Friday, December 20, 2019

The Very Best Nativity Ever

Last year I did a Christmas story round-up thanks to a parent who asked me what the best picture books are for teaching the Christmas story. After having lived with a number of those books, I can report that I stand by the list. But I also keep coming back to my favorite, The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas. The text is from the King James Bible and if I have one critique of the book it's that a different version of the scripture would have been preferable. But I just substitute my own words when necessary and that fixes that. Below are the reasons I love this book this even more than ever, including one you might not expect, and which came as a surprise to me.

1) The beauty of the illustrations in general but especially of the animals and the angels. They are rag-tag and colorful. The angel's wings have holes and they wear combat boots. Gabriel sits with Mary over tea while a chicken hangs out under the table. In the announcement to the shepherds, angels ride the sheep (below). In an illustration after the birth, an angel is cradling the infant Jesus while Mary struggles to get back up on the donkey. 

2) And speaking of people holding the baby, this book contains the only image I can think of in which Joseph holds the infant Jesus. Pictured above, Joseph cuddles the little one, while Mary slumps on his shoulder. In ever other nativity scene, a kneeling Mary looks down at her little one beatifically while Joseph stands over them, possibly with a staff. And also here, there are more chickens!

3) And finally, naked baby Jesus. I never anticipated that the Christmas story would be the thing that prompted the "where do babies come from" conversation with my child, but why not, it's the nativity after all. And sure enough. Adorably naked baby Jesus seemed to be Orie's cue to ask, "How did the baby get out?" And so together we talked about uteruses and vaginas and labor and his own birth story. And no, he won't ever be able to have a uterus but he could have a partner who has one. It was a beautiful conversation.

Thank you Jesus and Julie Vivas for providing this opportunity to talk about bodies and birth. Merry Christmas, everyone. May you too lean into the surprising opportunities of the season.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Comfort Y'all, My People

The following was my brief reflection in response to the theme question of our Advent season at SMC: "What are we waiting for?" and the theme word, "Comfort" drawn from the the text, Isaiah 40:1-11.  It wasn't quite the sermon, but it has a lot of sermon qualities.
Like, me, I’m sure that many of you, when you hear the text of Isaiah 40, “Comfort, O Comfort my people” hear music in their heads, whether that’s, "Comfort, comfort O my people, speak of peace now says our God,” or the much more tricky, “Comfort ye, my people” from Handel's messiah, followed by the warble of “every va-a-lley sha-all be exa-alted” I’m sure we hear and sing this text more than we read the scripture from prophet Isaiah. Especially at this time of year. Especially if you, like me, have ever spent any time in a choir.

But these words were prophecy before they were set to music for Christmas, long before there was a Christ or Christmas to celebrate. These were words spoken to a people who had been in exile for a generation or more. People who had been through some stuff - seen their city and homes destroyed, been taken into exile, wondered if God cared for them - whether God was even there any more.

And here comes the prophet with the words of God. Not, “Take comfort” not, “I comfort you,” but, “Comfort my people.” Or, as the tenor sings, “Comfort ye my people.” (Not, as apparently some people grew up hearing, “Come for tea, my people.”) In any case, these are instructions. Plural instructions. So who is God talking to? There’s some consensus in the academic community that God is speaking to the divine counsel. Speaking to the community of heaven to get out there and let the people of Israel know that this is it. Their wait is over, their deliverance is at hand.

Indeed we see later in the writings of Isaiah that the Persian king Cyrus will restore the exile to home and land and temple. Making a way through the hills and valleys of the wilderness. But at the moment of this prophecy that is still to come and God is speaking - possibly to other divine beings. But maybe God’s instructions to be comforters are for the very people who are in need of comfort.

As a Canadian I grew up thinking of the word/phrase “y’all” as a very American, very southern expression. Maybe still (?) that’s the impression. Certainly it’s not Canadian in usage - some Ontarians say ‘yous’ in a similar way. But I’ve started to find y’all handy. As I try to be at least somewhat more gender neutral in my language, I’m using “y’all” instead of “you guys” to indicate a plural “you.” Also, now that I’m a passport-carrying American citizen I feel I can rightfully adopt it as the language of my new people.

I think this right here is a “y’all” situation. God is saying, not “Comfort ye,” (or even "Come for tea") but “Comfort y’all, my people.” You, God is saying, you all are a people who have been through some stuff and you are in need of comforting. You have experienced loss and trauma and you need to be consoled. But also, y’all, you’ve seen and experienced some stuff so you know how to offer comfort to each other. Be comfort and consolation for your kindred. Offer care where you know care is needed. You know better than anyone how to do it.

I believe these instructions might be the encouragement to God’s people to keep on keeping on as a community who supports and consoles each other through trauma and loss. We can receive it as encouragement as well. Any community that experiences loss and goes through some stuff - which is to say basically every community, y’all be there for each other. Show up for each other. Care for each other. Pray for each other and hold each other. What are you waiting for? Comfort y’all, my people.

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Write This on Your Doorposts

In the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses receives the law and presents it to the people, he follows up with instructions: Repeat God’s commandments often - when you’re getting up and sitting down, going out and coming in - and bind them to the door post and gate in order that you may see them often and be reminded (Deut 6.) Some Jewish families take this instruction literally by posting mezuzahs, little capsules attached to a doorway which hold the first commandment to worship God alone. A concrete reminder to make God a priority.

In recent reading I’ve been challenged by author Natalie Frisk to think about whether I “have physical reminders of the good news message of Jesus around the house and in life” in the manner that’s encouraged by Moses’ instructions regarding the law. When I look around my house, I realize that I have plenty of religious themed art - both Christian and not, often mementos of travels to other places - but nothing that speaks specifically to the good news of Jesus and the call to walk in his footsteps.

