.  When we are wearing black to proclaim that black lives matter, may we more and more internalize what we proclaim, that God’s dream may be realized.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

After Ferguson: Talking to our Kids about Privilege

If you are on Facebook, I’m sure that your feed yesterday and today has been full of #ferguson.  If yours is like mine it is with disappointment, rage and disgust as well as prayer, cries for justice and ideas about action.  Within myself I feel those things and more.  Even as we finish a worship series that highlights our privilege with relation to the first peoples of the nation, we hear news that highlights our white privilege with relation to our brown and black neighbors in our nation.  I weep.  I mourn.  I wonder, ‘How long, O Lord?’

As I think about what else I might offer of my own thoughts on this, I’d like to pass along a couple resources I found helpful in thinking about my own privilege, which may help others in talking to children (or adults) about ways that those of us who are pale or pink benefit from our pigmentation without even thinking about it.  There’s plenty out there on the internet for you to find, but I found a good starting place for concrete examples to be Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 work on the ‘Invisible Backpack’ of white privilege.  Although the article was written almost 25 years ago, her list of ways that white privilege is experienced in ways small and large is a helpful starting place for noticing for ourselves and with our children when we unthinkingly benefit by not even having to think about how we move about in the world. 

This week I was particularly struck that “I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.”  And yet many do, including some of our friends, neighbors and the brothers and sisters in Christ who worship with us.  Inviting our children and opening our own eyes to notice is a first step to recognizing our experience – whether it’s the realization that the Bandaid I pull from the box will most likely match my skin or knowing that I will not have to look far to find children’s books which have characters who look pretty much like me and my children. 

For a plethora of resources on teaching children about race, privilege and Ferguson, The Atlantic put together a long list of articles, videos, books for children and adults, poetry, even ‘educational hashtags’.  And The Root has a short but helpful set of ‘Do’s and Don’t’s’ for teaching and talking about Ferguson with children and youth.

As we begin this season on Advent, may we do so with confession, action and hope.  May we challenge the Thanksgiving and Christmas narratives that make pale faces the center of the story.  May the many-hued face God shine on us and be gracious to us and may the presence of God give us peace as we despair, as we rage, as we pray, as we act.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween and Remembering our Saints

Halloween 1982, Eston, SK
As a kid, Halloween was second in my estimation only to Christmas, as far as holidays went.  Not only was there a mountain of candy and dressing up on the day, but there a season of anticipation of coming up with and preparing an original and creative costume.  There was also was a party at school, including a parade through the classrooms.  In my school some of the Christian families didn’t allow their children to participate in school Halloween festivities because the holiday was viewed as non-Christian, even anti-Christian.  But there are plenty of ways to talk about and prepare for Halloween through a lens of faith. 

For starters, Halloween (like so many holidays that have been secularized) began in the church.  All Hallows Eve is the evening before All Hallows/All Saints Day, the day to remember those saints who have been witnesses to God’s reign in times past.  On this day and on All Souls Day which follows, we have an opportunity to intentionally remember those we have lost and the faithful ‘saints’ who have gone before us. 

Who do we remember from the past and what ‘saints’ are still with us?  Who are the family members who have been and are faithful witnesses to God’s reign?  In our family we sometimes remember and tell the stories of Joe’s grandpa and my own who were conscientious objectors during the 2nd World War.  My grandpa served in the Forestry Service in Canada.  Joe’s grandpa was a smoke jumper in western Montana.  Another of his grandpas went to prison for his resistance to war.  In our families, these stories that witness to the way of Jesus – serving the community and eschewing violence – are powerful reminders of how we are still called to follow Christ’s example.

Halloween can also be an opportunity to give thanks for the generosity of neighbors who welcome hordes of children and freely offer gifts of chocolate and candy (which parents can later sneak out of the bucket). It may also be an opportunity to think about how to be generous ourselves, and to encourage generosity in our children.  This year I want to at least temper the attitude of mass sugar consumption by offering a parallel treat-or-treat experience that involves giving.  We’re going to collect non-perishables for the food bank in addition to the candy and encourage others at the annual Halloween party we attend to do the same. 

For a few more reflections on how to celebrate Halloween with a faith lens, check out the bloggers at Practicing Families here and here, Mennonite pastor Joanna Harader's reflections about life in a holiday that celebrates death here and finally a possible book for conversation about what’s scary at Worshiping with Children.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sabbath Keeping for Busy People

http://madisonruppert.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rest-here.jpgSomewhere in my preparation for sermon writing this Sunday I read: our standard answer to the question, ‘How are you?’ has shifted from, ‘Fine, thanks.’ to ‘Busy.’   Possibly with a shrug and an implied or explicit, ‘Well, you know,’ because we all experience it.  I certainly have answered that way many times myself.  Who isn’t busy who’s juggling a balance of work with family and other relationships plus additional community responsibilities and pursuits.

