Pandemic Prayers for Proper 15

My baby girl took her first unbalanced steps to the dinner table on Sunday night while my toddler has been working hard on her ABCs. She’s curious about these strange shapes. She wants to identify them and has even started drawing her own figures.

Both girls have these proud moments. There are thousands of them built into one day even when we don’t leave the house or interact with other people. Their little faces light up with broad smiles and they look directly at me where their eyes grow even brighter in sheer delight that they can do these wildly impossible things. As I watched my toddler repeat this delighted pattern while coloring this morning, I wondered when I looked at God that way. Am I always peering across the room to see if God saw that thing I just did? Or have I completely outgrown the habit if I ever bothered to look?

A colleague pointed out that the Gospel Lesson this week beautifully illustrates how racism defiles even the best of us including even our Savior. She then pointed toward this episode on shame and accountability from Brene Brown’s new podcast Unlocking Us as a resource for white people in a world of systemic racism. I am thinking about all of those moments I look so proud at God when I think I’ve done the right thing and how many of them are caught up in my own racism.

Especially as I read Psalm 133, I’m thinking about all of the parents who really want to have God meet their eyes in shared wonder. I’m thinking about how much every parent needs that validation as they make impossible decisions. I’m thinking about the teachers that are shouldering that burden as parents at the same time that they create lesson plans while also installing plexiglass and stocking up on masks. I’m thinking about the kids that need that validation and support to not only come from parents but in the bright eyes of teachers, mentors and coaches. I’m thinking about how much we need a blessing in the midst of these many challenges.

Blessings

Though I normally start with Gathering for Worship ideas, I’m starting with blessings here because I think we need a few. Tons. Oodles. Kids are starting to go back to school and some churches will even be doing distanced blessings this weekend. To that end, I want to uplift this prayer for the start of this new (weird) school year by Laura Stephens-Reed. It could be used as a pastoral prayer or to conclude a series of smaller blessings. This back to school blessing from Rev. Mindi is old but good.

Last week, I did a wee bit of brainstorming about this (admittedly still thinking that school starting was weeks away) and I thought then — as I do now — that there needs to be more than backpacks that are blessed for kids. Teachers, parents and caregivers needs those blessings too. I shall post some more tomorrow.

I feel like I need a blessing. I want there to be such words but I have yet to find the right ones in my heart or on the internet.

Prayers for Worship

I am just walloped by reading Psalm 133 right now. Still, I’m attempting a prayer to gather us together in these words that are so at the center of community.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 133

How very good and pleasing it is
when people come together
through wireless routers
and cables buried in the earth
to pop up on each other’s screens
with a familiar smile that remind us
again that people are made to for community.

We dwell together in harmony
so that it is like expensive oil poured over our heads,
running down our collarbones to remind us again
how very blessed we are to have each other
even when we are not in the same physical place.

It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
streaming down onto the mountains of Zion.
Let our praise have such movement.
Let our connection to each other and to our God
grow in this hour because it is here
in the blessing of community
that God has brought us
the blessing of everlasting life.
Let us worship God together. Amen.

Prayer of Confession 

O God, we do not understand.
There is so much that we do not understand right now.
Things have come out of our mouths that shouldn’t.
O God, we have thought even worse
scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.
We have seen headlines that have
caused us to question if it can truly be
good that sisters and brothers dwell together.
There is no unity, not right now.
Forgive us for not understanding
but it feels like everything has been thrown to the dogs.
Grant us your mercy.

I want this prayer to conclude with that look that I described in the beginning. I want that to be the assurance but I have no idea how to do that. These Words of Assurance inspired by Romans would be lovely though. If you read the above confession and thought it was too dark (and I might agree with you), you might opt for this prayer or this call to reconciliation, unison prayer and assurance. I also really love the prayer of the day that Thom composed for this Sunday.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’d love to know what might be most helpful and I hope to publish some back to school prayers this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 10

It has been over a month since I shared these pandemic prayers. I got swallowed up by the logistics surrounding our move across Texas.

