Prayers for Abundant Life

Though it has been a month since I’ve been in the pulpit, and I’ve even said no to a possibility for ministry, I will be preaching again this Sunday at Gower Christian Church. It is their church that is the image above this post.

I had the opportunity to serve a Disciples of Christ congregation while I was in seminary but it’s been ten years and I’m not really sure that I remember it all that well. There is some holy trepidation in my worship planning this week as these are people of the table. These are people that gather every week at the table to share in gifts of God for the people of God. And well, I’m just not in that habit. I’m a bit more informal when I lead worship alone and I’m not used to sharing in this holy work with elders (though I’ve done it before).

Below are some prayers that will lead these good people and I through worship on Sunday inspired by the readings from the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in the Revised Common Lectionary. They are prayers I’ve written. Some of which I’ll even offer with my own voice. Others will be voiced by others. I am not yet sure where my sermon will go and if it will even hint toward All Saints Day or if I’ll focus on the stressors we are all feeling leading up to election day. But, that last line in the Gospel sent me back to the words in Joel 2 so you’ll surely hear those words in the prayers I’ve written for this day.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Job 19:23-27a and Luke 20:27-38

One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That life everlasting might be more than words
but the eternal hope we keep together.
All: O that we might live in hope!
One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That our worship and praise might inspire our sons and our daughters to prophesy, for our elders to dream dreams, and our young to see new visions.
All: May that hope be resurrected in us again this day.

Prayer of Invocation

Come Holy Spirit, come into this place.
Come into every heart and every open hand
for in this place we know that our Redeemer lives.
We know it and we believe it but our words do not always show it.
We open our mouths only to reveal more of our doubts than our hopes.
So, come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come and mediate between the words that we say.
Move through every pause and whisper through every silence
so that our eyes can behold your hope, rather than our own.
So that we can see your grace and hope
standing so close beside us that it becomes our own.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come.
Come into this place today, we pray.

Invitation to the Table (Responsive)

One: You have heard it said how some Sadduccees came to him saying that there was no resurrection. They had questions but no answers. You may too have heard it said that those with faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but you had more questions than faith.
All:  Christ invites to come to this table whether we doubt or believe. Christ invites us again, as he has so many times before, to partake of the questions that we have not yet answered.
One: Christ invites us to find life and find it abundantly in the ordinary gifts offered on this plate and in this cup. Might we find here, again or perhaps for the very first time, that our Redeemer lives. There is new life to be shared and hope to be restored.
All: O that we might live, and live abundantly!

I missed last week. Maybe you noticed. Oops! Still, check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

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Prayer for the Election Season

Like so many others, I watched the Presidential Debate on Sunday night. I gritted my teeth and joined others in lamentation and dismay on Twitter. When the debate was nearly over, one of my friends confessed via group text that she’d drunk way more wine that she intended while watching these two presidential hopefuls on her computer screen.

There were words of affirmation and support from the other pastors in that text. Each of them sharing in the unique struggle of being a pastor in the middle of this particular election. Maybe it’s always this bad. Maybe this year is especially horrible. Maybe it always feels this charged. I’m never quite sure but unlike my sisters in Christ, I am not pastoring right now. I am without a church to lead for this season.

I am not spending as much time worrying about how to preach on Sunday or how to heal the divides between those that don’t share the same political perspective. (Instead, I’m hiding out on a military post and wondering what it means to be a military spouse in this middle of all of this election nonsense.) My thoughts aren’t so much on how to lead the church through this quagmire but how to orient my own heart and mind. Perhaps these are not different things after all.

A colleague directed me to read the Epistle Lesson for this coming Sunday. She read it preparing for worship and felt it to be the very words that she needed to hear from God. I have to say that I concur. I’ve adapted the words from the New Revised Standard Version to read more like a prayer than an exhortation from Paul (or someone who wants to be Paul). I intend to use it in my personal devotion but it might be used each week in worship leading up to Election Day in place of a prayer of confession.

I confess that I’m writing this prayer just after finishing reading this week’s chapter in Drew G.I. Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen as part of the RevGal’s Anti-Racism Project. So the language might sound a bit like the chapter I’ve just read. Even as a personal prayer, the language is plural. It’s not just my personal transformation that matters, but how I am transformed to love and share in this life with others.

