International Cat Day Blessings of the Cats

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Creator of the furry friends,
on this International Day of Cats
bless our feline friends.

Whether they are hiding under beds
or rubbing their faces to ours,
bless their sweet paws as they run from the kitchen to the bedroom.

Bless their mouths in their cleaning and eating.

Bless their happy purrs and meows of despair.

Holy one, in our joy and sadness
our cats sit by us,
as we know our forever connection was designed by you, God.

Amen

A Prayer for Purple Heart Day

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God of strength and resilience,
on this Purple Heart Day,
we celebrate the valor of our service member siblings.

We remember the ones who risked their lives-
those who returned to us- some healed, others healing,
and those who sacrificed their lives- now abiding with God on that side of heaven.

God of broken bodies and shattered souls,
we pray for our siblings injured in a time of war or during a time of service.
May their stories be lifted and spirits elevated.
May the light of the Divine be a balm to the injuries marked on their souls and hearts.
May the winds of the Spirit build their resilience.
May we, as your children, Holy One, advocate for their healing.

Allow us to see our place in the well-being of all our neighbors and, especially today, the ones who are the wounded brave.

Amen.

***
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Post As I Continue to Wake From My Privileged Slumber

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Before I say anything, this is just a reminder that this site is my own site. All I say here is from my perspective and not the perspective of any individual or organization with which I am associated. Never feel like you must agree with me.

Now that I’ve clarified this, I feel like I live out my faith by my writing and talking about justice issues. In different places I talk about things in different ways. But at the heart of what I speak of are a couple of scriptures. First of all, we are to love God with all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves. Secondly, like it says in Micah 6:8, we are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. With all I have and all I speak, post, or write, this is the foundation of my theology.

As the granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide Survivor, I see things a bit differently too. Government systems in Turkey were giving directives to kill all Armenians- and that included the members of my family. So when I see the powers that be not working justly, I am called as a child of God, as a member of the clergy, and as a person who tries to love their neighbor to shine a light on injustice.

Secondly, before we get started, I want to clarify that I want our first responders – including police- to be well in body, mind, and spirit. It breaks my heart when one is killed. I’ve seen the effects of death on the loved ones of police. I pray that they stay safe because they are children of God and they are the parents, spouses, children, and siblings of many.

Third, the most important thing for us to do is to build relationships and listen to stories from people who are not like us.

So. Deep breath. Let’s go!

***
First of all: Black Lives Matter! (Ooh, Michelle is starting out with a very scary one.) I’m not even sure why this is as scary and loaded as it is. In 1944, we might have said Jewish Lives Matter because, as a whole, their lives were at risk and they were being massacred. With internment camps around the same time, we may have said Japanese Lives Matter too. Remember – I’m the granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide survivor. In 1915, I would hope Turkish folks would have said “Armenian Lives Matter” instead of watching them go to their death march.

It’s also like this – and I’ve seen this online quite a bit: the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus leaves the other 99 to find the one. At that moment, that one sheep’s life matters the most. Overall in the history of time or in the eyes of God one group does not matter the most, but right at this period of time, it’s crucial we take care of our neighbors most at risk. You may have seen the illustration of one house of many on fire. At that moment, taking care of that house matters the most. Whose lives are hurting the most and most affected by an unjust system? That’s who we need to focus on. All lives truly do not matter without black lives mattering to our society.

So the next scary term: white privilege. Something been going on in this country for centuries (and still going in), and it’s that white people still get the benefit of the doubt more often. Some of us were born on first base, some on third, and some have to start at home plate. It’s easier for some to score a run. Being a white person means that I’ve probably been born on at least first base. A person of color has to start from home plate, and other people of color – especially in poverty – may not even have a bat in order to play the game.

Example: I am fortunate because people are not suspicious of me walking around my neighborhood or shopping at a department store. I can’t say this about my black neighbors.  They are scared driving around predominantly white areas because they get pulled over so much more in many of them – even going the speed limit. I’ve heard the stories of my friends, and I have it easy because I’m white. A black neighbor should not be worried running in his predominantly white neighborhood. This is what it means to have white privilege. If you start to get scared because you see a person of color going into the house next to you, they may actually be going into the house because it’s a member of the family, or a friend, or a contractor. They are allowed to be there. (PS – do not call the police. Things can escalate too quickly.)

