A Hopeful Lent

Where are you finding hope? What does hope look like for you right now?

In my own struggle with whether or not to get dressed in the morning, I know that I’m struggling to find hope. It feel like a nice idea or even like something that we once had. Maybe even something we will have again but that still feels like a long way off. Like so many, I am exhausted.

My children are little. They know about the yucky germs and know that we can’t go near people without our masks on. I keep more distance because my youngest isn’t old enough to wear a mask and we still live in Texas where there are people that think this is a hoax and refuse to wear their own masks. I worry about what I’m teaching them by telling them to keep such distance. I worry so much about my own sanity and theirs that I’m not sure that I have energy for anything dramatic this Lent, but I know I need something. I need something to reframe my frustration and sorrow.

In her new book, The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times, Amelia Richardson Dress invites us to imagine that by doing simple things that hope could come live inside us. She begins by naming parenting with hope like this:

Hope has both an inward component and an outward one. Practices of resilience help us to find courage and trust. They comfort us in times of struggle. But they also inspire us to believe in the vision that Jesus gave us, that God’s reign will come here on earth.

Amelia Richardson Dress

It took my breath away. It is repeats again in other wonderful words throughout the book but I don’t want to quote so much that you feel like you’ve read the book. You should read the book especially if you find yourself struggling in this uncertain time. If you are not struggling, you are a superhero. I am not sure what hope looks like right now. That’s the honest truth and that’s why I need to enter into these simple practices of generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, blessing and storytelling. Yes, all of these are possible even for someone like me who takes quarantining to a whole new level.

With Amelia’s abundant blessing, I’ve adapted the practices she offers for the seven weeks of Lent. It’s seven because it includes Holy Week which means you get one more practice to share in with the wisdom offered in this wonderful book. I can’t take on that much more and I am willing to bet that’s true for the families in your church. It might even be true for you, dear pastor. You are doing so much raising your children and caring for the blessed souls in your congregation. Whether or not you feel on edge like I do, you really are a superhero. You are doing amazing things every damn day.

There is nothing strict about this approach to this pandemic season of Lent. There is a calendar but it’s really only because I don’t know what day it is and I need something to orient me on some kind of timeline. There aren’t practices for every day but something you are trying together as a family each week. As Amelia says again and again, try this. It’s an experiment in hope. Try it. See what it might show you about God.

It could even be fun. There are a few extra practices if you get bored or want to try something else.

Each week, there is a blessing written by Amelia, the practice that will frame your week, and some hints at beautiful books to read with your children in the Bible and from children’s literature. I also included some questions for grown-up conversation so that you can practice talking to grown-ups again about big ideas and stuff that matters.

I designed this for myself. It’s what I’ll be doing with my family. I’ll be dragging my husband into the conversations even though he doesn’t do God or church. I framed these questions in such a way that they are not too Jesus-y because I know that there are more families like mine, but I also wanted there to be something like this that would be easy for you, dear pastor, to send to the families in your church.

I know you’ve worked hard to create brilliant and wonderful things for families all year long and that some of you feel like you have no good ideas left. This is for you. You’ll find the link to A Hopeful Lent (for Congregational Use) here. By ordering this version, you have full ability to share it with your whole church for this season in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

I also created a version for families to use at home on their own. You’ll find a link to the A Hopeful Lent (for Family Use) here. When you purchase this version, you’re promising to be a nice person and tell your friends about this cool thing you found and directing them to the link rather than forwarding them the rad PDF you just got in your email.

I’m so thrilled with how it came together and I pray it will help families, like mine, find hope in this pandemic season of Lent. I’m so grateful that Amelia blessed this project. You should totally buy her book even if you don’t do this for Lent. It is, indeed, a gift for this uncertain time.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 3

I am really excited when poetry takes the national stage. I was surprised when it happened in the beginning of the pandemic. Major news outlets started sharing poems chosen by their editors to speak this moment. Poetry became popular while we have been home in our pajamas.

It happens every four years — or nearly so — that a poet is invited to speak this moment in United States history. We need such words to speak to the unknown. We need the wisdom of artists to sing their prophetic hope and so I am eagerly awaiting what will come when Amanda Gorman takes the stage tomorrow to share her poem The Hill We Climb. There are other things about tomorrow that are in my thoughts but I have channeled all of that restless energy into a deep dive into the gifts and talents of this poet laureate.

Watch this and you will fall in love with this talented woman that the same news outlets that celebrated the gifts of poetry in the pandemic now only speak to this woman’s youth. Let’s not do that, friends. Let’s remember that our faith is centered on the very idea that a little child shall lead us. Age does not dictate wisdom.