In her book, Raising Disciples: How to make faith matter for our kids, Frisk talks about how important it is to make our faith visible, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our children and all who enter our space.  If we internalize what is most central to our identity as Christians how will we pass it on? She inspired me. I thought about which of Jesus’ teachings are good news to me and which I seek most to follow and pass along to my own children.  Which do I want to be reminded of every day?

I’d been looking for something to hang in an awkward spot in my kitchen with weird dimensions and an oddly placed electrical panel.  No painting or hanging has been quite right. Neither of the quilts purchased at the MCA fit the spot and as I thought about making a quilt to cover it I’ve drawn a blank.  Until now.

Now our family will have Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” hanging before us as I cajole the kids through breakfast before school and as we eat dinner together as a family. Each Sunday as we light our peace lamp in worship we pray for a just peace for all creation. I hope that these words of Jesus in the kitchen will bless us to be that peace-filled presence.

In my own childhood home, our dining room wall held a framed quotation of Menno Simons.  Words which are drawn from Jesus and which may be well known to some in our congregation.  Word which have inspired me to a faith that shows itself in action: 
True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant, it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it binds up what is wounded; it becomes all things to all people.
That’s just a little too long for a quilt.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I'm Thankful For...

No thanksgiving themed content this week, except by way of a little roundup of some things that I'm personally thankful for this week. In addition to the things listed below, I am oh so grateful for y'all and for the ministry of preparing worship and formation for children, youth and families. Here are some things I'm giving thanks for:

Music of The Brilliance especially their Advent music volume one and volume two. It might be a smidge too early for Christmas music (although I do not begrudge anyone who is seeking that joy) but I'm ready for Advent and I love this music written especially for the season. Their version of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," one of my Advent faves, is so lovely (on vol 2). The Brilliance will be in Seattle at Chop Suey in a couple week and I can't go! Bummer.

Finding Fred Podcast - This podcast asks the question: why are we obsessed with Mr. Rogers? Why the current cultural fascination? I have especially appreciated host Carvell Wallace's exploration of Mr. Rogers and race and theology. But the way that he approached the development of children and their needs for care and empathy is still unlike anything else that TV has ever offered.
I find Carvell Wallace really compelling. He's sincere and brings a lot of his own questions and struggle to his work. So I looked up some of his other work too, including a parenting advice podcast for Slate called 'Mom and Dad are Fighting' (as yet unlistened) and a podcast called 'Closer than They Appear.' "If America is an estranged family, this podcast is our awkward holiday dinner." He digs into his own complicated history of being a black kid in a mixed race family and the implication of that on parenting. I've only listened to the first ep, a conversation with Mahersalla Ali and so far, so great.

God's Pronouns - Speaking of language and gender, an internet friend shared this hilarious but oh so relevant piece about God sharing their pronouns on McSweeny's this week. I was like, "I just preached on that!" I wasn't as funny as Kathleen O'Mara and Jay Malsky.

The Butterfly Mosque - I heard G. Willow Wilson speak at a writers festival in Portland last month. I'd read one of her books before - Alif the Unseen - but primarily knew her as the writer for Marvel's reboot of the Ms Marvel series, featuring Pakistani Muslim American hero Kamala Khan. I knew that Wilson was Muslim but none of the back story. The Butterfly Mosque tells her story of conversion in college just before 9/11, the years she spent in Cairo shortly afterward, and the relationship with the Egyptian man who became her husband. And I just learned she lives in Seattle so I might stalk her.

Supporting Indigenous Economy - I'll be volunteering at the Duwamish Longhouse at their annual art sale - support indigenous artists and craftspeople with your holiday shopping money! And btw here is the holiday placemat that Megan mentioned in worship this past Sunday.
If you live in the north end and want to support a Native-owned business, I recommend the new coffee shop in the Burke Museum, called Off the Rez. The cinnamon sugar fry-bread is Orie-approved. They started as a food truck, which is still going strong and could be parked in a neighborhood near you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Advent is Here!

candles in the dark against a backdrop of unfocused twinkly lights

Hey folks. Advent is around the corner! And thanks goodness. Orie has been asking me LITERALLY EVERY MORNING for the past week if today is Christmas. It didn't help that my mom sent a package for the kids to open to get ready for Advent - I mean come on! At least when Advent starts the calendars will be a vehicle for counting the days. Yikes!

So here we go. Below are some new and some tried-and-true Advent ideas for you to take a look at. And maybe try! I would love to know what your traditions and family practices are related to this season of waiting for Jesus.

Chocolate Calendar - Divine Chocolate is my go-to treat-based advent calendar both because it's fair trade chocolate and because there's a little bit of the Christmas story in each window. I just went ahead and got one for everyone in my family because then no one gets left out. I chose the dark chocolate version for myself.

Do-It-Yourself Nativity - This Paper Nativity by could be printed and put together each day of advent little by little. Or just all at once as an activity. And if you're feeling creative, you could make your own or have kids make different pieces of it.

Tiny Image and Devotions: Thomas Mousin's tiny devotions calendar is a down-loadable one-page calendar with a brief verse and mini-picture for each day. In this years (he does one each year) you need to do a little searching to find each day. Could be colored in as the days go by, or just used as a prompt for reflection and conversation.

Praying in Color: In a similar vein, Sybil McBeth at Praying in Color does a new Advent fill-in-with-color calendar each year, which is more free form and person/child directed. I've sometimes done this myself as a little personal devotion for Lent or Advent and value the few minutes of mental space it creates. Explore the website to learn more about how to pray in color if you get stuck.