If you had feelings bubble up when you saw a strange black person entering the house next to you, it’s something to address.  Those are called implicit biases; we all have them. I’m trying to work on mine, and I mess up all of the time! They are the biases that mean we don’t consciously think bad or want anything bad to happen to our black neighbors. It means we usually hate explicit racism – the “n-word,” Confederate flags, KKK, etc. We don’t believe hate crimes should happen like what happened Ahmaud Arbery.

But, down deep in each of us, we have little cells of bias. It could be so little we don’t realize it’s in us. Unfortunately, we make decisions based on these little cells of bias. We don’t include pictures of all races when we are promoting a program to people. We may think of predominantly black regions in our area in certain ways. We want to call the police when we don’t have evidence the person is causing a problem. We may place blame on people of color instead of unjust systems. In any case, these little cells of bias need to be brought to the surface, and we need to see how they can impact not just people unlike us, but our whole communities.

So if we all act out of and make decisions from these little cells of bias living inside of us, it’s going to impact our overall system.

There are healthy people and unhealthy people in every industry. And the ones who act out of their unhealthy nature need to be held accountable. And this includes people who cover things up.

I believe police who act out of biases (implicit or explicit), who join along with mob mentality in a group, or cover things up should be held accountable. It’s like the sexual assault scandal in the Catholic Church and other denominations. It couldn’t go unchecked – including people who cover things up. We as pastors are held to a very high standard. We have our committee on ministry who is part of our check-and-balance system, and it’s because some people misuse their power. All industries should have a check-and-balance system. As the Bible says in Luke 12 “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Those of us in any type of power must evaluate our places and our biases to keep systems healthy.

There needs to be a change to the overall system. As I said – more accountability. Let’s do more psychological testing – I had to go through quite a bit before becoming a pastor! Also, if a law enforcement individual is seen inside or outside of their job saying something explicitly racist, then they need to be suspended or fired. If we all act out of implicit biases to some extent, then explicitly racist people will act out of their undeniable, explicit racism. And it gets ugly! This is where some of the issues of our country have stemmed.

(Reiterating again: Of course, not all police officers are bad. Absolutely not! I know many wonderful law enforcement officials. But because we all have a sense of brokenness in our lives, all of us sometimes act out of the brokenness. Our brokenness may be severe like explicit racists. Or it may be deep down within us, hiding the small cells of bias, and we don’t know it as well and we support unhealthy systems. That’s why we all need to evaluate what we’ve been taught along the way and what biases we’ve held onto. Even healthier people can act out of their deep, unchecked biases. It doesn’t mean they are bad, but that we all have work to do on what we think and what we’ve been taught.)

Unjust systems are bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than just police, and we cannot put all of our focus there. I think many are forgetting to talk about how big all of these problems are. Lots of things are connected – like poverty, racism, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, and more. Biases exist all along the way. So that’s why reforms have to happen. Unfortunately,  like we read in The New Jim Crow or you may see in the documentary 13th (I highly recommend both!), some of these laws are biased towards people of color. It may be time to create healthy system of rehabilitation instead of keeping people in prison – especially if they can start a new life in healthy ways. And it may be time for us to understand why some laws were created along the way.

I say all of these things because my black friends’ lives matter. So do black strangers’ lives. From the time I was in seminary, I’ve heard their pain up close and personal, and it’s breaking my heart. I cannot stay silent on all of this because their lives and their well being and their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health matter to me. So that’s why I stand where I do because like in Jeremiah 29:7 in creating the well-being of others we all will find our well-being.

*****

Thanks for hanging in there this long! Ok, so some of you aren’t going to like what I said it parts of what I said. My liberal friends will think I didn’t speak far enough on these issues. My conservative friends will think I spoke too much. I tried to verbalize where I was the best I can to speak to a general audience. I couldn’t stay silent anymore because I had to write something that could help all of us see things from different angles. I kept my faith and advocated that we must do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

It’s Time to Reframe Love’s Look

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I’ve been thinking about what love has meant to me in the first 47 years of my life.  Signs of affection and respect meant hugs and handshakes, respectively.  It meant being close to people – placing an arm around someone or a pat on the back when they’ve needed extra encouragement.