Prayer Before Election Day 2016
Inspired by 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

O God, help us to remember how you called us out
and gathered us from the margins to be your church.
Every good word you have spoken across the generations
reminds us of this radical reorientation you made in our world.
Teach us again. Correct us and train us in your righteousness,
so that every one of us might be so well equipped in your love that we do not seek to dominate and conquer but to be changed by your message for this world.
Help us to continue.

Remind us that to fight the good fight and carry out our ministry fully
is to remember that good news can be found in hardship
and that there is salvation that can change our whole world in Jesus Christ.
Let us not die, but let us live in your hope, O God.
Help us to continue.

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine,
but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves
teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away
from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
Let it be Christ who judges, not us.
Convince us, rebuke us, and encourage us,
with the utmost patience in your teaching.
Help us to continue.

Do not let us forget what we have learned and firmly believed in every good word you have spoken. Let it be that radical change toward the kingdom that helps us to decide how what we will preach and what we will teach. Help us to continue in the radical way of your hope and your love, especially in this unfavorable time, O God.

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

Discussing But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISMHere we are again as  White Young Clergy Reading Racism.

Whether or not you are white, clergy or young, I hope you’re here because you want to be part of the change. You recognize that racism is a sin we haven’t atoned for. You can’t figure out how to arrange your schedule to be in Baltimore or Ferguson but you know that this matters. And you have to do something so you’re here to read with us.

A few weeks ago, we started reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. The deal is this: we read one chapter every two weeks because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and there’s still plenty of time. There’s always time. We are only just beginning. (I hope.) So go ahead and order a copy now. We’ve shared in one round of conversation already and discovered — not even a little bit to my surprise — that blogs are possibly the worst format for such a conversation. So, we switched to Facebook. In the weeks to come, you’ll find that the whole conversation is over there and not so much here on the blog. As such, this is the last time I’ll post my reflections here. Head over the Facebook to find questions and join in the conversation with your thoughts. Without further ado, let’s get down to those questions. Shall we? Yes. Let’s.

  • To begin, this question comes from Maren who blogs at Gifts in Open Hands: which chapter … which phrase … touched or prodded or pinched you or reminded you of your experience with racism? I so appreciate this question and am so grateful that Maren added it because it’s the question that really matters. What sticks in your craw? What pokes at you? What stings a little? What doesn’t make any freakin’ sense to you? Right?! Isn’t that what this is all about!!?? Here’s the problem in my answering this question: I picked out all of the juicy bits for the questions that follow. I am really not sure what to add.
  • When have the words spoken by another hurt you?  How might it it have helped to talk about how those words “caused tension and discomfort”? This is one of those questions that speaks to the truth that I have been wrong. I have been wrong so many times that I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been wrong. One of my very best friends from high school — and still one of my best friends — is Korean American. I was raised or I was taught not to see color. It just wasn’t supposed to be there so I’ve said insanely stupid things like “But I don’t see you as Asian” and I remember the look on her face. I remember her terse reply, “But I am.” I remember the silence that followed and remember my confusion in what I had done wrong. Here’s what I still don’t understand: what people or forces or institutions raised this thought in me? Where did this color blindness begin? Why was it valued so much that I thought this was the right answer — and admittedly, I’m still struggling to see how it’s not the right answer. I have no idea where this came from but runs deep within me. I am not sure how to divorce myself from it so that all I can feel in myself is the tension and discomfort that I cause with my own incorrect assumptions.
  • In Chapter 3, Reyes-Chow owns his Asian identity as a central part of who he is as a person. What are the identities that you carry that you couldn’t be the same person without this particular identity? I am a New Yorker. I don’t feel as connected to this truth as I once did having moved three times in my adult life, but the sarcasm remains. The urge to speed walk is still there. So there’s that — and then I begin to struggle to name my own identities because they are not as neatly defined as they once were. In seminary, we were constantly made to name our social location before offering a response. So it would always sound something like this: “As a middle-class white woman, I think…” Perhaps those identities still hold but there are so many new ones that I’m not sure how to define myself anymore. Instead, I find myself wondering about what makes us human. Is there one thing that we all feel? Are there universal truths or do these identities mean that there are that many different ways of being human?
  • In Chapter 4, Reyes-Chow makes the claim that most of us know that the “history of the United States is made up of complex stories of migration.” How have you witnessed this truth in your congregation or even in your own family? One of the best decisions I made in seminary was to take a class that pulled back the layers of immigration in New York City. I can’t even remember the name of the class but I remember how it made me wrestle with the ways that we have labeled whole populations of people as “black” just because they were different or new. Or something otherwise terrifying to our comfort. One side of my family doesn’t know this story of immigration well. They’ve been here through so many generations that it isn’t a conversation. The other has the story of my Norwegian immigrant grandfather. How he sailed to New York City. How he called one of the Norwegian immigrant communities home and how this is a history I barely know. It wasn’t until that class in seminary that I started to ask questions about this and started to understand a little bit more about my grandfather’s unique mannerisms.