Advent Word: For the more online-inclined, join others around the globe through #AdventWord, an online advent calendar which chooses a focal word each day and encourages followers to post their own reflections, images and prayers inspired by that word and share with other followers through social media platforms. More at or by searching #adventword on social media. I did something similar to this once on instagram and often see others doing so. It's fun to see what the different words inspire.

The 99c Advent Wreath - I am skeptical this this will really be 99 cents, but the supplies include glitter, modeling clay and birthday candles, so it's definitely affordable. Children can create it themselves and if each child in a family has their own, perhaps the competition over who gets to light/blow out the candle will be eliminated (my hope, anyway).

Living Advent Wreath - this wreath made of actual children pretending to be candles is probably not something any of us are going to do at home - I just thought it was a really cute idea. Maybe we can figure out a way to do this in worship some year.

Advent Devotions - Common Word, a resource from Mennonite Church Canada creates a family-friendly downloadable advent resource. This seems like it could be used daily or occasionally or weekly, whatever works for your family. This year it's called, "Waiting and Wondering"

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Creating a Culture of Generosity

When I was a child, my family went to a church that operated on a pledge system. Each family was strongly encouraged to pledge an amount that they would contribute as a household over the year. I don’t remember this being talked about in my family, but I do remember the little pledge envelopes that my parents’ checks were tucked into and which in turn were shared in the offering plate as it passed us on Sunday morning.
When the offering plate (or quilted bag, as the case may be) passes us nowadays, very few of us tuck something into it. There are a lot of reasons for this: many of us give electronically, either through our banks or using the very convenient ‘donate’ button on SMC’s website; we don’t carry cash and checks anymore as a matter of course; we might give in a planned way in bigger chunks a few times a year; we don’t have a regular giving practice; we don’t feel as if we have the money to give. Some churches are getting rid of the act of offering during worship all together because they are experiencing the same thing.

As we give up the practice of giving during worship, that physical and visible act of putting something into the collection, where do we and our children find opportunities to practice and discuss living generously? Everywhere I read about creating a culture of generosity within a family and community I see modeling as one of the top ways to pass along this value, as well as talking openly about giving and reinforcing generous behavior with gratitude and praise. I think that’s likely as true for adults as it is with children. Doing it, talking about it, reinforcing it.

Last year we made a commitment through our Jubilee discernment to putting our Jubilee values into practice through our giving. I’m excited to be a part of a congregation that has done that important work of discerning that God's call to us is to increase our household giving in order to be responsive to Jubilee. Like our Jubilee document, our budget tells a story. It’s why we moved from a line-item budget to a narrative budget. Even the money spent on staff or facilities tells the story of the ministries that we are committed to as a congregation. While our commitment to greater giving isn’t yet bearing out in practice, I look forward to seeing how your money will continue to write a story of forming people in the way of Jesus, celebrating in worship as a family of faith, supporting people experiencing homelessness, partnering with people in wider church and repairing brokenness created by ancestors.

I have been so grateful to see our grade 3-5 kids walking around with offering pails after worship in the past few weeks. Grateful that they are talking about giving in Sunday school and grateful that they’re challenging us adults by making giving a visible part of our fellowship. I experienced a twinge of panic and guilt when I didn’t have anything to put in the waiting bucket and while I don’t want to return to what might have been a pressure, shame and guilt based system of giving, the very public nature of their campaign caused me to commit to having some change in my pocket next week. I pray that as a congregation we can live into the challenge we’ve given ourselves to be generous and to continue to tell out loud the story of how our money is following Jesus.

Here are a few of the on-line resources that I looked at around children and giving:

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Citzenship of the Saints

I've been thinking a lot about identity this week.  I became a naturalized US citizen this week. This was after a wait of almost a year and a half after I first made my application.  The wheels of bureaucracy turn extremely slowing in this administration. So while this has been a day I've been anticipating for a long time, it's always been with deep ambivalence.  Unlike so many people who come to this country, while this was a choice for the sake of marriage and a job, it was also not something I had ever sought or dreamed of or aspired to.

As much as I have loved Seattle, I have also prided myself a little on my identity as an outsider, and particularly as a Canadian outsider.  Especially in these days when progressive Americans are crashing the Canadian immigration website with their interest in leaving the country, I think I've even felt a little smug.  So to add "American" to my identity has felt not so much like an addition but somehow like it's canceling out both my other identity and my identity as "other".

And that's a problem.  Not that I feel like American-ness is canceling out my identity as Canadian, but that I've been as tied up as I have been in my identity as citizen of any nation over what should be my primary identity as a disciple of Jesus.  If I am a citizen of anywhere it is of the Reign of God.

As I prepare my message for All Saints Day and think about the beloved saints who have shown me the way, I don't think about good citizens, I think of good disciples.  Sometimes they are one in the same, but sometimes, good disciples are troublemakers and rabble-rousers.  Sometimes good disciples don't follow the laws of the land (as I had to promise in my citizenship ceremony) but protest laws that are unjust.  Sometimes good disciples are noisy and nosey and get in the way of governance for the sake of peace.  Jesus was not a good citizen. And when I think about my own kids and the little ones whom we will dedicate in the way of Jesus on Sunday, I hope that they will be better disciples than they are citizens too.

