Pandemic Prayers for Vacation Bible School

It is Vacation Bible School week in our house which means there is a ton more screen time than usual as we share in learning about the light of the world. It’s a curricula entirely created by the staff and volunteers at our sweet Texas church and I’m reminded again how amazing it is to witness what can be accomplished in these strange times where we choose not to gather for worship.

There are also a number of amazing resources for VBS that have popped into my email including Tumbuh’s God’s Global Kids and Illustrated Ministry’s Compassion Camp. Both feel timely and wonderful as people continue to swarm into the streets to march and protest for the simple fact that black lives matter.

My mornings are spent with Bible crafts, singing This Little Light of Mine and sharing with my sweet toddler what this faith means. I’m also spending a lot of time thinking about what I’m teaching her about race and racism. That might seem unimportant. It may seem like I should be working harder on my own racism but this reminder that how the littlest ones test our faith made me wonder about how white people pray with their children to resist and oppose racism.

Gathering Together

Psalm 100 challenges me to consider the songs I’m teaching to my children. I might not be bringing them to protest right now but I want them to know the songs when we get there. Many of those songs are songs of faith so what if worship began with some freedom songs? I’d be eager to include this one and this one both sung by the Freedom Singers. I’d encourage kids to find some noise makers even if they’re just banging on pots and pans to make a joyful noise.

Perhaps then there should be some gathering words inspired by the Psalm. The children might continue to bang their pots and pans or whatever noisemakers they’ve found every time the refrain “make a joyful noise” is offered. Prompt the children to listen for those words and pause each time to look at the gallery of delight in your Zoom worship.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Praise God for young minds
and older hearts
eager to grow and change.
Praise God for sunshine
and babies
and the radical hope
that nothing is impossible
with your love.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Gather us in with songs
of protest and freedom
of hope and change.
Teach us new songs
to sing in the foreign lands
that almost seem normal now.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Bring us together
from the many places we are
with powerful internet connections
and spirits eager
to be renewed.
Make a joyful noise, dear children of God.
Know that God is good
and that we sing praise to
all that is good.

You might also choose this Intergenerational Call to Worship by Carolyn Brown or this Improvisation on Psalm 100 by Maren Tirabassi though I might add something about digital doors because “these doors” doesn’t mean the same thing in the midst of pandemic.

Prayer for Children

I always opt for prayers for children from Marian Wright Edelman. Over here on Prayers for School Children, I might adapt the final prayer for all children as a blessing for VBS. Or I might opt for something like this with language that is familiar to young children.

Blessing for Vacation Bible School
Inspired by Matthew 9:35-10:8

God, as Vacation Bible School begins,
our children will go about villages and cities
sharing your good news. May they feel love
from every adult who reads a story
and every song leader.
May they learn that faith is big
and sometimes really hard.
May they find joy in wondering
and delight in listening.
May they know that there’s
so much more to learn
and be excited to go on the next adventure.
God, we bless [names of children].
These are the names of the children
we will hold close in prayer
this week as Vacation Bible School begins.
Amen.

Passing of the Peace

A few weeks ago, I referred to an idea from a mentor of mine where individuals might be invited to share reflections of peace in the passing of the peace. I wonder if instead we might model to our children and remind ourselves of the work we are struggling to do to wrestle with our whiteness by sharing something we did or read or heard that challenged the racism that lives under our skin.

Maybe two or three people offer this short reflection and concludes by saying something like, “The peace of Justice and Love also be with you.” For those using Zoom, there might be some musical interlude that follows where people could share in the chat what other things they’ve wrestled with in their racism. That list could be gathered from the chat and shared in the weekly email that follows that week so that the conversation might continue as much as our support of each other in doing this work.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Pentecost

For churches in the United States of America, there seems to be some creative tension between the winds of the Spirit and the President’s order for churches to reopen. There’s something about the hot air coming out of the White House that contrasts so powerfully with what the church is called to be and do. It’s something I feel like I missed in that Invitation to the Offering last week. It’s something I’m trying to illustrate from my own isolation bubble and something I’m wondering about how to teach to my children. 