Enough about what I think. What to you think? How might you respond to these questions or anything else you might be thinking after reading the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Add your thoughts and ideas to the comments below or to your own blog. Be sure to include a link or send me a message so that I can share your wise words. Or just swing over to Facebook and join in there.

Reflection Questions for But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISMSo here’s the thing that I didn’t do when preparing for this little book club. I never checked how long the chapters were. Did you notice that? Did you notice that Chapter 2 was incredibly short? Welcome to White Young Clergy Reading Racism where your host really hasn’t planned as much as you might think.

We’re continuing to read Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. We have only read the first chapter so never fear. So go ahead and order a copy now and join in these reflection questions. Though I’m not sure that this is the best format — and I’m actually quite convinced that it is not — I’m posting reflection questions here in the hopes that we can discuss these very reflection questions next week. Though I had said that I would post for just Chapter 2 this week, I lied. You’ll find questions here for both Chapter 2, 3 and 4. Slow readers, never fear. These are some really short chapters that lend toward some big questions for our personal reflection.

  • To begin, this question comes from Maren who blogs at Gifts in Open Hands: which chapter … which phrase … touched or prodded or pinched you or reminded you of your experience with racism?
  • When have the words spoken by another hurt you?  How might it it have helped to talk about how those words “caused tension and discomfort”? 
  • In Chapter 3, Reyes-Chow owns his Asian identity as a central part of who he is as a person. What are the identities that you carry that you couldn’t be the same person without this particular identity?
  • In Chapter 4, Reyes-Chow makes the claim that most of us know that the “history of the United States is made up of complex stories of migration.” How have you witnessed this truth in your congregation or even in your own family? 

If you haven’t already contacted me to let me know you’re reading along, please do so here. Knowing the limitations of this format, it seems that we might be introducing some other ways to dialogue together so we’ve decided to start a Facebook group. You can find that Facebook group here.

Before you go, here’s a little bit of history of where we have been in case you are totally confused. This is the first post where our book study began and these are the reflection questions for the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Here is where the discussion began last week. You’ve found yourself as we reflect on the next couple of chapters before we officially discuss our ideas on Sunday August 9 — but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

Discussing But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISMSo many questions have emerged since this new civil rights movement began. Though I’m not really sure where it began or if this is just one of those cycles where God reminds us again that we are not as far along as we thought we were. Questions appeared here on this blog just last week to be part of the movement. To try to be part of the interruption. So here we are again to try to answer those questions ourselves.

Welcome to White Young Clergy Reading Racism.

Whether or not you are white, clergy or young, I hope you’re here because you want to be part of the interruption. You want to imagine another way. You want to be part of the conversation. That’s what this is all about. A good chunk of us are white women who happen to be members of The Young Clergy Women Project. We are committing ourselves to reading racism in order to confront our own stuff and be part of the change.

We are starting by reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. We’ll read one chapter every two weeks because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and there’s still plenty of time. We only started reading officially on Sunday July 12. So go ahead and order a copy now. We have only read the first chapter so never fear. Grab a copy and join in these reflection questions.

These were posted last week to get us thinking and they appear again today to encourage dialogue. Here is where we actually discuss. I’ll start the conversation by offering my own thoughts but please join in the conversation in the comments, on your own blog, on social media or with your friends at a pub or the church parlor. However you join in, please do. You’ll find the questions in bold italics and my humble responses follow. Be part of the interruption.