This might not be something you share in worship but I hope it’s something that emboldens you, dear pastor, to use your words boldly and prophetically. You might be especially wondering how to do that this week as we wait to see what will happen tomorrow and after the nightmares of last week. I’m not sure that the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this week are much help though I found wisdom both in this and this to see the gospel truth in this moment as kairos time.

What I especially love about Matt Skinner’s wisdom in Dear Working Preacher is that it might not feel like time to stir the pot right now. My friend Stacey said something similar last week on Twitter. It does no good to condemn each other to the urgency that might be felt but we do have a responsibility to invite each other into what could be. The kingdom of God hasn’t been realized but it is still near.

I am going to borrow the brilliance of Amanda Gorman in her poem In this Place (An American Lyric) in the prayers I offer this week in the hope of uncertain hope of kairos time. This poem is not public domain and so it should not be used in the context of worship but it might be a link that is shared on social media or in the church newsletter to continue reflection on what could be.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 1:14-20

Now. The time is now.
Now is the time 
for good news 
and to fulfill
the hopes and fears
of all the years. 

Now. It could be
time for us
to believe
that we are 
just beginning. 
We are just now
finding lyrics for 
our hope. Just now
we are finding words
to claim what it might 
mean for the 
realm of God 
to come near. 

It has all come to
this. It has come to this moment
when we gather for worship
to wonder again 
how we will 
fulfill this time. 
Let us worship
and wonder.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20

We will not pretend that our whole lives 
will change, O God. We would be lying. 

Things might look the same: same partner, 
same job, same lament, same hope.

But we pray today that something 
changes with us and through us
so that we are not so afraid 
of letting go of our pride,
our privilege, our assumptions 
about the past and the present 
and even the future. Forgive us, O God,
for our arrogance 
and allow us to find grace
in following 
your love. Amen. 

This final prayer was written for a curated collection of prayers for the Overland Park Christian Church and the First Christian Church in Smithville, Missouri. The wise pastors of these congregations have broken from the Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany and are leading a preaching series through the prophetic works of exile challenging us to wonder what we can learn about who we might become after our own pandemic exile. I am so honored to write prayers for this inspiring series. Their focus text for this week is Ezekiel 37:1-14 so there will be illusions in this adapted prayer to that resurrection hope. If your congregation is interested in doing something similar and would like to work with me in creating liturgy, please contact me here.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by the poetry in Christian Scriptures and of Amanda Gorman

O Spirit, we have feared
tyrants. We have 
been astonished 
by what their words 
can incite. We have felt like
our words were not enough
so we haven’t spoken.
We have been silent
while history has its 
eyes on us. 

We have been
stuck in this feeling
that the world was passing away
and we did not know 
if we could do anything 
to change it or even
care that it was happening. 
Our apathy won.
We haven't said 
that out loud.
We haven't wanted 
it to be true
when our despair
was the only thing that
we could really pin down
in this appointed time. 

We haven't felt the 
urgency of this moment
even though it has now
become clear 
that something 
needs to change. 
We feel the tension 
more than the hope.
We feel the hate
more than the love.
We feel the long arc of the moral universe
more than the immediate justice. 

It has been 
hard enough to get
out of bed
and change 
out of our pajamas,
but we know that 
your hope 
only lives 
if it has flesh. 
It will only breathe
possibility into creation 
if that hope 
finds its rhythm
within our souls.

Give us, O Spirit,
the wisdom 
to see ourselves 
and all of creation
with the eyes
of artists and prophets,
dreamers and poets.
Let the old
dream dreams
and young see visions
for what could be.
Let your hope, O Spirit, 
be the muse that 
flows from within us
and give us courage to
climb over the hill
of our hopes and fears.
 
We might not get 
to the Promised Land. 
We might not get 
to see all that you 
hope for this 
world, O Spirit of God,
but that does not mean 
we give up the fight. 
Challenge us to soar 
to new heights
where there will be
new dreams and visions 
for your people.

O Spirit, breathe
hope into our lives
and into all of creation.
Dare us to dream  
of what could be
on the other side
of our despair.
We pray in 
your grace. Amen.

You might not have had the leisure of wandering through the exquisite words of this poet laureate like I have but I don’t want you to miss hearing her read one of her poems. Thus far, this is my favorite.

Though her books haven’t released yet, she has two children’s books that will release soon. You might want to read this bedtime story to your children as much as I do. Or you might want to share in the energy of the inauguration in this forthcoming picture book within your ministry to children.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Small Pandemic Joys

It has been so long that this pandemic has gone on.

I have lost count. I no longer care to count.

I have yelled at my kids. I have been short. I have been unkind solely because I have been so isolated. My family is great. Yeah for family but I really miss people. And so, I’m trying to remind myself of small joys. I am terrible at this spiritual practice. I know Diana Butler Bass says its a good idea. It’s healthy. It builds good things but I resist. Instead, my gratitude practice more boldly extends to conspiring with the United States Postal Service. I shared a recipe for that years ago here.