Going to church has become the moment where Mommy grabs her iPad and we settle onto the couch. It feels like a gift each and every time and I wish that my littles allowed me to bop around to the many worship services I’d like to attend virtually, but I shudder that my sweet girls might think that church is something on a screen. (Will they remember this time? How long will this actually go on?) I want them to know that the church is an action. It’s a movement. It’s a response to the world’s deepest need and a desire to dream of of God’s greatest love in every living thing.

I confess I’ve been uncertain that the world will look any different after this is over but if the church is the church, then change must come. It must be the change in our prayers.

Opening Worship

I don’t know how many churches are embracing this season as an interim time. I thought these were wise and wonderful words about that possibility. Embracing this interim pandemic season might mean delving into that wide and curious of what makes the church the church. Worship could begin with individuals sharing a testimony of what this church has meant in their life or those same two or three voices could speak to the ideals of what brings them to be part of a worshipping community before concluding this opening with Acts 2:16-21.

Worship could instead begin with a familiar hymn and an invitation to consider our breath. The liturgy I wrote last year for my Texas church began with words adapted from Walter Bruggemann’s To Make Things New That Never Were from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth which would follow this hymn nicely. Another possibility follows.

Gathering Our Breath

Breathe on us, Breath of God.
Fill our lungs
with courage and hope
so that your life
beats through our veins
and urges us toward
justice and peace.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
because “I can’t breathe”
was heard again
and we’ve whispered too often
that we don’t know what to do
to put an end to racism.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
and remind us what the church is called to be.
Fill us with the fire of your love
and the promise of your peace.

I also really like the Call to Worship by Julia Seymour in the RevGalBlogPal’s Worship Words this week.

Passing of the Peace

In the limited church hopping that my children have allowed me, I haven’t yet seen a passing of the peace happen on Zoom or Facebook Live. I suppose it would be super awkward if you record ahead of time but especially if you use the above Gathering of Our Breath or if you plan on preaching on the Gospel Lesson, it seems like this should be the Sunday to try it.

It could be a moment of Pentecost wind where everyone is unmuted and the whole host of angels greets each other in the name of Christ. It could hurt your ears or you might opt for something more structured.

Maybe you prompt your community to bring a pen and paper to worship. When this moment of peace approaches, the congregation is invited to name one thing that brings them anxiety to share in a word or two on the paper. Hold that paper up and then someone leads this Breath Prayer for Anxious Times. That prayer time might conclude with everyone ripping up their paper and throwing it in the air like confetti. (Sorry for the mess.)

Or instead, invite a youth who would have been confirmed this year on the chancel steps if it were safe to gather for worship to share one thing that has brought her peace in these pandemic days. Maybe she shares something in particular about the beloved community in her youth group experience. Invite her to conclude that thought by saying something like a blessing.

May the peace of Christ also be with you.
May the Spirit of God bring you hope.
May you feel the love of God
in every breath. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.

Ready, Willing and Able for Peace

featured101217-300x199We were told that there would be booms. It was one of the first things that we were told about our new home. We’ll hear the booms, they said. Booms that shouldn’t frighten us or cause alarm, but are simply the noises of the military base thirty miles away.

It was just something they had said until I sat outside one morning with my book and my coffee and heard the booms. I felt the vibration each time.

Read more at New Sacred.

Worship with Fire

This is a tough week. The words from the Revised Common Lectionary that will inspire our worship this Sunday are hard. It is hard not to feel like a finger is being pointed directly at you. It’s hard not to feel judged. It’s difficult to feel like there is any bit of grace, but there is. There always is.

So, let’s start there and acknowledge that there is grace. Even when we don’t feel it, even when we don’t deserve it, there is grace. Let that be the first ingredient that we add to our worship planning. Let there be a heap of grace thrown in first. Make sure there’s enough for you, for me and anyone that might show up to worship on Sunday. Throw in an extra dash for those that you don’t really like. Or the people that have made you doubt grace. Say, for example, internet trolls. Or maybe politicians. I won’t suggest which ones though you may well know where my alliance lie by now. Ahem.