  • Reyes-Chow seeks an audience of readers who are “living in the tension between intellectual pursuit and passionate action.” How or why does this describe you? This describes exactly how I feel. I want so much to be engaged in passionate, embodied action but find myself so often in the realm of intellectual pursuit. (Case and point: I started this book group.) Racism has so often been an idea and a construct. It’s something I’ve wrestled with in the classroom. It’s been studied and observed which often came with a heavy dose of shame. I know that that shame has kept me away from this topic. It has weighed me down. It has disempowered me. It has made me feel like it’s insurmountable. How do you dismantle a construct anyhow? How exactly does that happen? How does it become something that isn’t just an intellectual pursuit but something that is engaged in passionate action. That’s what I want. I want the passionate action but have found myself on the sidelines reading and discussing books. It is my deepest hope to change this.
  • In discussing privilege, Reyes-Chow cites some tweets from the ‪#‎blackprivilege‬ response. Did any of the tweets in the book (or those you found on Twitter) offer you a new lens on racism? When I posted this question last week, I went looking around the inter webs for this hashtag. I read some of the things but it was this article from The Root that stopped me in my tracks. I know not everyone is going to agree and not everyone sees it the same way in the same community. I know. I know. But, what does it mean that this particular blogger saw this hashtag as so offensive? What does that mean for the ways that we try to point out the evils of racism? It makes me head explode and then fret with worry for our world and her people.
  • Especially for (young clergy) women, how did you relate to the dismissive comment that “gender doesn’t matter anymore”? Does or does this not help you enter into the conversation about race? A few months ago, a blog post of mine went viral. This post about Mother’s Day and my personal struggles and woes as a pastor got picked up by other blogs including one particular blog that called me a racist. It was couched in a longer post where it was claimed that white women should just stop with the Mother’s Day thing. Because there are greater evils in the world, we should get over ourselves and be quiet. Here’s my problem with this: my mother died when I was a little girl. It is this truth alone that makes me demand justice for things that don’t make sense. This loss and my grief has made me an advocate and an ally for others that feel like no one might listen or understand. I wouldn’t ever say that I’m amazing at this but I do try to engage in the hard work of understanding the heartache and loss of others. I don’t think that we can ever really know what pulls someone into this good work until we ask. We can never assume. Instead, at least from my story, we should look for those opportunities of connection.
  • How do you experience this truth in your church and in your life of faith that the “church too often finds itself trapped in the vernacular and strategies of a generation past. We have failed to find new ways to deal with the nature of race and racism that manifests in different ways”? Where do you see hope? Yup. Can that be my whole response? Because I’m not sure I really have more to add to this. I’ve long struggled with the laud and honor bestowed upon white clergy who marched in Selma. Good people, mind you. Really good people. But, the way that that struggle and that work has been discussed in churches is as if to say that it’s done. We did it. There’s no more to do. Oh, and how cool that you were there. We’ve gotten lazy about asking each other where we should be now. And because of this I’m not sure I see much hope. Show me some, please.
  • Reyes-Chow concludes this chapter with a statement about Christianity’s role in conversations about race. How might you claim this possibility as a guiding force in your ministry and/or your life? I can only hope that this is a guiding force in my ministry. I wrote this question in such a way because I want it to be — but I’ll admit that I’m not really sure what that looks like. I just know it should be. It really should be. Somehow.

Enough about what I think. What to you think? How might you respond to these questions or anything else you might be thinking after reading the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Add your thoughts and ideas to the comments below or to your own blog. Be sure to include a link or send me a message so that I can share your wise words.

Next week, I’ll post refelection questions for Chapter 2 and then the discussion begins on Sunday August 9.

I am so glad you’re here.

If you’re just joining in on this conversation, you might be interested to find these earlier posts:

This is the first post where our book study began and these are the reflection questions for the first chapter of But I Don’t See You As Asian. You’ve found yourself at the point of our conversation of the first chapter. So please jump into the comments and share your thoughts.