And yet, bizarrely, I find myself whispering prayers of gratitude in these strange days where my frustration feels off the charts. Beyond the obvious things (family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies… that stuff), I feel compelled to share my growing gratitude list. It’s my own tiny reminder that small things are everything.

  • My fifteen month old baby has started kissing so that any time she goes upstairs she makes this little guppy noise to say good night. It’s not always bed time when we go upstairs but it makes me laugh every time.
  • Walks around our neighborhood where my nearly three year old daughter and I each squeal with delight at the bright colored flowers. (We live in Texas. It’s still hot here and even in the desert, there are plenty of flowers.) We are slowly learning the names of these new plants and each time I point and name a plant, I hear the distant echo of my grandmother doing the same thing over my shoulder.
  • While my children are too tiny for homeschool and we still don’t have many screens in our lives, I’ve definitely noticed my phone is in my palm A LOT. One of the ways I’m trying to separate from screens is to turn off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime and read an actual paper book. My husband wakes up so freaking early that I invested in a reading light that I adore. Right now, this is a great joy.
  • Writing prayers and hearing that these prayers are actually helpful when I know that so many pastors are on the brink of giving up their vocations out of sheer exhaustion.
  • Online church. I know I might be in the minority on this one but we moved to a new place two months ago and I still get to see and be cared for by the church community that has been the only church my kids have ever known.
  • Before it was a yeast shortage this spring, I had decided that this would be the year I learned to bake bread. I’m really grateful for my friend Meghan for buying me the book and and cheering on all of my bakes by text.
  • Teeny tiny adventures outside the house. We went to White Sands National Park last weekend which is only 90 minutes from our house and it was magical to be outside playing with our kids. I am also really keen on the fact that my nearly three year old has learned the word adventure and wants to know when the next one will be.

It’s not a long list but it’s a reminder that there is joy. There is always joy.

I pray there is joy for you too.

Easter at Home with Babies and Toddlers

When I was in my very first call and was still saying I wasn’t sure I was called to be a parent, I led a conversation for the monthly potluck shared by parents and children about faith at home. It felt like a new idea all those ten years ago.

Children were supposed to learn about matters of faith at church. They were supposed to ask their pastors and Sunday School teachers. Parents weren’t trained. They weren’t equipped. That was what we thought then when there was never a question about gathering in our places of worship. That was before this pandemic changed things forever. Or maybe just for a little while.

It has taken this new normal for me to actually do the things I taught parents to do with their children. It started really because I was gifted a daily observance for little kids to mark the days of Holy Week from my dear friend Teri. My sweet toddler would remind me every day that it was time for “Baby Jesus” and we would share in whatever the story and activity was for that day. It made me realize I need to do this more.

Just like I find activities for my children to play with bubble foam, finger paint and embark on neighborhood scavenger hunts, I need to find time to cultivate their faith. I want them to learn more about these stories that are so important to me but it also builds up my faith. It reminds me every time we take the time to do so that this is matters to me. Here are some things I’m doing with my very young children to carry us through the Easter season.

My toddler is two and a half and very verbal. My baby girl is nearly 10 months old and is ready to start walking. Or so it appears. She might not get as much out of these activities but she is in awe of her sister and will follow her anywhere. I can’t say these activities will work without an older child to lead.

Prayer Book

I confess that I have been tired at bedtime and so the long list of people we usually pray for has been truncated. I feel badly badly about it and so when I downloaded Traci Smith’s wonderful at home resource for Faithful Families, I felt nudged by one of her ideas to create a book of people we pray for. I’m adapting a tiny photo book to use in our prayer time every night and every other time my toddler pulls it off the shelf and clasps her hands together.

Jesus Song Time

The churches I’ve served have all had Sunday School during worship. In every church I’ve served, the kids start in the sanctuary until the children’s sermon and then are excused to their classes. This means they usually only hear one or two hymns and one of those hymns may have been difficult to sing. I know this. Zoom Worship has provided the extra blessing for our family that my kids hear the whole service and my baby girl sways and dances every time music begins. music

I want to cultivate that love of music and want them to learn the songs of faith. So we have started to have Jesus Song Time. I created a Spotify station by the same name that we turn on the Roku and jam out in our living room. I sing loudly and out of tune and encourage my kids to play with bean bags and their music instruments including the egg shakers that were in their Easter baskets.

