Single in the Sanctuary – Valentine’s Day in the Church

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love lightOnce again this year, Valentine’s Day happens to fall on a Sunday.  Now, this shouldn’t matter because it’s the first Sunday of Lent, and it isn’t an actual church holiday.

Yet, I have a feeling that some churches will be embracing societal’s yearnings by filling each little crevice of worship with mentions of this Hallmark holiday.  From my experience, I’ve seen how churches hold couples’ dances, talk about how wonderful marriage (especially heterosexual marriage) is and fill sermons and prayers for those who have already found their lifelong love.

But I’ve sat in the pews and attended churches where marriage (heterosexual ones, at that) were considered the ideal.  There didn’t feel like there was a place for this single gal… let alone our single savior, Jesus.  I felt crushed at times and even needed to leave the sanctuary on the random Sunday when the pastor gave a message marginalizing people like me.

Part of the reason I’ve started writing the Single in the Sanctuary feature and, down the road, book is to reinforced the need to validate people of all different marital statuses in the church.  One of the most-needed days of the year for us to be sensitive to the emotions of the unmarried (especially the ones who are not content as unmarried) is Valentine’s Day.

So church leaders – as you finalize your bulletins for this Sunday, remember the following:

  • A large percentage of those in our pews are not married.  They are single, divorced, widowed and cohabitating.  And each of them need our love and validation too.  We need to acknowledge where they are in their lives today – whether they have chosen their relationship status or life just happened to them.
  • 1 Corinthians 13 is not just about romantic love; it’s about something so much greater than marriages and couples.  The love chapter is about God’s steadfast, unconditional love.  It’s a love that we are called to have for each of our neighbors – not just our significant others.  Plus, this chapter reminds us that we need to love our neighbors, friends, enemies, significant others and everyone else as if we are looking through the eyes of God.  That’s more than any romcom could ever portray… although Mark Darcy telling Bridget Jones that he loves her “just as she is” comes close.
  • Shame is a piece in relationship statuses.  Still single?  What’s wrong with you?  Cohabitating?  Why can’t you just get married?  Divorced?  Why couldn’t you make your marriage work.  Part of a gay or lesbian couple?  Doesn’t God think that’s an abomination?  Having sex outside of marriage?  You are a sinner!  These are the messages that keep circling around faith communities.  Our job as the Church is to make sure that these messages are eradicated and that shame outside of the straight nuclear message doesn’t exist.
  • Pray for all marital statuses in this church – from the newly married couple, to the couple who are having challenges, to the single person with a newly fresh broken heart, to the widower experiencing his first Valentine’s Day alone.

Finally, Jesus was single.  What we believe we know is that he was never married.  We don’t know much else about this. We may wonder if he got his heart broken or if he just never had the time to get married.  But he brought together people of all marital statuses.  And that’s what we’re called today each and every day in the church.  The church isn’t just for couples or families.  It’s for all of God’s children.

Are you a progressive non-married Christian or a friend?  Please join in this new Facebook group “Single in the Sanctuary” for conversation and support.

A Communion Liturgy for Ash Wednesday

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communionHere is a communion liturgy I wrote for our ecumenical Ash Wednesday service this year.  Please feel free to use it and note that you saw it on michelletorigian.com.

Blessings to all as we look towards this new liturgical season.

Michelle

Invitation

One: Come, as we embark on the dawn of this new season.
Come, as we reflect upon the dusk of our lives.
Come, as we set aside our distractions and the concerns of our minds
Come, as we focus on the heart of the matter.

One: God of light and dust be with you,
All: And also with you.
One: Open wide our hearts:
All: We open them up to our God.
One: Let us give thanks to God our creator.
All: Even in the midst of the wilderness, we give God our praise.

Prayer of Communion

One: Tonight we come together to recall the magnificent common memories we have of our Christ.  We remember his servant leadership and the unconditional love he had for humankind.

Here and now, we give thanks for the steadfast love of God that we see reflected in Jesus the Christ.  We are grateful for one another and for all the saints who have come to the table throughout history and to those who will gather here after we have returned to dust.  With appreciation, we give thanks to the hands who have harvested the grapes and grains before us.  In a spirit of active thanksgiving, we commit ourselves as servants to God’s children, finding new ways of bringing justice, righteousness and love to the shadows on this earth.

May the Spirit come upon these elements.  May the Spirit fill our hearts with love, kindness and acceptance.  May the Spirit continue to aid us in our work in the world and as we cross boundaries of denominations and faith differences.  May the Spirit empower us as we walk through these 40 days in the wilderness, as we face the sadness of the crucifixion and as we wait for the Christ’s resurrection.