Reflection Questions for But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISM
Perhaps you saw the original post for this book club that began with The Young Clergy Women Project. Perhaps you’ve already bought the first book and are ready to go. Or perhaps you’re finding this for the very first time and wondering “What in the world is this?” Maybe you’re even casting me the side-eye and wondering if you can participate because you don’t identify as young. Or maybe you don’t want to read along because you’re so mad that the graphic says something about young clergy. I sure hope not though. I hope that you’re here because you’ve heard about this from a friend or a colleague and you’re ready to do something after Charleston and Baltimore and Ferguson and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and too many other names and places that we don’t know. It keeps happening. It happened again with Sandra Bland. If the mere mention of these names and places stirs your heart to want to do something to understand your own racism, then I say welcome.

Welcome to White Clergy Reading Racism.

As mentioned in the last post, we’re going to start by reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. We’ll read one chapter every two weeks because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and there’s still plenty of time. We only started reading officially on Sunday July 12. So go ahead and order a copy now. On Sunday July 26, you’ll find another post right here on my little home on the interwebs to invite conversation via the comments. This week, you get to consider the reflection questions which you’ll find below.

Here are the questions.

  • Reyes-Chow seeks an audience of readers who are “living in the tension between intellectual pursuit and passionate action.” How or why does this describe you?
  • In discussing privilege, Reyes-Chow cites some tweets from the ‪#‎blackprivilege‬ response. Did any of the tweets in the book (or those you found on Twitter) offer you a new lens on racism?
  • Especially for (young clergy) women, how did you relate to the dismissive comment that “gender doesn’t matter anymore”? Does or does this not help you enter into the conversation about race?
  • How do you experience this truth in your church and in your life of faith that the “church too often finds itself trapped in the vernacular and strategies of a generation past. We have failed to find new ways to deal with the nature of race and racism that manifests in different ways”? Where do you see hope?
  • Reyes-Chow concludes this chapter with a statement about Christianity’s role in conversations about race. How might you claim this possibility as a guiding force in your ministry and/or your life?

Come back to this blog on Sunday July 26th to share in some rich conversation around these questions. No one is stopping you from commenting on this post, of course. But not everyone has read the first chapter yet so just be aware that this isn’t the official conversation starter — but if you’re a speed reader and can’t wait please go ahead and comment. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and ideas.

If you happen to be on vacation or can’t find the time to read this first book, NEVER FEAR. This is only the beginning but here’s what you need to do to be kept in the loop.

  1. Send me a message and let me know that you want participate. Please share with me your blog address so I can be sure to share it with one and all.
  2. Then, go and share this blog post on your favorite social media platform. Tell everyone you know that this is something you’re doing. If you have a blog, go ahead and download this image and post it in your blog. Tell the story of why you’re participating. You can see how Susannah did this on Tea & Theology.
  3. Go back and read the first post. Pay special attention to the bulleted list below Here’s the deal. That’s where this whole thing is explained and it might make better sense to you. Then again, maybe not. I probably forgot something and you should definitely tell me about it. Send me a message about that too, please.
  4. Start thinking about what you want to read next. This is something we get to decide together.

Thank you for your open heart in this conversation.

White Young Clergy Reading Racism

READING RACISM
Just after the shooting in Charleston, members of The Young Clergy Women Project banded together on Facebook to educate ourselves about the history and present reality of racism and racial dynamics in the US context in order to create meaningful change. Through our wifi connections, we’re trying to do our best — as mostly white women — to examine our own assumptions, learn new language and learn a thing or two. 

It was proposed within that group that we share in the practice of reading a book together to do this work. Because we’d all seen the various syllabi that have emerged on the internet to point to the amount of learning that we need to do. There are things that we really need to sit down and read and histories that we need to confront — and everybody loves a book club. So, let’s start a book club.

Because we all want to read James Cone’s new book and The New Jim Crow and Witnessing Whiteness and Just Mercy but that’s a whole lot of books. So we might need a little motivation.

Welcome to White Clergy Reading Racism.

It’s something that began with The Young Clergy Women Project but you certainly don’t need to be a member to apply. (You need to be a member for other cool perks and to be truly part of this amazing community but not this time. For this book group, there won’t be any need for membership. This is a really important conversation among clergy so there shall be no limits.) Join along if especially if you’re white and clergy, but don’t let those two qualifiers deter you. If you are interested in reading with us, JOIN US.