‘Busy’ is exactly the problem that the gift of Sabbath seeks to engage.  The problem of busy is that most of what makes us busy is the race to keep up with a culture that has nothing to do with God’s economy and kin-dom (built on relationship).  It has, instead, everything to do with the empire of better, more, faster.  This is true even when individually our activities may be good and necessary ones.  Jesus was explicit: “Sabbath is made for humans.”  We should embrace this gift.

Lee Hull Moses writes in Hopes and Fear: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, “The Sabbath commandment is rooted in God’s own day of rest after six busy days of creating the world: ‘and on the seventh day, God finished the work that [God] had done, and rested on the seventh day from all the work [which was] done.’ (Gen 2:2)  That word finished glares at me from the page…The hard part, it seems to me, is the stopping – especially when the work isn’t done…Must I really finish all the work before I rest?  ‘God,’ I think irreverently, ‘did not have a toddler at home.’”

And yet if we want our toddlers – or our teens or our children of any age – to understand the goodness of the world God created, and to live in that reality rather than one created by the constant activity of produce and consume, the rhythm of Sabbath is important.  Not only important but key in recognizing the God of Creation as the God of justice for all created beings.  As the people of God in the Bible let go of Sabbath keeping and turned away from it as a way of life, they turned more toward injustice.  Prophets like Isaiah and Amos are not kind in their words for those who ‘profane’ Sabbath.

Do a quick search on Practicing Families for Sabbath and you’ll see many ideas about how different families incorporate this practice into their lives (eg. here, here and here).  A little to my chagrin, some of them even involve staying home from church.  None of them, however, involve sports practices, homework, email, errand running or laundry.  What they have in common is a focus on holy rest, relationship, and a reminder that at our center, we are God’s not the world’s.  It is out of this rhythm of knowing whose we are that we can re-enter busy.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Lord's Prayer of New Zealand

This Sunday in worship we are focusing on prayer as a Christian practice. It was certainly a practice important to Jesus.  So we're using the text of Matthew 6 which includes the Lord's Prayer - that is 'the prayer that Jesus taught us'. There are many ways that Christians through the centuries have interpreted and expanded on the Lord's Prayer since Jesus first taught his disciples this prayer, but below is one of my favorites. It is a part of the New Zealand Prayer Book - the common prayer book for the Anglican church in that country.

Eternal Spirit, 
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, 
Source of all that is and that shall be, 
Father and Mother of us all, 
Loving God, in whom is heaven: 
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! 
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! 
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! 
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. 
With the bread we need for today, feed us. 
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. 
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us. 
From trials too great to endure, spare us. 
From the grip of all that is evil, free us. 
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Doubt It

This past Sunday was the most fun I've had during a children's time in recent memory - although I usually do enjoy it.  The story was 'doubting' Thomas.  With the children, I played the game 'I doubt it' inspired by a piece of writing by Amy Yoder McGloughlin over at Practicing Families blog.  I shared some 'facts' about myself and I encouraged the children to call my bluff if they didn't believe what I told them by calling out 'I doubt it'.  I was a little surprised how much they got into it.

These are the facts I shared :
- I was so smart that I started kindergarten when I was 3 (not true - and they knew it)
- I have a little plane which I like to take for flights around Seattle on sunny days (also not true, although I wish!)
- I own a camel (not true, although I have ridden a camel)
- When I was born, I was came out yellow (true but the kids were on a roll with their 'I doubt it's by then)
- I have blue skin (obviously false...or is it?)

Well, it might be sort of tricky, but I do have blue skin. I have a tattoo of a blue cross on my wrist (pictured below).  I couldn't prove or disprove any of the other things, although I could probably dig up a picture of my jaundiced infant self.   But I could and did show the children my tattoo where my skin is blue.  I offered to let them touch it if they wanted to.  A few kids took me up on it.  A few were vocally still doubtful that it was real.

Like his friends and fellow disciple, Thomas is not ready to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead - even though their friend Mary has already seen him - until they see for themselves, feel his breath, touch his hands.  When the disciples tell Thomas that their dear friend Jesus was with them, Thomas - who loved him and had followed him, but wasn't with his other friends when Jesus came to see them - said 'I doubt it.'  The friends all got to have that first shocking experience him when he offered peace, and the breath of the Spirit.  But Thomas' response:  "Good one, you guys.  I’m not going to believe it until I see Jesus with my own eyes." He loved Jesus and he wasn't going to be fooled.

Jesus also loved Thomas, so when he came to visit again, he doesn't get angry with Thomas, or scold him.  He invites Thomas to look really carefully.  Even to touch him – just like the children could examine and touch my blue skin.  It was okay with Jesus that Thomas wanted to do that - to make really sure.  

Not having the advantage of Jesus' presence with us in the skin, we're perpetually in the state that Thomas was in.  And in fact I think our congregation is one that has always been open to doubt, to questions, to skeptics.  We faithfully follow the Jesus we know and love in the midst of this doubt.  Even though we weren't in the room, we accept the commission: "Just as the Father sent me, so I send you."  At the same time, I am encouraged to live into the invitation to belief, in that balance there is blessing.