Psalms and Shepherds

In the spirit of familiarity, I am attempting to teach Psalm 23 to my children this week. It’s going really great in that they are not getting it at all. We are going to make sheep from egg cartons this afternoon and tomorrow we will play with those tubes using this prompt from Carolyn Brown on Worshiping with Children:

Using a small cardboard sheepfold, a shepherd figure (maybe from a crèche), and some toy sheep.  Demonstrate how the shepherd would gather the sheep into the fold, counting as they came in and checking each one for injuries, then sleep across the gate so no animal or human thief could get to the sheep at night.  Show next how in the morning the shepherd would call the sheep to the gate and lead them out into pasture.  After showing this, reread John 10:2-5 and comment that just as the good shepherd takes care of the sheep, Jesus takes care of us.

I will also build a pen from the surplus cardboard in our lives. A shepherd will be found from among other toys. I’m not sure which yet. I also really like the idea from Worshiping with Children to spend some time with this first picture of Jesus from the Roman catacombs. The questions would be over the head of my toddler but it might be a fun way to continue to explore Psalm 23.

Jesus Story Time

One of the things that I learned during Holy Week with Teri’s wonderful resource was that I didn’t like any of our children’s bibles. I have a lot of them and I’m still not quite satisfied. With her encouragement, I ordered the Spark Story Bible. We take our special picnic blanket outside of the backyard for what my toddler calls Baby Jesus Story Time. I’m really trying to teach her that Jesus grows up. I’m choosing some of my favorite stories about Jesus’ life and reading them.

Though I’m not sure we will get there by Ascension Sunday, I’m keeping this idea from Worshiping with Children in the back of my mind.

Display pictures of Jesus’ birth, healing, teaching, Palm Sunday, Crucifixion, Empty Tomb, and Ascension.  With the children review Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Then tell the story of the Ascension in your own words.  Stress that during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams.  Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.

My toddler is just at the age where she can tell a story from a picture if we read it often enough. So this might be something we try.

I’m already starting to think about what I’ll do for Pentecost because I haven’t used my Pentecost kites in the longest time. I’m also pretty sure I’ll go searching for other ideas between now and then because I get bored but this is where we are now. If you are doing something similar with your littles, please share your amazing ideas in the comments.

Fear, Love and Another Supreme Court Decision

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote to uphold the ban on transgender service members fulfilling their call to service in the United States military. It was said by one woman just four years short of retirement in the Navy that this decision “speaks volumes about where we are as a country.”

This brave woman is right to point out that the biases of a few are having a huge impact on an entire community, but I am not sure that it speaks volumes.

I don’t want to that fear to trump everything, because I believe there is a voice we cannot quite hear yet.

I believe that there is a louder voice in the next generation, those that are not yet old enough to serve as justices on the Supreme Court. Maybe they’re not that loud yet because they aren’t even old enough to vote, but I have faith that these children will lead us. These are the kids who grew up only knowing a black president. These are the kids that don’t remember anything before legal marriage for all people. Maybe they remember the Supreme Court decision. Maybe. Or maybe it has just been a fact of their lives.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that these kids make up “the most racially and ethnically diverse generation” we have ever seen in this country. They haven’t had to learn gender-neutral pronouns. They haven’t stumbled over their words like I have because they’ve grown up with this vocabulary. It is said that this young generation, called Generation Z, is more liberal and more inclusive than their elders have ever been.

My daughter is too young to be a part of this young generation. She is only 15 months old and so she fits with some evolving generation that doesn’t yet have a name. I don’t know what new things will be normal for her, but the statistics seem to hint that my little girl will only be more liberal. Generation Z is already 10% more confident with gender pronouns than Millennials. They are 3% more determined than Millennials in their certainty that our society is not accepting enough and their 6% more determined that the government needs to do more to solve problems for individuals and businesses.

I don’t know who my little girl will grow up to be. I don’t know if her fascination with shoes and beaded necklaces is just a phase that will lead to something else, some new identity where gender is much more fluid. I know I will struggle because I am part of my generation, but I’m excited about what she will teach me.

I’m eager to see how she challenges her old liberal mother. I hope she makes me squirm. I hope she pushes all my political buttons. I hope she teaches me more about love than I know now, not just because she’s my kid and my heart has grown in loving her. But, I hope that she thinks it’s silly that her Mommy ever had to fight for marriage equality. I wonder what she’ll think of the story I’ll one day tell her about officiating my first transgender wedding as much as I wonder if she’ll feel called to serve in the military like her Daddy.

Watching her play on the floor yesterday with her wooden pots and pans, mixing up air with her play spatula, she’s already cooking up trouble. I couldn’t help but smile and think “it’s gonna be OK.” There is a temptation to despair. There’s a tendency among us old(er) liberals to think that the prejudices of a very small few will ruin everything, but I’m not going to fall into that fear.