Here’s the deal.

  • We will pick a book.
  • We will read one chapter of that book every two weeks.
  • We will share in a series of reflection questions. If you are a blogger, you are invited to post on your blog with your responses. If you don’t blog, join in the conversation by commenting on the blogs of those participating in White Clergy Reading Racism.
  • We’ll finish the book. We’ll do a little happy dance and pick a new book.
  • Repeat.

We’ll start by reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. It was free on Amazon last week so a bunch of us got a sweet deal — but if you didn’t happen to get in on that discount, go ahead and order a copy now. We will start reading next week on Sunday July 12 which means that two weeks later we’ll share in a series of reflection questions. (That would be Sunday July 26.) I’ll post the reflection questions on the off week because I want this to happen — and I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.

Ready to make this happen? Send me a message and let me know that you’re eager and ready to participate. (Please share with me your blog address so I can be sure to share it with one and all.) Then, go and share this blog post on your favorite social media platform. Tell everyone you know that this is something you’re doing. If you have a blog, go ahead and download this image and post it in your blog. Tell the story of why you’re participating.

Oh, and don’t forget to buy the first book.

Subtle Stories of Racial Change for White Churches

I was so excited to see this in my Facebook newsfeed today. Erin Wathen offers some advice to congregations that aren’t all on the same page about marriage equality. This sage pastor recognizes that struggle in some congregations even if it’s not an issue in her own. She knows — as well as I do — that there are many churches where it’s hard to celebrate because not everyone in that body of Christ is on the same page. So, she offers some tips in Holy Edges: 10 Things to Preach if your Church is Divided on Gay Marriage. The good news that she offers are all scriptural. Build on these themes — as demonstrated in our holy word — and you’ll be able to nudge toward celebration for one and all.

But, after watching President Obama deliver such an eloquent eulogy for the Rev. Pinckney (yes, I only just watched it today), I’m thinking about how to preach about race and racism. In that eulogy, the President quoted the good reverend saying:

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

What is true in the south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world.

church-581069_1280I wish that that manual could come from scripture alone — but it seems that we need a bit more to illustrate this possibility of paving a way toward a better world. It has to be personal. What I didn’t find in my internet search today was a round-up of stories that might hint toward this possibility. Because there are congregations that don’t know their white privilege and really struggle to have a conversation about racism. My own denomination has been trying to have such a conversation since our President was elected. It’s happened in fits and spurts but we’re not quite there yet. There is still much more that needs to be done to break the cycle.

And we need stories to help us. We need stories of real people and real places that will inspire us along the way. As I prepare to preach on Sunday in one such congregation — a church that mourns what happened in Charleston but isn’t compelled into action — I’m trying to find stories that break the encourage people that don’t think that this is their issue to find something unexpected in the stories told in connection with the gospel. Here are but a few that I’ve found.