At this time of year All Saints and Veteran's Day (Remembrance Day in Canada) converge to make me turn to the people who I remember as witnesses for peace.  (I've written about that before here and here). I hope that as I continue to figure out what it means to live as a citizen of two countries, I'll keep remembering the people and identity that root me in my identity not in nation but as God's beloved child.
me and my freshly minted citizenship certificate

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Youth and Anxiety

Do you know, friends, that until this year I have never seen a therapist? I've never had a specific mental health concern or issue. I've never experience a significant trauma. And so I didn't think I needed one. But recently, for a variety of reasons, I thought I should try this thing that a) has been so helpful to so many people and b) I've always recommended to everyone else. And (surprise, surprise) I have started to realize that mental health, like physical health, is better when professional is helping you see what needs tending and regular check ups are super helpful.

I still don't have any specific diagnoses, but I'm feeling what seems to be the collective cultural sense of anxiety. According to, anxiety in teens actually is rising; it's not just in our imaginations. According that article, one in three adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder. That seem incredible to me, and yet over the past year or so I've become aware of multiple parents whose children or teens are facing mental health issues of varying degrees, anxiety among them.

I bring this up now in part because Delaney Rustin, a primary care physician and the creator of the film Screenagers has a new follow up to that film called Screenagers Next Chapter: Uncovering Skill for Stress Resilience. It looks more closely at young people experiencing anxiety and the intersection with social media and screen use. So many people - teens particularly - turn to screens to escape feelings of anxiety, but avoiding anxiety through social media and screens can exacerbate its symptoms.

The good news is that as young people confront or face a challenge that makes them anxious will decrease their overall level of anxiety. You can read more about the new film here and you can hear Delaney Rustin and her colleague Laura Kastner talk about their approach to anxiety as medical professionals and their suggestions for parents here (scroll to third segment). I am really looking forward to seeing this film. Unfortunately (for me - but maybe great for you) the only showing in Seattle that's open to the public in the coming weeks is next Wednesday and I can't make it.

While I wouldn't say it applies to our congregation, Christian culture more broadly sure is new to the idea that mental health is an important part of our whole selves. If you suspect that you or a young person in your life is experiencing some form of anxiety (some tips on how to figure this out here) or even if you don't, talk about it with someone! Your primary care doc is a great place to start. And many, like Delaney Rustin, may ask questions about mental health in their routine wellness exam. And if you're pretty sure you or your child are experiencing anxiety then seek therapy! Under the ACA insurance has to cover it.

Good medical and therapeutic help is important, but friends, as a believer I am also still rooted in the One who created me. We are all created good and with a spark of God's divine light within. My prayer for all of us - and most especially our children - is that we may become our most full selves, the ones that God knows us to be.
Christians are not the only religious community new to the therapy bandwagon. So I leave you with this. A little comic from one of my IG faves Huda Fahmy. She's also had funny posts recently about Muslim youth ministry. Go follow her @yesimhotinthis on Insta and Twitter.

Photo above by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Does God Fight?

I grew up with Bible stories in a way I'm not repeating with my own children.  We sometimes will a story or two from Desmond Tutu's Children of God Storybook Bible.  But I'm not systematic and don't, as my parents did, have multiple additional bible story books or do a daily family devotional.  I'll admit that in part it's because I don't want to have to deal with some of the problematic Old Testament stories of conquest, war and (not to put too fine a point on it) genocide.  I can't even remember how my parents dealt with that.  I think maybe we just breezed over those many other people that Israel conquered and killed to enter Canaan or somehow I saw that land as empty (besides the rivers of milk and honey, that is).  I didn't see those conquered people as people.

I'm not willing to do that now - let the conquered be invisible or non human; there are too many contemporary and historical examples of oppression based in these texts for me to let it go.  So how do I approach this?  For one, I think Desmond Tutu has it right - in his retellings of the Biblical stories, he focuses on love and justice.  And many stories of the Old Testament left out altogether.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori based Sunday school program our congregation used at one time, didn't introduce the Hebrew Bible until children are at least nine - and then began with the prophets.  Early focus is on Jesus' care, welcome and love.

In the high school Sunday school class this fall we're looking at some of the stories of war and violence.  Together we're trying to examine them with some nuance.  I'm using as my starting place a curriculum called Does God Fight? from the Mennonite publisher Faith and Life Press.  Some of my takeaways from that and from my experience with these stories are these:
  1. The Bible is written by people who had a particular understanding of God.  Oppressed themselves, their God was one who delivered and did so absolutely. 
  2. The God of these war stories is the one who delivers.  The people are to depend not on their own power but on the God who fights for them.
  3. Jesus has priority.  We believe Jesus to be the most clear interpreter of God's desire for humanity and model for how we are to be followers of God's will.  And when Jesus interpreted scripture he did so in a way that pointed to non-violence, compassion and God's love for all nations and peoples.
Do does God fight?  Well, in the Biblical narrative, yes.  If children and teens can understand the nuance of historical context and the human need to describe a God who completely and totally has their backs then maybe these stories can still have some meaning.  There are still communities of oppressed people for whom a story of a God who leads people into safety and to a home of their own is important.  I absolutely do not count myself as a part of such a community.  Instead I lean into Jesus.  Jesus who loves and blesses the the imprisoned and the weak.  Jesus who welcomes his disciples questions and chooses little ones so sit beside him.

May we always have Jesus at our side
as we struggle to be a people
who says no to violence and oppression.
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Keep Breathin'

There's plenty of pop music that make me roll my eyes or straight up gag (I do not love it when you call me senorita). But always like it when Ariana Grande's song breathin comes on the radio. Sure, it's a little repetitive, but the woman is handing out some pretty good advice, honestly. Ariana sounds like she might be living with anxiety, frankly. I hope she has a good therapist. But maybe, like me, she is just stressed out. I've been stressed out, friends. I admit it. Pastor Megan's absence left me with more on my plate than I'm used to and I'm starting to feel it.