As it says in those words that we once carried through the streets in the name of marriage equality, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:.18, NRSV). I’m gonna strive for that perfection, that perfection that my daughter will one day teach me with a gigantic roll of her eyes. Fear doesn’t motivate or inspire, but love always does.

I won’t be paralyzed by the feeling that there’s nothing I can do to reverse a Supreme Court decision. I’m not going to nervously analyze statistics across the generations, but I’m gonna figure out how I can raise my daughter and my family in the love that we believe should exist in our nation and especially in our military.

I hope that that love is the loudest.

New Traditions for Our Family

My husband is an atheist.

That’s right. I am an ordained minister in the Christian Church and I married a man who could care less about anything remotely related to God.

He will be quick to amend that. He will say that he does care. He cares because I care but it’s not quite the same. It’s not the same as having a partner seated next to you every Sunday in church. It’s not the same as having a spouse that shares some similar experience from childhood. He didn’t have that. Mine was weird.

My father is also an atheist. Or at least, at one time, he said he could care less about God. It was shortly after my mom had died. They’d fallen in love, had two children and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. They’d been been married eleven years when she died. It was not the ending he would have imagined. It certainly wasn’t what he wanted. He had every right to be mad at God, but that wasn’t how I dealt with it. Instead of rejecting God, I snuck off to church.

It was, as I tell those in the churches I’ve served, my young rebellion.

Marrying my husband was not a rebellion. He just happens to be an atheist. He’s an atheist who chose to marry a Christian pastor and regularly jokes about the bake sales he’ll host as a pastor’s husband when he retires from the Army. There are a lot of things that make our marriage wonderful, but Christmas can be hard.

For you see, I adore Christmas. It starts with Advent. It’s a season that echoes with my soul every single year. It calls me into greater attention with the needs of this broken world and forces me to focus on what I can do to bring hope, peace, joy and especially love into a world that needs so much more of these things, but I love the decorations. I love the lights lining the roof of my neighbor’s home. I love the gift giving and the twinkly tree that I turn on again the minute I wake up.

I love the candles held in the darkened sanctuary as we sing Silent Night. I love the cookies. Well, I love the cookies when I’m not pastoring a church and there are just too many cookies. I love the carols and sappy movies. I love the mall Santas. I love every bit of it.

My husband doesn’t love it. He doesn’t hate it but it doesn’t have the same magic for him. He doesn’t get excited like I do. That would be hard to accomplish for anyone.

He did, however, agree to raise our children in my faith. We talked about it before we got married and it’s still a conversation we continue to share. There are things that come up, things that neither one of us ever expected but things that we need to keep in the ongoing conversation of how we might try to raise the one kid we do have and any other children that might become a part of our family.

So we keep talking. We keep talking because it’s important.

We’ve made some decisions already. We decided we’re not traveling for the holidays. Our children will know a lot of change in their young lives. There will be lots of moves and no matter where we might call home, we want them to have an experience of the familiar. We want them to know that these are the things that our family does.

IMG_3002
Our first Easter Vigil

Earlier this year, we made a list. We picked all of the days that we would want to celebrate and how we might cherish these special days in our family. We talked about what traditions were a part of our younger years and what really matters to us. It’s a work in progress. We both know it will change but we started with an Easter Vigil. I explained the tradition and the big parts of the liturgy to my husband and then suggested a redacted version that might work for our family. Of course, it involves lighting a big fire and food. He was won over and it was wonderful.

I opened the document earlier today to remember what we intended for Christmas. It was blank and perhaps that is right. It’s our first Christmas where it is just us. It’s the first year where we get to try new things and see what fits our family.

Truthfully, the Easter Vigil is the only one we really have figured out. There are other things we want to do, but our baby girl isn’t old enough yet. Service is important to both of us and it’s something we want to share with our children, but there isn’t much that a one-year old can do to serve. There are other traditions that I know will emerge once we all start sitting down to dinner together at the same time, but neither my husband or I have our act together to sit down at 5 o’clock to eat together.

There are things that I hope will happen but I don’t really know what will happen. I don’t know how these practices will evolve in our family. I don’t know what will end up sticking and that’s hard for me. I love a good plan.

So it is with Christmas. I’ve made plans. I’ve planned a menu and wrapped presents. I made elf hats like my great-grandmother made us all wear on Christmas Eve though we will wear them on Christmas Day. We are going out to dinner on Christmas Eve and there will be the cinnamon rolls that I loved as a kid on Christmas morning. I’ve prepared for the details but not for the wonder.

That’s what always surprises me on Christmas. There is something mysterious and magical that happens. That’s what I want to emerge from all of these new traditions that we make for our family but it’s hard to plan for magic. It’s something that comes. It surprises and hopefully delights. My job is to wait for it and to be ready when it comes.