When I think of grace, especially having read the gospel for this week, I can’t help but think of baptism. It sounds a bit like Penecost. There is a new spirit in these words that comes with the fire and water that John foretold in the beginning of this gospel. Each and every one of these readings picks up on fire. There’s the raging fire in Hebrews, Jeremiah’s word that is like fire and the vines that have burned and cut down in the Psalm. Fire is the stuff of passion. It’s the stuff of hope. These prayers hope to cook with such fire from the Spirit.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Kindle the fire of love today.

All: Ignite the hope we need this day.

One: Burn our pessimism into a fine mist.

All: Spark our imaginations with signs of peace.

One:Let embers glow in all our words.

All: May our hearts no more be divided. 

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Restore us, O God, from the destruction we bring upon ourselves. You entrusted this world to us. You asked us to tend and keep it but instead of caring for this earth, we have burned it with fire. We have cut it down. We have ripped it apart. We have caused the seasons to shift in our carelessness. The scorching heat only causes us to bellow your name, O God, demanding you to clean up our act. Restore our love for all creation. Allow us to be as gentle with ourselves as we might be with this earth. For, we know, you love us both. You call all your creation good. Help us to hear that blessing in this present time as we seek your forgiveness.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: In this present time, even as fires still rage, God’s word breaks our hearts into pieces. God makes a way for peace where there was none by saying, again and again:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Prayer of Dedication (Unison)

Let us not divide these offerings like lots. Let us use these gifts to radiate the love of Jesus Christ in all of our ministry. May all that we offer in your name, O God, spark hope for our broken world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

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

That Peace Might be Possible on Super Tuesday

I don’t consider myself to be especially patriotic.

I don’t even consider myself to be all that political but I am certainly not patriotic.

I am reminded of this each and every time I put my hand over my heart and rise to sing the National Anthem. I see it in the service women and men around me. When the flag is marched into the room, and they all stand at attention with their hands upon their hearts, they feel something. They are connecting with some greater set of ideals and it means something to them. It means everything to them, but it doesn’t to me.

Each and every time I attend one of these military functions, on the arm of my beloved, I am reminded of how detached I am from that set of ideals that means so much to them. I just happen to sing a different song. It has lyrics written by Lloyd Stone and I sing it with my whole heart.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Mine is a song of peace. There are no bombs bursting in the air or ramparts to watch. There’s just little hope for peace of the country where my heart is and every other part of this world. It may sound naive but I have never stopped believing that peace is possible. I really don’t want to give up on that faith. I can’t give up on that faith. It’s the hope I share with the soldier I love. Peace must be possible.

It’s what we both imagine in the work we’re doing. It’s this hope that keeps us going but I am terrified of what is going to happen to that possibility if Donald Trump becomes the nominee for the Republican Party.

What peace can come from the hatred from his mouth? It is not merely a matter of decency but of respect and it seems that this is a man who demands respect from others but doesn’t have the grace to offer it. He belittles and dehumanizes those without his power and wealth so that he plays politics like it’s a game. He just wants to see what will happen and so he pushes that button and pulls that lever. He pokes at people like they are his own personal playthings. What will that mean for our foreign policy?

Former CIA director Michael Hayden told Bill Maher last week, “I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign.” Mr. Hayden went as far as to say that an illegal order would not have to be followed. Maybe so. But, I want Mr. Trump and every candidate to respect our service women and men. This isn’t a question of decency but a reality check about how our foreign policy has impacted the rest of the world. Peace still hasn’t come but maybe that should make us pause for reflection. Rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle of violence and hate we began so many years ago, let’s reflect on what has happened. Let’s remember the number of soldiers that died. Let’s remember that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that maybe we shouldn’t have invaded. Let’s think about how long we’ve had troops on the ground despite so many promises to bring them all home.