As a pastor and because of appropriate boundaries, there are firmer boundaries when it comes to expressing care to those in our congregation.  Holding the hand of someone who is struggling, placing a hand on the shoulder, giving a congregant a handshake, and, if they initiated, maybe a slight hug would have been in the boundaries.  But none of these are in the bounds of appropriate contact anymore.

Now, love and care must be expressed differently.  Love no longer includes sharing hugs and handshakes with the ones we care about.  We can’t share these acts of affection at church or with family.  Even someone like me who keeps firm boundaries with many can’t hold the hand of someone struggling with intense grief.

And that is mind-blowing to our twenty-first century brains.

How can we rewire our brains to affirm that staying away means love?  How can we reframe the whole concept of physical touching and close proximity as a negative approach to loving our friends and neighbors?  Of course, the very closest people to us we will probably always give hugs.  But this won’t be common as we welcome our professional contacts and friends.

Each time I watch Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 version with Colin Firth, of course), I’m intrigued by the way they would greet one another.  There wouldn’t be many handshakes and definitely no hugging.  But they would bow and curtsy when greeting another person.  It seemed formal, yet in today’s world, this would be in the scope of what could be allowed.

So whether we decide to bow or curtsy, place our hands over our hearts or give a peace sign, we need to work on embracing our fondness and respect for people from afar.  We are called to accept this opposite-concept in the next year or two as we begin to emerge from our quarantine cocoons and wait for a vaccine or new treatments to COVID-19.  Close physical distance no longer means love.  We are turning everything we know about welcoming and hospitality on it heads.  Yet maybe by loving from afar, we will save lives.  We will attempt to keep the ones we love well.  We will discover what are the most important ways to express love and concern.  And by doing so, we remain healthy too.

Living as the Vine and Branches in the Era of COVID-19: A Worship Liturgy

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This week, I’m going off lectionary to continue to preach on the challenges of COVID-19.  I suppose I feel called to preach on the John 15 text that we see in Easter year B.  As part of the sermon, I will be using the 1 Corinthians 12 “Body of Christ” text as well.

Entry into Worship
Like a vine wrapped around a fence,
the Divine thrives in our world.
Like each flourishing branch of the vine,
we, too, blossom in our connection to God and neighbor.
Even though we may be worshiping in individual spaces,
Through the Spirit, we are forever united.
When the complete vine suffers, we all suffer together.
When humankind struggles, we all struggle together.
May we see our well-being as a piece of the whole
and as connected to God and neighbor.

Invocation
God of Connections, in this world of isolation, bring us closer together in ways we’ve never previously experienced.  In this world of heartache, call us to use words and deeds to bring comfort to our neighbors.  Grant us the lens to see our siblings across this world as a part of our realm.  May we balance our desire for fierce autonomy with a growing sense of the covenant we have with you and neighbor.   Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
Loving God, Divine Connector,
Right now, we have few opportunities to look into the eyes of our neighbors-
from friend to stranger
and from those who bring us comfort to those who bring us uneasiness.
Because of this physical distance, we are forgetting the great connection between all of us.
We make decisions based only on our needs.
We dismiss concerns, ailments, and the despair of our neighbors.
We forget their health is connected to our health,
and their prosperity is tied with ours.
In this season of wilderness, may we see that loving our neighbor as ourselves is a piece of your Great Commandment,
and may we begin to see how the well-being of all are linked.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace
The God of Humankind, our Great Connector, continues to open our spirits to the needs of our neighbors.  God continually pours grace upon our souls, calling us to new beginnings and hope-filled futures.  Amen!

Reflection on Giving
The Divine Connector, Christ, the Great Vine, calls us to see how our actions impact the lives of others.  God our Connector directs us to how our treasures, talents, and time are best used in this season.  Even in this time of quarantine and wilderness, we are being asked to give as we can to our neighbors, our community, and our congregation.  By our contributions, we promote healing between neighbors and gratitude for what God has given each of us.