A couple weeks ago when we blessed our kids' backpacks for school and all our totes and bags with the assurance that God breathes within us. I even preached this whole sermon about breath and feeling the breath of God give life. Sigh. Sigh again. Seriously, that's how I'm breathing these days. Held breath and sighs. I'm having to remind myself of my own and Ariana's advice constantly.

With adults - and even teens and tweens - sometimes we can offer a simple reminder: 'Remember to breathe!' or 'Let's take a deep breath,' when we notice stress being held in the body. Helping younger kids to breathe when they're feeling stressed or anxious isn't always that easy. For one, who likes being told what to do? Second, it might seem counter intuitive, but I think we actually need to be taught how to breathe. I have a couple go-to methods for breathing and focus and mindfulness that I come back to. And I recently found one that I'm adding to the list.
1) Balloon - take a deep breath like you're going to blow up a big balloon. Form a small round balloon shape with your hands by your pursed lips (they're around the balloon's opening) and blow out, watching your hands grow larger. Do this again a few times until the balloon is the size of your open arms. Then let the balloon go up into the air. (I know: the balloon isn't knotted and full of helium; just go with it.) 
2) Birthday Cake - pretend you have a birthday cake full of candles in front of you. (You're really old, I guess). Take a deep breath and blow like you're blowing them out. Count aloud with your child or have them count in their head - how many candles did you blow out? 
3) Snake Breath - I is the new one got this one off of this resource from Barefoot Books. "When they are coiled and resting, snakes look around calmly, and when they are ready to move, they are slow and smooth. Sit up tall. Take a deep breath in, filling up your whole body. Pause and breathe out slowly and smoothly, making a hissing sound for as long as you can. Repeat for three to five rounds, feeling yourself slow down and become calmer each time."
Breathe, everyone. And then keep breathin'. The God of life breathes in you, in your kids, and in me too!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Blessing the Beginning

Beginnings and endings have me thinking about blessings. There's something about the beginning of the school year and the changes and transitions that it brings that is always a little nerve wracking - both the school year and (for me) getting ready for the beginning of programs at church. In fact I went back to my Midweek Message from last year because i knew I'd written about a back-to-school litany and I thought maybe I could take my own advice and give myself some language for remembering God's presence with me and my kids during stress.

This Sunday we repeat what has become a beloved transition to me: blessing backpacks (and bags and purses and briefcases and phones and tool kits etc; the things we carry). I know blessings aren't magical. These things aren't imbued with some kind of special power. I'm not a wizard. (Or am I? *cocks eyebrow*) They do, however, have a special place in the life of a community and in our relationship to God.

Weirdly, I often think of this advice column by hard-rock partier Andrew W. K. when I think about why prayer - and blessing as a specific kind of prayer - is important. He frames prayer as a way of letting go of our need for control and power and acknowledging instead our need for help and putting ourselves in a position of love and community. I also like Walter Wink's take. He calls prayer an aperture through which God works. Calling on God's presence and letting ourselves become magnifying glasses to focus the light of God into those places where we want to concentrate love and caring and peace, that seems very worthwhile to me.

So we've been blessing backpacks for about a decade maybe. And we bless food and babies and goings out and comings in. We bless students and teachers and service workers and council members. We bless all the things but we've never blessed our Sunday school rooms! At least not since I've been here. But that all ends this week. I was inspired by a post on the Dove's Nest blog by Allison Brookins, who talks about praying the 23rd Psalm over the children of her congregation. This Sunday, in addition to assembling school kits and eating sandwiches, I invite you to join me in doing a blessing tour of our Sunday school rooms. We'll bless these spaces in which we trust that our children will learn and laugh and create community and experience the love of Jesus, opening ourselves and those spaces to God's loving care and attention.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Memories of Grandma

A few months ago a package arrived in the mail for our family. In it was a small Easter gift from grandma: four delicately crocheted and impressively starched cross bookmarks and a card with an Easter message. This reminder of resurrection and new life is a blessing to me as I hold the work of her hands in mine and remember all the things that her hands have made over the years. Beautiful and practical items that were her way of reaching across the miles - even around the world - at times when her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have been distant. Mittens and pajamas, tiny Barbie dresses and snowflake ornaments, cozy afghans and warm sweaters. Works of love.

Beautiful and practical seem to me words that aptly describe my grandmother. Beautiful in her sweet smile and sparkling eyes - that sometimes seemed to hold a little mischief. But also the beauty of deep love for family and community. While we are many - the children, inlaws, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Helen Reimer - I have never felt forgotten or unloved. Grandma wanted us all to be included and cherished. And practical. Strong. How could she not be? To not only raised five daughters and care for many grandchildren over her life but also to financially support her family by being a part of the workforce. To physically nurture their bodies by growing a garden and making preserves and pickles, baking and noodle making, sewing and knitting. Practical, beautiful, loving provision and care.

While I’ve been distant in recent years, my childhood was full of hours spent in grandma’s house, in blanket forts in the backyard and eating creamsicles on the front steps, playing with the same games and stacking toys that were still in the cabinet in her Bethany apartment for my own and other children to play with. I will still think of grandma every time I ride the bus with my children and let them ring the bell the way grandma showed me how to do on the way to Safeway. I will remember her in homemade white buns with jam. When I knit mittens with stitches I first learned under her patient guidance. And when I open my bible to the place where it is marked with the cross that she made.

Proverbs 31 asks,
“A woman of valour, who can find?”
“...She is clothed with strength and dignity
and can laugh at days to come.
Her children arise and call her blessed…
“‘Many women have done noble things but you surpass them all.’”