As Jesus continued on his journey, he could see that his time was drawing nearer.  Our Christ knew that his love and leadership would take him to the cross.  And as the final night was upon him, he drew close to his friends.  To embrace the love he had with them, he shared one last table.

Jesus embraced the bread in his weathered hands, broke it, gave it to his friends asking them to remember him.

Jesus clasped the cup containing the fruit of the vine, gave thanks one last time and asked them to remember him.

In remembering him, we speak the words together in prayer, using the words closest to your hearts saying… Our Father, who art in heaven…

(As we pray the Lord’s Prayer in unity, please use the word closest to your hearts, whether it is sins, trespasses or debts.)

The bread of life.  The cup of the new covenant.  Both given to us.  Both we partake in together as we remember our servant-leader Jesus the Christ.

Distribution of the Elements

Unison Prayer of Thanksgiving

All: Even as we come to the table tonight remembering our frailty with the dust on our heads, we also give God our thanks for this meal.  We give our gratitude that we have come together as one Body of Christ.  In these next 40 days and as we walk the road to the crucifixion, continue to keep us awake to the ways we can bring Jesus the Christ’s servant-leadership to our world.  Amen.

I Don’t Know What to Do with This Day

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imageHonestly, I don’t know what to do with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  It’s not my day to claim.

The struggle of my black sisters and brothers is not mine and yet, I am connected to it.  My skin is white.  My benefits are great.  And even though the privilege of a white woman isn’t perfect, it’s still pretty darn good.

I can drive in rich neighborhoods without worrying who will pull me over if I’m driving four miles over the speed limit, walk in department stores without much thought to who is watching me and apply to jobs knowing that my resume will at least get a glace.  So the struggles that King mentioned aren’t about me or people who look like me.

So, what is this day about?

Right now to me this is the day I step aside to learn and to listen.  It’s the day when I listen deeply to the deep pain of my friends.  It’s the day when I examine my times of “whitesplaining,” of the times I didn’t speak up and the times I worried more about what others thought of me instead of the hard journey of those who continue to struggle. And then I offer a prayer of reconciliation to God my parent and my sisters and brothers of color.

This is the day I examine how I can become a better leader, how I can learn from the example of Dr. King the Prophet and live boldly as I continue to carry the light of Christ into the world.

This is the day I think about the ways I can push the shadows in the world aside and shine more light.  This is the day when I reflect on how to love more and use that love to erase the growing hate in our communities.

This is the day when I speak to and with those who are privileged as we share ways for us to be better allies.  This is the day when I recommit to the covenant of the complete body of Christ knowing that a good portion of the body is disregarded by other parts.  And this is the day when I send light and love to my sisters and brothers of color as they continue their march to true equality.

I still don’t fully know what to do with this day.  All I can do is walk humbly with my God and my neighbors and hope I can do better this coming year.

*****

One year from now I will probably be reading this and think that I had so much more to learn.   This is a work in progress and I’m open to your thoughts.

Our Jedi Power

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Most professions have their own Jedi power.  This just happens to be mine.

If you could name your Real World Jedi Power, what would you claim?

This post is an assignment for WordPress’ Blogging University.  Participants were asked to embed a Tweet or other social media links.

Single in the Sanctuary – My Stuck Story

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No matter your marital status – what are ways you can get unstuck in 2016?

At various points of each of our lives, we find ourselves stuck – in our work lives, romance lives, family lives and any other facet of our lives.

In 2003, I was incredibly stuck in each area of my life.  I recall that I hadn’t dated anyone in years – in fact, I forget how long it had been since I had an actual date.  My weight had skyrocketed, and I didn’t find myself attractive anymore.  Additionally, my professional life had walked backwards a few steps and hadn’t moved forward in a year or two.  I had applied to seminary and wasn’t accepted at my top choice.

At 30 years old, I had found myself spending each Saturday night at a pottery painting place because – who would want to date overweight, underaccomplished Michelle?  At least I was making some fabulous pieces of art…

I suppose the catalyst of change was beginning a weight loss program in 2004.  As I lost 40 pounds, I also began to gain back the confidence I had lost.  The chain reaction of one change led to dating once again and, eventually, finding a more suitable job for me.

Losing weight was not the reason other parts of my life changed.  At this point, I’m in a wonderful relationship even though I weighted as much as I did in 2003.  Confidence comes from within – not our external accomplishments and appearances.  Our assurance and genuine worth stems from the spark of the Divine that resides in each one of us.