 

Tell the Children

I sat there with my daughter in my lap turning the pages. Matt de la Pena’s book Love was sent to me by my cousin. She said it reminded her of me. So my heart was already in my throat reading this beautiful poem to my daughter.

And then, I turned the page and saw the family gathered around the television. Some were sitting on the couch. Others had their mouths gaping open. They couldn’t sit. They could only stare.

I sobbed. I couldn’t help it.

I couldn’t hold it back.

I remember when it was the bombing in Oklahoma City on that TV screen. I remember looking into the eyes of my parents as we watched rescue workers try to save the little children. I remember watching bombs explode in bright colors when war began in Afghanistan and I argued with another college student about the costs of war. He thought it was just. It was right. They deserved it. I wondered who was caught in the wake of such arrogance. And, of course, I remember this day.

I remember seventeen years ago when it was my boss and family friend that called me in the middle of the afternoon to tell me to turn on the TV. He couldn’t say anything more. He just told me to turn on the TV.

Alone, in his London home where I was that summer dog-sitting for these family friends, I watched the towers fall. I watched dark angels leap from buildings in the city that will always be my home.

There was no one to embrace. No one else to offer words. No small human that I had to then explain what we were seeing upon that screen. Then, I only needed to make sense of it in my own mind and even that is impossible.

It still feels impossible but I remember. I remember going back to New York City only one week later. I remember taking the train into the city and going downtown to infuse Lower Manhattan with love even if all we were doing was going to dinner. I remember the dust that still hung in the air and the heaps of flowers and candles on the sidewalk outside every single fire station. I remember the smiling faces posted on subway walls and chain link faces with the words MISSING hanging above their heads.

And I remember when those deaths were slowly confirmed. They were my friend’s parents. They were not strangers, they were friends.

It has been said enough that this day changed the world. I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to be that what we say to each other about this day, but I want us to talk about it.

This morning, I was with a group of moms who are mostly much younger than I am. I had just graduated from college. They were in elementary school and so we remember this day very differently. I was newly ordained and leading one of my first Confirmation classes when I first realized that there are young people that don’t remember this day. They can’t say where they were. They can’t say much about it at all because their parents thought they were too young.

It was better to protect them.

It was better not to say anything about this thing that changed everything.

That was what I was told when September 11 fell on a Sunday. I wasn’t supposed to say anything. I was to say anything else but I wasn’t to breathe a word to our children about what happened this day. It was explained to me that they might not know. Their parents might not have told them.

It was a silence that I knew. I have known. It’s one that I’ve been struggling to write about as I try to remember what was said to me after my mother died. They thought it was better not to talk about this terrible thing that had changed everything. It was better not to talk about the thing that was on all our minds, they thought, but it’s not true.

It’s not better. It’s just easier.

It’s easier not to talk about the hard things that make us hide under pianos. That’s the illustration on the following page. I knew that kid. I would have been him if I could have it under our piano. I hid in other places. I cried where grownups couldn’t see. I kept my heartbreak all to myself because Mommy would want me to smile. That’s what they said. That’s what they told me. She’d want me to be happy.

It would be easier for the publisher to cut that page because it’s too much. It’s too much for everyone but that child that is actually hiding under the piano because the grownups can’t see his pain. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they can’t, but that doesn’t make it any easier for that kid.

It’s why Matt de la Pena wrote Love and it is why I’m spending hours during nap time trying to write down my story. He says it so well in a recent essay in Time:

There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one.

There is a power to being seen in words and pictures. There is a power to those stories being told because they changed us. Because everything changed in that moment and it needs to be said out loud. It needs to be said loud enough for our children to hear.

Raising White Kids With Curious Questions and GIVEAWAY!!

It was only a few months ago that I found myself returning again and again to sort through the children’s books at Half Price Books. (Don’t get me started on the lack of independent booksellers in Texas. It’s beyond upsetting to me and so I can only daydream about such wonders as Longfellow Books and Orca Books in the places I’ve called home. Sigh.) I had read somewhere in those days about the importance of creating a library for your child that was not full of white kids, but reflected instead the wonder and diversity of God’s creation.

I didn’t have any idea about how I was going to raise a child with a greater capacity for anti-racism than I’ve known, but I was determined to try. I knew I could do this. I could do this one small thing to surround her with images of children from different cultures and races. I could do this. What I wasn’t prepared for — an why I kept going back to Half Price Books again and again — was how hard this would be.

raising-white-kids.jpg

There are just so many white kids in children’s books. If it’s not a duck or a panda that features as the main character in the story, it’s a white kid. Some of these books were books I loved as a child. Some were completely new to me just as parenting is totally new to me. I confess that I feel totally clueless but I’m determined to get it right and to do that I need the wisdom of others. I need support I can’t seem to find in my new home in Texas which is why I was so overjoyed to read Jennifer Harvey’s wisdom in Raising White Kids: Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.