May grandma’s laughter be met by her smiling Creator,
who is delighted to welcome her with loving arms.
May we children who have been blessed by her surpassing love
be people of valour, beauty and love,
reflecting the love that she has shown to us.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bathroom Sign Blessing

"We welcome a diversity of gender identity and expression. Please use the restroom that best fits you." 

These are the words posted under our gendered bathroom signs. (The ones with a person wearing a dress and a person wearing pants - hello, gender normativity!) We hope that this along with the addition of clearly labeled all-gender restroom signs our congregation is clearly communicating our welcome and blessing of people of all genders. Before they were posted, these signs sat on our altar - the first and only time a toilet will hold that sacred place - and they received this blessing in worship:

God who is all gender and no gender,
God who became incarnate in a body, who is no-body
God who created our bodies and identities
    and is present in each of our bodies,
    expressed through our identities,
Bless the work of the Gender Hospitality Ministry Team,
As, on behalf of our congregation
    they seek to make explicit our welcome
    of your beloved queer and trans bodies into our worship and spaces.
May we truly proclaim, holy and what you have called holy.
May we proclaim welcome what you proclaim welcome.
May we, like Peter, see clearly the vision
    that allows us to lean deep
    into our identity as a body of radical hospitality
    without partiality.
May these signs - markers for our doors and windows -
    also mark us.
May they mark us and our doors as open.
Open to your Spirit and open to all who enter,
That your welcome may be our welcome.
And that even when we harbor fear and uncertainty
    we may use these as an opportunity for understanding
    - of ourselves and of our neighbor.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
    whose Spirit is with us and welcoming us still.

Making Mistakes

I make a lot of mistakes. Because of the nature of my work, I often make them publicly. I get the hymns wrong, completely forget that I'm supposed to be on prayers on a particular Sunday, mix up the order of service. I feel like it's almost my calling card at this point. And thanks be to God, my congregation is so gracious with me when I mess up. I count on them to call me out so that I can make up for and repair the mistakes.

This week in worship, my really dumb mistake was bringing a story Juneteenth to a children's time in May (if this is the first you've heard of this holiday read more here). Of course, Jonathan stood up and took credit for the mistake; it was his suggestion that because Sunday was the nineteenth, I should read a Juneteenth book. But duh! I knew it was May, I just didn't make that connection. So I was embarrassed. And y'all were gracious as usual. And I read the book Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper anyway.

The other mistake that I made with this book, when I talked about enslaved people, was the softening the language I used to describe enslavement. I can't remember exactly what I said but it was something along the lines of, "Black people weren't treated fairly and weren't treated kindly."  I did not address the cruelty, violence and degradation of being enslaved.  I was called our after reading this book. Called in, actually. A term I've come across recently, which I like. I was called in to conversation that challenged me not to pretty-up slavery - or the contemporary experiences of blackness - because I think my white audience can't handle it. Even if they are children.

Even though I was the one who, after reading Jennifer Harvey wrote about having to break our (white) children's hearts so that they can experience a deeper empathy that prepares them to be anti-racist, I was trying to make the language nice and palatable for my young audience - and the rest of the the congregation as well. I floundered at the moment for how to talk about what slavery was and didn't do a great job. I also didn't to justice to the ongoing and persistent treatment of Black people intentionally and systemically because of white supremacy.

"Niceness is not courageous." Robin Diangelo says in this video about the problem with white folks thinking that being nice is the antidote to racism. Oof. Gut punch. So I pick myself up and try to do better. Be better. Have better conversations that do less harm. If you'd like to continue the conversation about Juneteenth in anticipation of its arrival next month, there are a few more books for kids you can look at in addition to the one I read. Another that I've read an liked myself is All Different Now by Angela Johnson. And you can also check out this list of Juneteenth books for young readers.

Tangentially Related Recommendation:
The television series Altanta created by Daniel Glover and the episode Juneteenth in particular, which was one of my favorites.

Follow up on Last Week:
More books for pre-k and elementary school aged kids about Ramadan and Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, can be found here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Prayer and Fasting

This weekend I overheard a conversation between middle schoolers about a team mate who is Muslim. "I feel so bad for him." one said "It must be so hard." This made me wonder both how much they know about the practice of fasting and how much we Christian Mennos know and have in common with our Muslim neighbors.

Fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with faith, charity, prayer and pilgrimage. While there are exceptions, most Muslims fast from all food and drink from sunup to sundown, getting up before the sun rises to eat and hydrate and breaking fast - called iftar - after the sun sets, often with a celebratory meal. The fast is not intended to be a burden, as the girls having the conversation perceived it, but to be an opportunity for spiritual growth, connection to God and community and a re-establishment of good practices to carry through the year.

I'm sure there are some children who do consider fasting a burden. But I found this article from the CBC a few years ago in which children reflect on their experience of fasting - or partial fasting in the case of the younger kids - as connecting to their family and to God. While puberty is considered the time when young people should begin to join their elders in fasting, smaller children are given the choice.

While fasting isn't a compulsory Christian practice, it has long been a way that Christians too connect to our creator and community. Following the example of Jesus in the wilderness we fast as solidarity with those who do not have food and to act in just ways. To use the time for eating and preparing food for prayer or spiritual disciplines. To feed the mind and heart instead of the body.