It seemed at every moment that something had settled that something else would fall through. It still feels that way two weeks after arriving here. Boxes still aren’t unpacked. There are things I can’t find because I didn’t hover over the packers for their safety and my own. It is still a pandemic after all and it’s raging across Texas even though I was little ladied more than once across this vast state by men insisting that this was a hoax.

I am still so freaking proud of the church and all that you dear pastors are doing in the midst of this chaos especially because I feel like I’m barely holding it together right now. These prayers are appearing late in the week and may not be helpful because you’ve already recorded. I hope you rest then. Or find whatever feels like rest right now and maybe even read these gorgeous words of encouragement from my friend Laura Stephens-Reed.

Thank you for all that you are doing to walk in faith and hope. Here are some words that might lift a small burden from your shoulders.

Gathering Together

As the numbers increase and it becomes a point of pride for some not to wear a mask, I am struck by the words of Psalm 119 asking God for life. I’m captivated by the image of scattering seeds as an act of resistance more than Miss Rumphius who scattered lupine seeds to reveal the earth’s glory. Sowing seeds feels like a determined prayer. There will be life. Abundance is possible.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 119

Give us life, O God.
Give us breath and strength
and a bit of courage
to speak you words of love.
Give us life, O God,
because we’e not so sure
how to live and move
and have our being.
It feels like we’ve given our all.
We’ve tried our best
but we cannot give up.
We must go on.
This is not over.
This is not all there will be.
Give us life, O God.
Give us abundance.
Give us power.
Give us grace
so that we can feel it
beating in our hearts.
Bring your heart into our own.
Give us joy
in this time of worship
and wonder.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

There is a lovely prayer of the day written by Julia Seymour that would be lovely. I feel the need to confess lately. Most of my prayers while unpacking boxes have had a health amount of profanity. I need some forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Isaiah 55:10-13

O God, it hasn’t felt
like there is new growth
in my heart and mind.
I’ve worried too much about the world:
the selfishness of others,
the arrogance of my own heart,
the number of things that need
to change and need to change fast,
the sins of racism,
the betrayal of isolation,
the desire for something normal
even though I have no idea what that might be.
I have not felt joy or peace
but outrage and fury.
I cannot believe things have gotten this bad
and I wonder what I can do
to water the earth with change.

Assurance of Grace

Beloved, you are saturated in God’s love.
Hear these words with joy. Let them take root
in your heart and mind:
you are forgiven
and so very loved by God. Amen.

Gospel Meditation

In seminary, I worshipped with Judson Memorial Church where they had an Old Testimony and a New Testimony. The old always being something from the Bible and the new was a poem or an excerpt from an essay or book. It added something that wasn’t in the sermon and sometimes wasn’t even explored in the sermon. It revealed something about these words from scripture. It made us think. Silence always followed.

I have always loved this tradition and have adapted it in places I’ve served. It worked sometimes and other times it totally flopped. This week I want something to meditate on this passage from Matthew. I’m so used to hearing Luke that I’m so curious about this happening by the water. Does that make the land more fertile or less? Maybe I’m too landlocked right now and I just want to dip my toes in some body of water that is not sweltering hot from sitting out in the sun. (That would be my kid’s kiddie pool.) I offer these possibilities as a new testimony or centering words or whatever you might choose to call them before or after the Gospel Lesson.

Untitled by James Baldwin

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Matins by Louise Gluck

A Blessing with Roots by Jan Richardson

I know there are others that I’d like to add but my kids are refusing to nap so that’s all I’ve got for this week.

While I was packing and stressing about moving in a pandemic, I received a sweet note thanking me for these liturgies. An email also popped up yesterday asking to use my Blessing for Face Masks. You can find the gorgeous image Mary Dicken created here. It’s amazing what we can do together.

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

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.

How Shall We Pray?

For the past several weeks, I’ve offered prayers as a gift to my colleagues in ministry who are serving faithfully during this pandemic. I’ve written liturgies following the Revised Common Lectionary that I have hoped were copied and pasted into Facebook Lives and Zooms and every other platform that congregations find themselves gathered in this moment.

I opened my email on Monday to find that two of my favorite cooking blogs are not offering new content. Yes, that’s how white I am. I faithfully read cooking blogs still these two particular cooking blogs are hitting the pause button. They are intentionally stepping back to wrestle with their own racism and the various ways that they unintentionally play into white supremacy. It’s something I know many of us are doing.