Sometimes it just takes a bit of time to find the confidence, inspiration and Spirit once again. And one agent of change – whether small or large – will be the catalyst for our lives to move out from our current mud trap.

Confession: currently, for me, my place of being stuck centers around creativity in my professional and extracurricular life.  I have a terrific life but just feel like my inspiration well is dry.  By continuing to try and believing that the creativity/confidence/etc. already exists within me and that the Holy Spirit is giving me what I need, I know that this time of “stuck” will loosen.

So do you find yourself stuck in one area of your life- whether in your attempts to date, your hopes to find another position or your plans to fulfill a dream?  Have you lost hope?

Just keep going.  We will find our stickiness gone soon.

My 2016 Blogadventure

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IMG_2703 (2)For the past few years, I’ve been keeping up with my blog here at michelletorigian.com.  I’ve been posting on various other sites such as The Huffington Post and New Sacred.

But now it’s time to take this to the next step.

While you’ll still see many various theological and pop culture topics here at this blog, you’ll notice that I’ll be writing more about marital status and the progressive Christian church.

Writing and discussing these issues is very much part of my call.  I’ve begun a regular feature called “Single in the Sanctuary” to shine lights on the joys and struggles that non-marrieds (single, divorced, widowed, etc.) face inside and outside the church.  By facing these topic head on, we leaders of the Church will connect with more people who may feel alienated from the pews.

As part of stretching my writing and promoting boundaries, I’m taking part in WordPress’ Blogging University.  Through accountability, I’m hoping to throw aside any doubts and mild writer’s block to continue this journey on which I’m called.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be starting a new group on Facebook called Single in the Sanctuary for non-married progressive Christians and our friends.

I’m also wanting to know what are some topics non-married progressive Christians would like to see me address.  Please comment below if there’s a topic you would like to see featured in an upcoming post.

Finally, please make sure to spread the word about Single in the Sanctuary and this new conversation for progressive Christians.

Many blessings as you walk the smooth and dusty roads of 2016 – whether alone or with a love, with family by chance or by choice!

Michelle

My Annual Midlife Crisis

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Last night, I was watching Noah Baumbach’s recent film While We’re Young.  A forty-something childless couple begins to hang out with a twenty-something, spontaneous, energetic couple.  Being influenced by the junior husband and wife, the elder couple (which, of course, is only a year or two older than I am today) starts to change their activities to revive their aging lives.  Without giving much of the plot away, their new lifestyle finds its expiration date, naturally.

In the ebb and flow to life, the two Gen-Xers eventually face the missing elements of their lives with honesty.  Josh (Ben Stiller) says to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), “I’m 44 and there are things I will never do.  Things I won’t have.”

Josh’s words ring true to many of us who have crossed the threshold into our early middle-age years.  We begin to take inventory of what we’ve attained and what we haven’t.  We stop running from the mirror which indicates our current lives and our actual ages.

And, for the first time, we admit that there will be things that we’ll never do or have.

Each year, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I take stock of what I’ve accomplished in the past year as well as the mistakes I’ve made.  I try to offer myself some grace as I confront shortcomings.  But mostly I sit with the melancholy of not having certain things in my life and the achievements that I haven’t yet grasped.

Admittedly, there are always tears in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

I’m 42 years old.  As much as I’m 19 years old in my heart, I’m a middle-aged woman.  There are some things I will never do and never have.  At this point, I probably won’t have a child and definitely won’t give birth to one.  I’ll never win any major awards, run a marathon, skydive (totally fine with that one) or become a US president, senator or congresswoman.  I won’t be a millionaire or a physician.  I’m ready to leave some of those possibilities behind, and others may take a while to toss aside.

But as I look ahead, there still is life.  I still have the chance to walk a marathon, write a book, influence lives and advocate for the voiceless.  I will sit with people as their life slows down.  I’ll meet new people and speak my truth in new ways. Life may not yet be quite half-over for me, so some of the things I dreamed about are still possible.  And while my body doesn’t look or work the same way it did 10 or 20 years ago, my mind continues to grow and my confidence blooms.

What 2016 will bring – I’m not sure.  But as my body ages and the expected aches begin to intensify and multiply, my vigorous mind and soul will continue to listen for God’s relentless call for my life.

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It’s Almost That Time… Christmas Eve Worship!