If you are interested in learning a little bit more about the Muslim experience during Ramadan, Here are some link that you could follow and learn from:
  • First, Google can be your best friend but here's a helpful Ramadan FAQ from some UK Muslims.
  • Huda Fahmi is the comic artist behind Yes I'm Hot in This, a humorous take on being a hijabi Muslim in southern Texas (thus the title of her comic - guess what she gets asked a lot). I follow several Muslim women on Instagram, teachers and illustrators and 'influencers,' but she is by far my favorite.
  • The podcasts See Something Say Something, features conversations about being Muslim in America by a whole variety of folks of different backgrounds and Good Muslim Bad Muslim is two women who are writers and comedians and feature their take on politics and culture.
If you see a Muslim neighbor it would be totally appropriate to say Ramadan Mubarak (happy/blessed Ramadan) as a greeting.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

For Mothering

In honor of Mother's Day this Sunday, I offer a song, a prayer and a reminder.

The 23rd Psalm
First, I again share with you this masterpiece by Bobby McFarrin. Maybe I'll share it every year. It's so good!

A Prayer for all Kinds of Mothering
Second, this Mothers Day blessing adapted from a prayer that was shared around social media a couple years ago and which I found posted by Sarah Bessey on facebook, based on a post by Amy Young here.

May you know the blessing of a mothering God...
if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.

if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.

if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.

if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your mother has died.

if your relationship with your mother was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.

if you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.

if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children whom you did not bear.

if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.

if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.

if like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.

if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.

if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.

if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.

You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.

And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know.

Mothers for Peace
And finally, if you are still reading, a reminder. The origins of Mother's Day was the intention that it be a day for peace an unity. It's creator was Ann Jarvis who wanted to continue the work of and honor her own mother, who had witnessed the devastation of the American Civil War and worked to heal bodies, spirits and communities broken by it. Ann was joined in her campaign to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday by suffragette Julia Ward Howe who wrote the "Mother's Day Proclamation" including this memorable quote:

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

Happy Mothers' Day. In the name of the one God who mothers us all.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Welcoming Transgender Christians

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ ~ Acts 10:34

In my experience as a parent and working with children and youth, young people are not as confounded as adults sometimes are at the growing understanding of gender identity as unlinked to attraction or to biological organs or chromosomes. It’s not that they don’t have a clear sense of their own gender; most children know from the time they’re about three what gender they are. But that sense doesn’t have to do with what’s in their pants, it has to do with simply knowing.

Unfortunately even very young children already also know very what’s ‘for girls’ and what’s ‘for boys’. It’s remarkable - or maybe it’s not, really - how much our social programming around gender roles, expression and identity is entrenched as truth. This was also true for the early Christians related to Christian identity. Peter, speaking in the quote above, is absolutely certain that Gentiles cannot be Christians. How could it be possible? He learns, however, that God’s spirit is continuing to work in spite of our doubt and in spite of our uncertainty. In fact God’s Spirit powers through our uncertainty.

As a congregation of radical hospitality who has embraced an open welcome of LGBTQ+ people (an acronym that means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer or Questioning Plus multiple other sexual and gender identities) we are still learning more about how to fully welcome people who are trans and queer. This Sunday in worship we will hear the full story of Peter’s vision and transformation. We’ll also be blessing the work of our Gender Hospitality Ministry Team, who are working on behalf of our congregation to be clear in our welcome and notice places where we have room to grow.

While we work at this as a congregation we all have the opportunity to grow in our understanding of our own gender identity and expression. We have an opportunity to undo some of the expectation in ourselves and in our children about what’s expected of being a male or female and that there are folks whose identity is as neither - or both. I actually think that knowing God can help us know people beyond the binary is a better way. When discussing gender with my older child, talking about people who are a-gender or non-binary, she replied, “Oh, like God.” Yes!! Like God!! We are indeed made in the image of a queer God.

As a part of my own learning I’ve embraced resources and media that help me see and hear from people who are transgender or non-binary. I compiled a few resources for adults and for kids last fall around Trans Awareness Week and I’d like to share that list (to which I’ve added a few) to help us all continue our growth in understanding trans experiences in order that we all might be more compassionate. So that we can advocate and amplify the voices of trans gender non-conforming folks. See the list below.


A Note on the image: We’re all familiar with the rainbow flag image which is a symbol for the gay pride and is a visual cue of openness to welcome for people who are gay and lesbian. The trans flag is a similar symbol and visual cue to trans folks that those displaying it are knowledgeable about and welcome people who are transgender or gender non-conforming.



Reading and Resources for Adults and Older Teens

Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austin Hartke. Austin uses stories of trans folks as well as the Bible to weave a theology for affirmation and welcome, in addition to telling his own story of being trans in the church.

Trans 101: a brief guide from BMC. I found this really helpful in framing gender as beyond a binary. It also has a helpful glossary and personal stories from Mennonite and Brethren people who are transgender.

A Quick Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns I have not read it but I saw it on the yellow-sticker shelf at the Seattle Public Library. So you can have it for as long as you need it!

“Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns on Nametags” by Sinclair Sexsmith. Help from an experiential perspective for understanding why pronouns are so important.

Jaimie Bruesehoff - A blogging parent of a transgender child who is both an outspoken advocate for trans rights and committed to raising her children to be people of faith in the Lutheran Church. Her now 11 year old daughter was just blessed in a naming ceremony honoring her 'forever name' in her congregation. I find her writing about the intersection of faith and parenting a trans kid especially meaningful.

How To Be A Girl - a podcast by a Seattle parent of a now 11-year-old (I think) trans girl that documents the whole journey and most recently the very real concern they've had about moving to a suburb where her daughter is not out and where they are concerned about how she will be received. I've also listened to this with my child and we've had some good conversations about it.

Picture Books

I am Jazz was one of the earliest picture books that approached being transgender in a normative way. Jazz Jennings is now a young adult and still an outspoken trans advocate.

