10 Observations for Right Now

It seems to me that there are so many great teachers out there. It’s why TED is so popular. There are just so many people that are pulsing with wisdom and creativity. It isn’t a select few that have these great ideas but something that is shared across disciplines among all different kinds of people.

For years, I’ve been safely tucking ideas from great teachers into my files on Evernote. I save them for some future date when I might be able to use them in my ministry. Maybe they’ll become a sermon illustration or maybe they’ll work their way into some of my consulting work or maybe I’ll use them for some small group resource I’m writing. Among those things saved in my files on Evernote are actual assignments that teachers assign their students that have caught my interest including Paul Thek’s “Teaching Notes.”

On my walk today, with Krista Tippett in my ears, I heard from another wise teacher and while I’m tempted to file the idea away on Evernote, it grabs my attention enough to know that it’s something that I should probably attempt to practice right now. In OnBeing’s “The Power of Words to Save Us,” the poet Maria Howe offers this assignment that I’m feeling nudged to practice. She explains:

I ask my students every week to write 10 observations of the actual world. It’s very hard for them… They really find it hard…

Just tell me what you saw this morning like in two lines. I saw a water glass on a brown tablecloth, and the light came through it in three places. No metaphor. And to resist metaphor is very difficult because you have to actually endure the thing itself, which hurts us for some reason…

We want to say, “It was like this; it was like that.” We want to look away. And to be with a glass of water or to be with anything — and then they say, “Well, there’s nothing important enough.” And that’s whole thing. It’s the point… And then they say, “Oh, I saw a lot of people who really want” — and, “No, no, no. No abstractions, no interpretations.” But then this amazing thing happens, Krista. The fourth week or so, they come in and clinkety, clank, clank, clank, onto the table pours all this stuff. And it so thrilling. I mean, it is thrilling. Everybody can feel it. Everyone is just like, “Wow.” The slice of apple, and then that gleam of the knife, and the sound of the trashcan closing, and the maple tree outside, and the blue jay. I mean, it almost comes clanking into the room. And it’s just amazing.

There’s an added dimension to this assignment. Not only are these students called to pay attention to the thing in front of them or even the world around them, they are not supposed to use any metaphors.

Jesus loves a good metaphor. He invites people past and present to imagine the kingdom of God in all of these fantastic illustrations. It’s like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like a merchant in search of beautiful pearls. It’s like a king who wants to settle all of his accounts or perhaps like landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers to tend to his vineyard.

This great teacher, Maria Howe, advises against it. No matter how much Jesus might love a metaphor, Howe says to avoid it. Don’t compare the thing. Don’t illustrate it. Don’t try to connect it to anything else. Just describe the glass of water as it is.

Right now, it feels like there is so much happening in the world and even in my own life. It feels like are moving fast and slightly out of control and perhaps what I need most is just to slow down and pay attention and notice what’s in front of me. Every day, just write 10 observations of the actual world.

It feels like enough for such a time as this.

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Blessing of Teachers

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

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

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

Blessing of Teachers

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

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

Thank you God, for our Sunday School.

Thank you for the gift of Jesus,

Who teaches us so many things.

We are excited about Sunday School

And hope to learn more about You

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

Each and every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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