I was somewhat familiar with Dr. Harvey’s work since her earlier book had caught my attention when I was still serving as a full-time pastor. I knew she had something important to say to the church, but I admit that I didn’t do anything more than save Dear White Christians to my To-Read list on Goodreads. It wasn’t enough and I want to do better. I need to do better for not just for my child, but for all of our children. For our nation. For our world.

Staring at those shelves at Half Price Books, when my baby girl was still growing inside me, I thought that I had to have all of the answers. All of the other parenting books I had read thus far were emphatic on this point. I needed to have a plan. I needed to be prepared with the right gear and the right attitude. It was all up to me as the parent.

Harvey quickly challenges this assumption and invites parents to partner with their kids. She puts it simply with the claim that challenging the forces of white supremacy can be as simple as “listen[ing] carefully and follow[ing] our children’s lead.” She encourages exploration and asking questions together rather than taking on some charge to be the expert who knows everything.

Maybe that works for other parents, but it never worked for me. It’s not how I ever approached teaching whether it was with young children or mature adults in the churches I’ve served. I always engaged the topic — no matter what it was — with questions. My first church dubbed this line of questioning as Elsa Questions. They would sigh when I asked them in the same way that I imagine my daughter will one day.

Raising White Kids invites me to affirm this curiosity in both my parenting and in my justice-seeking. It is a balm to my soul and gets me even more excited about this work. It emboldens me. It makes me feel like this is possible. I can do this.

I confess that it’s my favorite part of this book. It’s emphasized in different ways and repeated in a multitude of perspectives, but it is this courage to be vulnerable with our kids that really struck home for me. I don’t have to have all of the answers. I don’t have to have it figured out. I don’t even have to have the perfect library. (Harvey has more to say about this library that I found helpful.) But I do need to be open to asking questions. I need to be committed to my own learning. I need to be brave enough to challenge other white adults as we try to build another world together.

Harvey encourages questions. She poses examples. She invites a conversation and I so can see that this would be an amazing discussion piece for a moms group, a parenting potluck or a study for Sunday School teachers. The one thing that I didn’t like about this book — and this may be because it’s written to start a conversation and not to conclude it — is that Harvey is clear that engaging children in questions appropriate to their development is important, and yet she never outlines what children understand about race at what developmental age. I know very well that children understand things at a different rate from my own work with children and grief, but I confess that I have no idea what children understand about race at what age. This is hinted at in this excellent book but I wish it were unpacked more.

What I loved most about this book is that Harvey is clear that children possess a knowledge and wisdom of their own. If we are brave enough to engage them in thoughtful questions, they will teach us. Teaching children has taught me this. Any adult that has listened in on a children’s sermon in church should know this. It’s not just cute answers, but that our kids repeatedly astound us with what they observe. It is our task to be brave enough to listen to what they have to say and to dare to be curious with them.

If you’re curious about children and believe that another world is possible, you should read this book. You should encourage your friends to read it. Give it as a baby shower gift. Read it with your book club and really discuss it. Don’t just drink wine but really have the discussion. This conversation is important and it takes practice for all of us to ask these kinds of questions of our children and ourselves. We must learn to practice this kind of curiosity.

I am beyond thrilled to partner with RevGalsBlogPals and Abingdon Press to offer my enthusiasm for this new publication. I received an advance reader copy of Raising White Kids: Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America in exchange for an honest review and the opportunity to give away a copy on my blog.

To win a free copy of Raising White Kids, please comment below and follow my writing on Facebook! I will randomly select a winner by 10 am CT on Thursday March 1, 2018. If you are the winner, you will be notified on my blog and given instructions to contact me so I can send you your free copy.

Blessing of Teachers

Many churches had their kick off celebrations this past Sunday. Some are waiting until this coming Sunday to mark the big day when everything goes back to normal. All of the programming starts up again for the kids and adults. Anything that took a break over the summer months in our congregational life is ready to get going again. Some call it Rally Day. For others it is Homecoming Sunday or even Kick Off Sunday.

It is a big day that involves a lot of work. Much of that work goes into recruiting the right people to offer the love and support to make all of these programs work. It is recruiting that involves a lot of phone calls and cups of coffee to figure out if this particular act of love is the one that is calling right now. Teaching, especially in Sunday School, is always an act of love. It is a huge commitment not just to prepare lesson plans and show up every Sunday you’re on the schedule, but a commitment to journey into your own faith, to grow and be changed as you learn together.