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If you are anywhere in the Cincinnati area, I invite you to one of our Christmas Eve services at the church in which I pastor.

Many Christmas Blessings to each one of you. Thank you for reading my blog throughout this year. I look forward to connecting with you in 2016!

Star Wars, Sandy Hook and the Scene I Want Erased

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star_wars_episode_iii_revenge_of_the_sith_posterThis afternoon, I wait fairly patiently to see episode seven of the Star Wars movie series.  I recall the first one I saw in the movie theater: Return of the Jedi.  When the three first episodes of the series was re-released in 1998, I went to see each one.  Although they were altered from their previous release, the magic of each episode superseded any technology that was or was not added from the first release.  And then in 1999, 2002 and 2005, I went on opening day to see Episodes 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

Today, I’ve been thinking about various scenes in the movies – from Han replying to Leia “I know” when she tells him she loves him to the scene where Luke discovers Leia is his sister to the scenes where Anakin begins to transform to the dark side.

Fortunately, the blood was minimal in each of the first six movies.  Faceless Storm Troopers were eliminated here and there, and Han shoots Greedo before we can become invested in the character.  (Still not right, Han.  We know you shot first.)  Yet one scene sticks with me as the most traumatizing: the bodies of Younglings on the floor after Anakin stages a massacre.

In 2005, all we could believe was that this was a movie, an illustration of how someone transforms into an evil being.  This is what soaking in fear and anxiety will do to someone who has the potential to allow toxic messages to penetrate their soul.

But it was just a movie… Right?

And then, Sandy Hook happened seven years later.

At the time of Sandy Hook, my nephew was also in first grade.  There was one other child with his first name.  The image of the Younglings popped into my head.  Imagining a scene where bubbly, lively children are no longer alive was too much.  Thinking of the tears falling from the eyes of the moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles of the Sandy Hook Younglings was too intense.

It’s still too much to think about…

I don’t want other scenes in movies or real life when Younglings or first graders are massacred.  I don’t want to hear of any more shootings or slayings or rapes.

I don’t want to vision a scene where children’s bodies – or any human bodies – are lifeless on the ground.  To me, this event was the most sinister of any event that has happened in this country during the course of my life – as much as September 11.

This week, with the anniversary of Sandy Hook and the release of Star Wars episode seven reminds me that scenes like this can happen – that the Force, our agency, can be used to hurt as well as heal.

And so we pray that the Force will be used to love one another, to heal our divisions, to turn our lightsabers, swords and guns into ploughshares and anything else that will help us build and nurture.

Advent Day 2 – The Valley of the Mean Girls

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Whew… Middle school and high school are over!  Time to move away from the simple-minded drama that comes with being a teenager and move ahead with the more important issues of life.

Wait a minute… Who’s that?  Is that… A MEAN GIRL?  A MEAN GUY?  Didn’t they set aside their childish ways when they moved on to adulthood?  Didn’t they figure out that childhood antics and vapid drama doesn’t work in adulthood?

Didn’t we think that we could get away from their whispering in corners and selective snubbing once we headed to college and adult life?  Unfortunately, we will each run across people in various parts of life that forgot to leave behind their messy middle school mentality for a more enlightened way of living.  They will use their “mean girl” attitudes to manipulate others.

Even Jesus met his share of “mean guys” before the end of his earthly ministry… None of us are immune to their ways…

In many situations, mean girls and guys can be disregarded as children.  Yet there are times they get in our ways when we are trying to move forward trying to follow the call of God and they stand in our way.  They attempt to derail us from our paths, not because they are trying to accomplish something…

Frankly, I’m not sure why they are mean people.  Maybe they thrive on drama.

But God isn’t calling us to be mean girls and boys and handing back hate to those who drench us in hate.  Instead God is calling us to “set aside our childish ways” and turn their swords into our plowshares.  We are called to assertively work with them as we know that God has given us the wisdom to love our enemies.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. states “returning hate for hate multiplies hate.”  Given the choice between hate and love, I will once again go with Dr. King: “I have chosen to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

A prayer for those facing “mean girls:”

God of our holy tweens and teenage years
of our growing pains and terrifying transitions,
give us the courage to walk in the valley of the shadow of mean girls.
Prepare a table before us even when our enemies refuse to let us sit with them.
May their voices become heard when they whisper stabbing secrets
and may their voices become silent when they scream criticisms.

Give us the strength to extend grace when they extend their hands for help.
And help us to forgive seven, seventy, seven-thousand times
Whether we are seventeen or thirty-seven.

Amen.

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