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love - a gender non-conforming little boy who admires the beautifully dressed ladies in his neighborhood. So beautifully illustrated, the pictures say more than the words.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. Morris loves his swishy, crinkly tangerine dress that reminds him of the color of tigers. But his classmates are not so sure that boys can wear dresses. Together they begin to understand that “this boy does.”

Middle Grade Books:

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - a middle grade novel about a transgender girl who is afraid of the onset of puberty. It's also very real about the experience of bipolar disorder. It's really good and a very quick read for an adult.

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood - I haven't read this one yet but it's on my list. This is what I gathered from Good Reads: All the awkwardness of an eighth grade boy trying to impress a girl, take on the prejudice and small-mindedness of his small town and getting his first period.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bloody Valentine...Literally

I saw a post on Instagram made by the Canadian writer and comedian Charlie Demers, that said "Valentine’s Day is just a corporate, Hallmark holiday cooked up to celebrate an indescribably brave 3rd century priest who gave succour to a persecuted minority & was executed by the most powerful state in the world for resisting its war-making!"

Well, that got me curious! Valentine was anti-war? Sure thing. He was indeed a priest who ministered in Rome in the days when Christians were still persecuted for their faith. He was jailed several times for preaching Christ and trying to convert pagans. The first time he was jailed for this he was released after he restored sight the the daughter of the judge who has tried him, convincing the judge and his whole household to be baptized. It's totally sounds like a story out of the book of Acts.

But the real act of non-violent resistance to empire is when Claudius II was having difficulty recruiting men to the Roman army. Because their attachment to family and spouses prevented them from their duty he banned all engagements and marriage in Rome. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret for Christian couples so that the men would not have to enlist. When Claudius discovered this Valentine was arrested again, clubbed to death and beheaded. And that is why February 14 is Valentine's Day. It's the date in 270 (although the year is debated) that Valentinus of Rome was beheaded.

It's thought that the reason that it became instituted as a celebration of romantic love is that, like so many Christian celebrations, it supplanted a pagan holiday. In this case it was the holiday of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love.

You're welcome and Happy Valentine's Day.

*Info above mainly from Wikipedia, and

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Saying Grace

When I was a kid, we had an everyday dinner prayer and a company dinner prayer.  The everyday one went:
    Thank you, God, for food and fun.
    Thank you, God, rain and sun.
    Thank you, God, for parents dear.
    Thank you, God, for being here.

I don't remember the company one.  The prayer above is so deeply implanted in me from repetition that it will never leave me.  I think my mom found it in a books of prayers for children.

When I was a child, it became a race to get through the prayer so that we could get to dinner.  My brother and I would say it so fast that eventually we left out the 'parents dear' part (sorry, mom and dad.)  But even if we'd said it the words had all already lost all their meaning.

I didn't want that to happen in our own family practice at meal time so for most of our life as a family we've held hands and spoken aloud things for which we are grateful.  Or when people fail to talk, spend a moment in silence.  But we've come to the speed-through-to-get-to-dinner point.  Holding hands becomes squeezing, becomes jostling.  The little one just says "Amen" immediately and insistently because he knows that means he can eat.  Prayer is no longer prayer, it's a distraction.

So it's time to try something new.  I decided maybe it's time we do have something to recite or read.  But I still don't want to fall into the zoom through to be done trap.  So I'm making some prayer cards.  Kids can choose which one they want or we can draw at random.  I found several good ones in Wendy Claire Barker's excellent and practical book Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian ParentsLike this one sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques":
    God our Father, God our Mother,
    we thank you, we thank you,
    for this food before us, for this food before us.
    Amen. Amen.
She also suggests writing down spoken gratitude to keep a record, a family gratitude journal.  I wonder if my children might pay better attention if they know it's being recorded for posterity.

And I cruised our best friend the internet for other suggestions.  Like the classic:
    Bless us, O Lord, and these gifts
    which we are about to receive from your goodness.
    In Jesus name, Amen.

Based on my searches, Amazon suggested this mealtime prayer cube to me, which I have to admit is pretty tempting.  But also based on my searches I realized, "Oh, I actually know quite a lot of mealtime prayers."  Haven't I been going to church, Christian camps and schools and worked in ecumenical or Mennonite settings basically my whole life?

Here's some of what comes up when I Google my own brain:
    Be present at our table Lord.
    Be here and everywhere adored.
    Your mercies bless and grant that we
    May feast in paradise with thee.

My classmates and sang that gem every lunchtime in my secular public Canadian elementary school.  I'm sure that doesn't happen any more.

And I know this one from somewhere:
    Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.
    Let this food to us be blessed.  Amen

Now that I think about it, that might have been the company prayer.

And this one that I've both sung and spoken:
    God is great and God is good,
    and we thank God for our food.
    By God's hands we all are fed.
    Give us Lord our daily bread.

Or how about the Bible:
The Lord's prayer in one of it's many versions or straight from Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4?  Or a Psalm like the short and sweet 117:
    Praise God all you nations;
    extol God, all you mighty ones.
    For God's love toward us is great,
    God's faithfulness, eternal.

And I might add a 'Bless us and our meal' at the end for good measure.  There are lots of Psalms of Thanksgiving though.  And they're easy to find if you have a bible with headings.

There's always the doxology, which can be spoken or sung.  Megan even introduced us to new words recently in worship:
    Praise God the Source of life and birth;
    praise God the Word, who came to earth;
    praise God the Spirit, holy flame;
    all glory, honor to God’s name! Amen.

And there you have it.  In the process of writing about it, I've discovered I have a little set of prayers I can introduce.  And I'll probably include the one from my childhood as well.  A blessing on all of you and your families as you eat together and create your own family traditions.