Before reading their words, I already knew I wasn’t going to offer prayers this week. I wasn’t going to attempt to assert my privilege into the grief and pain after the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade because of the racism burning in our blood.

We have heard enough from white women.

White women should be asking, like all white people, how shall we pray?

We shall not pray for peace because we do not know the grief and pain of this moment. We do not wish that there was a better way because too much has been broken. We have dared to assume we could build on a broken system and only now can we see that wrong, but then, how shall we pray?

How do you pray when your country is on fire? How do you pray when there is greater concern for property than people? How do you pray when the grief and despair is too big to name?

EZYHcAoVAAA3BAKI am listening for what I do not understand. I’m opening my heart and mind to the grace of God as I wrestle again with the demon of my own racism.

I cannot pray with my own words.

I won’t. I can’t.

I want to confess the sins of my own racism starting with my White Privilege as captured in a poem by Judith Lockhart Radtke found in The Anti-Racism Prayer Book created by Trinity Church in Boston. There are several other powerful prayers collected in this digital booklet.

Those that are still feeling the winds and fire of Pentecost might opt to use this Prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat written way back when in 2014 in honor of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It might need only a slight adaptation to feel that wind that moved over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

As social media blacks out to focus on the wisdom of black and brown bodies, in churches in my own United Church of Christ and other white dominated congregations, this litany of confession for Lent might be adapted to evoke the power of Creator, Christ and Spirit. This prayer remembering the last words of Eric Garner from Praying with James Baldwin might also be fitting or one of these two prayers addressing white supremacy found on enfleshed. Martha Spong offered a beautiful Trinity Prayer meditating on Psalm 8:4 in her weekly email that she admits is a prayer for majority white communities of faith. 

The United Church of Canada somehow always has words for the prayers closest to my heart as they do in this prayer To Root Out Quiet Racism.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Black Lives Matter Worship Collection which includes a reflection about singing Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Rev. Aisha Ansano that I found powerful especially because I remain unconvinced that it should be sung in white congregations.

When I can’t find the words for my own prayers, I turn to poetry. This poem by Ross Gay popped up in my timeline again this week. As the fires blaze in riots across our country, I find myself returning to Christopher Gilbert’s Fires Gotten Brighter. Donte Collins’ what the dead know by heart sends chills down my spine and leaves me staring at my own palm. I’m not sure how you’d use these in worship just as I’m not sure how a white congregation might meaningfully use Get Home Safely which the SALT Project is offering for free download.

For better or worse, I know that my prayers as a white woman aren’t the same as my black and brown sisters and brothers. I know that as much as my throat catches watching that video, it’s not the terror I feel every day for myself or my children. I can cry listening to the Rev. Otis Moss III preach powerfully but I also learned something that I’m sure black and brown folks have known for a long time. I am new to this fight no matter how many anti-racism workshops I’ve attended.

My prayers are different because I’m not in the streets right now. I’ve got time and space to contemplate how I might pray when others are struggling to stay alive or even assert that their lives have worth.

I believe we should pray just as I believe in the power of God to do things that I cannot fathom in this moment. I’m going to hold onto that hope as I confess the sins of my own racism. That’s what it feels like these prayers are.

These are prayers to confess that we bought into the idea that this system actually worked even as we balked at 45’s great campaign slogan. We thought we knew. We thought we had done the work until this moment when a pandemic should keep us inside our homes but the grief is just too damn big.

I confess that I want to hear something like Maya Angelou’s Alone on Sunday because it might not be just about some idealized kum-ba-yah moment like in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 but it could actually say something about our collaboration with the Trinity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I might want or how big I might like God to be. It’s not a question of my comfort.

I’ve been too comfortable. That’s the problem and the challenge of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Worship has already changed. It already feels so different ten or eleven weeks into this new normal so perhaps how we pray and when we pray and how long we allow God to speak needs to change too.

We shall pray that black. brown and indigenous lives matter because God already knows they do. We shall pray so that we might be changed.

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.

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!

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.