It is why I do not miss the chance to bless our teachers when all of that programming begins. I do not limit the invitation. I invite everyone that has chosen to answer the call to discipleship. I ask the youth leaders and the bible study leaders. I invite the people on the committee and those stocking the supply closet and providing snacks to come forward not only to be blessed but to remember that they are not alone in this work. It takes a village which is why this blessing begins with talk of covenants.

Blessing of Teachers

One: A covenant is a promise we make together to before God.  Covenants remind us to love and support each another.  When we start new things, like another year in Sunday School, we make promises to grow and learn together as disciples of Jesus.

Every one – parents, children, teachers, and people too old for Sunday School – has a part in making these promises to blessing and encourage each other.  Together, we make promises to God so that we can all grow together in faith and love.  First, we ask the children to make their promises.  Please echo my words:

Thank you God, for our Sunday School.

Thank you for the gift of Jesus,

Who teaches us so many things.

We are excited about Sunday School

And hope to learn more about You

From our teachers, our substitutes, and our whole church family

Each and every day.

Parents and Congregation: We love our children.  We will encourage them to live in the way of Christ.  We will join with them in studying God’s Word.  We will try our best to grow with them in faith.  And we will support the work of our Church School with our time, our talent, our treasure and our prayers.

Teachers: We will walk with God and with the children and youth of our congregation.  We will work together and with God’s help, we will do our best to learn, to live, and to teach the way of Christ.

One: We do not only make promises together today. We share in blessings. The laying on of hands is the symbolic act where the church recognizes God’s call to ministry in the lives of faithful people and asks the Holy Spirit to give them the courage they need.  The Holy Spirit gave the ministry of teaching to the church in its earliest days.  It has always been one of the most important ministries of believers.  And so, we lay hands upon you, our teachers, and bless you to do the work that God has called you to.

Ask everyone to touch the shoulder of the person in front of and/or near them, people in front pews and children in chancel and ministers lay hands on teachers, so everyone’s connected to someone else. Once everyone is connected, pray these words aloud.

One: Eternal God, you have called these faithful people to serve you as teachers. Send your Holy Spirit upon them so that they can do this work in the fullness of your love. May all that we learn goethe in this year teach us more and more about your grace and hope. We pray in Jesus’ name,  Amen.

Allow this moment of blessing to lead right into the Passing of the Peace so that hugs and handshakes might extend the blessing of this moment. You’ll notice, of course, that this particular liturgy refers to teachers and only teachers. I adapt this to include all of the appropriate titles (even if there is no appropriate title.)

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

I would be particularly interested to hear from those that attend churches that have ditched Sunday School and embraced other faith formation models. How do you bless the leaders that do this good work in your church? Would this liturgy even work or does it assume an old model? I would love to hear from you!

Hoarse with Prayer

Between spurts of writing my sermon today, I checked Facebook. It seems it is something that every preacher does. When God isn’t speaking clearly, preachers open their browsers to scan posts on Facebook. Today, I kept coming back to the same story of a little boy — just three years old — who was reported missing. I woke up to the helicopters overhead. I read the headlines all day long so that when I got home, my fiancé asked if I had been crying. I was so hoarse. I am hoarse with prayers for this little boy, for his family and for every sad face I saw today.

And so I pray:

O Eternal One, who searches us and knows us,
who knows when we lie down and when we rise up,
You are acquainted with all of our ways
but we cannot and do not understand your way.
Helicopters whirled through my neighborhood this morning
looking for one of your children.
Your searchlights overlooked him.
Your watchdogs couldn’t find him.
The helicopters and the news crews have left and there is nothing left but our sadness. There is nothing but our grief for one of your children has died. We don’t know why or how and we struggle not to fill in the blanks with our worst fears. O God, help us.
Help us not to eye every stranger as perpetrator. Don’t let us get away with such nonsense that refuses to admit that terrible things could happen in our community because you know better. Terrible things happen every day. Your children are abused, berated, starved, shot, raped and killed every single day. O God, help us to see every hurting child in this world.
Make us your watchdogs.
Open our eyes wide enough to be your searchlights.
Remind us again — no matter how little we understand your way — that it takes a village. It always takes a village. It takes pastors and teachers and police officers and counselors and next-door neighbors that are more like grandparents and people who just give a damn. It takes every last one of us to protect your children.
There is work to do. There is enough work for tomorrow.
But tonight, O Eternal One, let there be no doubt of our love for your children. Let our hope not waver as we squeeze the littlest lights in our lives. May our arms not tire from holding your precious children tight so that we might have enough heart and enough strength to reach our arms out even wider to embrace your children with wrinkles and wounds.
Know what is on our hearts, O God. Know what is on my heart so that you can wake me up tomorrow and remind me that there are so many children that need your protection — and it’s work that I must do. It’s work that I can’t help but do. Amen.