On this particular Super Tuesday, when so many Americans are casting their ballot toward the next presidential election, I don’t want us to give up on working for peace. I’m not a politician but I know that it’s really important to put down the bullhorn and think about what you’re saying. I have to do it every week. I am a pastor. Every week, I step up to the microphone and announce good news. I pray that it doesn’t come from me but comes from God, but I know that’s not always true. And so, I need to step away from the microphone and think about the lives that are impacted with each word that comes out of my mouth. Words matter. History matters.

Let’s learn from the past as we dare to imagine our future. Let’s not just make America better. Let’s make the world better. Let’s remember all of those hopes and ideals that come when the flag marches into the room.

Let’s dare to believe again that peace is possible.

 

 

Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide

bridge-600510_1280Just recently, Time Magazine published an article entitled Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide With Stories. I love stories thought as I eagerly clicked on the article. Because I want — more than anything — to figure out how to bridge this divide.

For so many years, I’ve been a pacifist. That fact hasn’t changed. I’m still a pacifist. But, I fell in love with a soldier. I fell in love with a man who sees the world differently than I do. In the end, we want the same thing. We want peace. We want to believe it’s possible — but we see it coming about differently. I want to engage in conversation. I want to believe that war isn’t necessary, that are other ways for peace to come.

I fell in love with a man that has seen and done things that he struggles to share with me. Perhaps because this bridge is so far and wide. He sees peace differently so that sometimes this bridge seems so long and wide.

So, eagerly clicked on this article in Time Magazine to find a new old friend, Thomas E. Ricks. Ricks has written many articles for Foreign Policy Magazine that I’ve eagerly shared. But, this article — this article in Time Magazine — only posed questions. Questions I want answers to but this article refused to answer. I was not satisfied. So, I sent Ricks an email.

Because the article concluded in such a way that it made me believe that he had more to say.  I was right. He wrote back almost immediately. I was shocked. I was shocked that he wrote back. I was shocked he would entertain such questions from silly preacher. I was even more shocked by his answer. His answer was simply to ask questions. Ask lots of questions because there is so much that we can’t possibly understand about the soldier’s experience. I came to an even deeper understanding of this after reading Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like To Go To War. There are things that I knew. Things that I even thought I understood but it wasn’t until reading this book and asking questions of my love that I came to understand what he was afraid of telling me. There are things that I thought I was supposed to say to honor my love’s dedication but I didn’t really get it. I was too far on the other side of the bridge.

It was one thing to read about the perspective of two theologians in Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War  but only a service member can really explain the breadth and depth of moral injury. Only a member of the military can really explain what it’s like. It took falling in love for me to learn this. It took getting over my own ideas about pacifism and military action and let’s be honest some really bad theology to understand that there is more to this story. As much as we want to talk about post-traumatic stress, it’s much, much more than a solider returning from war that lashes out and drinks excessively. It’s way more than American Sniper. But, apparently, looks something more like Restrepo. (It’s streaming on Netflix. You should watch it.) This was assigned to me by my love. If I was going to understand this, I needed to watch this film. Stupidly, I did so while he was still deployed. Bad move. It is incredibly hard to watch but you should see it if you are like me. If you want to figure out how to bridge this divide between the civilian world and the military world, it requires becoming uncomfortable enough to watch something so brutal. Because — as my soldier has told me — it’s one of the only films that shows how it really was. Or really is.

This is the hardest part for me. It’s the reality that these stories didn’t end with Vietnam, the Gulf War or even Iraq. These stories are ongoing. And for whatever reason, especially post-9/11, civilians aren’t pay attention. We can’t grasp these stories. We haven’t even listened. I’m certainly at fault. I never thought it was my fight. I just wanted peace — but love is teaching me that peace comes from every side of the story. It doesn’t come from insisting that military spending be decreased or demanding that our troops be sent home. Some of that peace has to come from crossing that divide by uncomfortably asking questions you’re not sure if you really want to hear the answer. Some of it has to come from understanding what it’s like to serve a member of the military right now.

The best way to do this — according to both my love and Ricks — is to watch and to read. I now have a long list of books and movies to work my way through as I try to cross this divide toward peace.