  • As the disciples go out two by two, I’m tempted to use this heartfelt, honest story from Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika who really struggles to hold the hand of a white woman at a Charleston vigil as an image of partnership. I fear it will not be heard as being more about his racism than anything else but the image is powerful for any one of us that wants to believe that we can we can create a better world.
  • To find the courage of the disciples going out into the world, we might need to hear a few inspiring words. Though it might not be too subtle for some, there are amazingly inspiring words in the Rev. Norvel Goff’s sermon just after the shooting. I will also admit that quoting another isn’t exactly telling a story. Still… so good.
  • Gwen Moten lost her best friend Denise in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. She shared her story on StoryCorps after the shooting in Charleston when the memories came rushing back. Though I haven’t found as many as I might like, I imagine that there are many more stories like this one that get to the truth that the racism that is burning across the south right now is not new. It’s been happening for a long, long time. Offering these stories makes the connection for those that might have marched at Selma or those that have been tempted to believe that we won that fight that many years ago.
  • One of my very favorite stories to address how long this injustice has permeated our nation is the story of Ruby Bridges. There is a children’s book that tells her story well but Ruby’s story is also beautifully told here. In this story, you can hear the tension of a prophet having to shake the dust of her hometown — though here that doesn’t mean that she leaves. It only means she prays.
  • The good people at TED have created a whole playlist of Talks to help you understand racism in America. As with so much of our media, many of these talks focus on talking points rather than the power of story but there is this one talk by James A. White Sr. He tells the story about trying to rent a home as a black man. He’s rejected before he can even create a home in this new place — even after serving in the military.
  • In This American Life‘s recent episode Birds & Bees, Act Two features Kadijah Means as interviewed by W. Kamau Bell. There’s a lot about this little segment that I’d like to use but I think I would choose the story where Kadijah steps up to the pulpit in her family’s church and asks for the mic. That’s when she announces to the whole church that black people and white people should not be together. She’s five years old. Please keep this in mind because there is a truth that children can speak in our churches that adults cannot.
  • The 2014 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading included this story about Dave Chappelle’s hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio of which there are several gems but it’s what Chappelle says about his dad — and this community — that seems to speak most vividly to the gospel’s hope that we go out two by two relying on each other.
  • Let’s not forget the power of popular culture and especially the little bit of good news we can find in Hollywood. There are recent two films in which individual scenes could be highlighted as images of a better world including Selma and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. (I know I said real people and real stories. These are more true than the last suggestion that I’m going to make.)
  • Finally, I would encourage dusting off your copy of The Help or The Secret Life of Bees or even The Color of Water to find a snapshot of confronting racism. Oprah has recommended these stories to every woman in America so that anything from these books will be incredibly safe to preach — and it just might hint toward that possibility of breaking the cycle of racism.

What stories have you found that might subtly hint toward the better world we dare to dream is coming soon?

Liturgical Lights for Sunday July 5, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 146 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 7:18-23 but I haven’t used these pairings for the past five weeks. Why would I start now?

This wisdom from Rolf Jacobson rings particularly true for me as I try to approach the possibility of praise encouraged in this Psalm:

These acts are not universal — not everyone experiences every grace from God. The Psalter knows that we grow sick, we can be killed, we are oppressed. But God moves in the midst of sufferings, sustaining God’s people and pulling the beloved creation forward into God’s preferred future. These acts of deliverance are representative of God’s characteristic intrusions into a broken and suffering world.

If the tradition is not to sing these songs in our corporate worship — but instead find them in our private devotion — then how do we approach these words in such a way where every experience of God’s grace is honored? How do we do that after when there are churches burning in our country? How do we do find such praise when members of our congregations are struggling with the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage while others are rejoicing? And there’s more. You know there’s more on our nation’s heart right now because it’s on your heart. How do we find a space for all of this on the same weekend where our congregations want to sing patriotic hymns for our nation’s independence?

Because I don’t have answers to these questions, I find myself wanting to fall on my knees and confess to God all of the ways that I struggle to find praise. Here is the prayer on my heart today.

Call to Confession

We come before our Lord and our God seeking a word of hope and just a little bit of forgiveness because we have foolishly put our trusts in courts and laws and leaders who can’t give what we truly seek. We’ve done wrong. We’ve messed up. We’ve fallen short so that we can’t find the praise we long to sing. And so it is that we come before our Lord and our God seeking hope and forgiveness. Let us pray:

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Holy One, set us free. Set us free from all that imprisons us. Free us from the shackles of security and false promises. Liberate us from the grief that nothing will ever really change and help us to find your sight. Open our eyes to the long arc of justice that is leading us toward the liberation of your people. Lift up those who are pushed down by terrorism of creed or color so that we might all see how your law reigns. Watch over us, Holy One, because we are blind to what you are doing. We can’t see the long arc of justice and can only see churches burning, people dying and the ruin of creation. We need a word of hope. We need to know that love is stronger than hate and we can only ask your forgiveness for believing that that grace might come from the highest court in the land. We know there is more work to be done. Forgive us for not doing our part.

Shared Silence for Confession and Personal Prayer

Sung Assurance Come and Fill Our Hearts (Taize)

Assurance of God’s Grace (Responsive)

Our Lord and our God reigns forever.
The arc of God’s love is long and it comes to fill you with forgiveness and hope.
God comes to set you free from your fears and open your eyes to love.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as this is the last one in this series. I’m taking a summer break from Liturgical Lights. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve found these prayers helpful or if you’ve used them in worship. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday July 5, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.