In this spirit of thanksgiving, we pray together,

Holy Binder, you yearn for your children to join together for the well-being of all.  You desire that each of us shares our gifts for the unity of your kin-dom.  With gratitude, we celebrate the treasures, talents, and time we contribute to our church and community.  May our work and our gifts nourish each branch on the Great Vine.  Amen.

Benediction
May God, the Great Connector, open our souls to the ones across our cities.
May Christ, the Great Vine, open our hearts to the ones across our states.
May the Holy Spirit, the Great Soul, open our minds to the ones across our country and world.
We are many branches on the one Great Vine.
Love and care for the people connected to this Vine as if each of our well-beings depend on it.
Amen.

A Prayer at the End of a Quarantined Day

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God of the Night Sky,
whose stars brighten our transition into tomorrow
bless the holiness that is the end of this day.

For the deeds left undone and the words unsaid,
may your grace bring me peace.

For any disappointments I’ve created and love unshared,
pour your mercy on me.

Thank you for understanding me-
my fatigued body
my exhausted mind
my heart full of grief.

Oh how I miss this world before this.

I miss my Sunday mornings full of energy
and my Thursday night meetings.
I miss running into a store when I need one item,
and I miss eating in restaurants with friends.

So there is sadness this day,
and you know this God.

So bless my tears.
Bless my humanity.
Bless my friends separated by space but not hearts

With a body that hurts and a heart that aches,
know that I’ve given this day my all.

“Now I lay me down to sleep…”
I pray to you, God, a soul of peace.

Amen.

Easter 5A in Quarantine: Refuge in God

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Texts used this week include John 14:1-21 and Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

Entry Into Worship
Your space was prepared for you.
In this time, you are where you need to be.
Embrace the Spirit sent by God
In our quarantine dwellings.
Receive the gift of refuge, knowing that God is near.
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Release the worry and abide in God.

Invocation
Divine Architect, as we abide in our homes, we wonder what will come next.  We grieve what we have left behind, and we mourn the life we are no longer living.  Fill us with a new Spirit, that we can vision a future filled with joy.  May we spend this time rejoicing in the power of Divine Hope, knowing that your presence is forever with us, God.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
Have we forgotten about you God?  Have we turned our eyes away from your presence?  In this time, we have welcomed crutches to endure this time of loneliness and uncertainty.  We have forgotten that you are our Great Supplier of Hope and Root of All Faith.  May we begin to invest our trust in you instead of false idols.  May we begin to adopt the practice of gratitude in our daily lives.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace
The steadfast love of God journeys with us forever – in the peaks and valleys of our pilgrimage.  May we embrace the grace which stems from God’s love.  Amen!

Reflection on Giving
In God, we seek our refuge.  In our Divine Architect, we find our wisdom.  Even in this season of the unknown, God is caring for us.  And we are called to give what we have to care for our church, our community, and our world.  We are nudged to give what we can to share the Good News of God’s unconditional and steadfast love for each of us.

In a spirit of thanksgiving, we pray together-

Holy God, Divine Architect, in your presence we find a peaceful refuge.  In your presence, we are called to keep your commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Give us the courage and strength to carry your light into our communities and world with the talents, time, and treasures you have bestowed upon us.  We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, our Compass in unsure times, Amen. 

Benediction
As we dream of a future with hope,
We seek our refuge in God.
We find enduring comfort in the Holy Spirit.
We embrace the peace furnished by Jesus the Christ.
We will not let our hearts be troubled or afraid
as the steadfast presence of the Divine is in our midst
giving us the vision to look ahead to the future with love and hope.
Amen.

(c) 2020 Rev. Michelle L. Torigian.  Permission to us with attribution.

Good Shepherd Sunday in Quarantine – Easter 4A

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Entry Into Worship
What is abundant life
And where do we see it in our homes?
How can we see bounty in the wilderness,
As boundaries restrict us from living our “fullest” life
Do we perceive God’s generosity?
On what in our lives is God’s light shining?  To what type of service is God calling us next?
May worship be a tool of discernment, a flashlight in the shadows, and a celebration of God’s generosity of Spirit.

Invocation
Holy Shepherd, Divine Leader, we look towards you in this time of quarantine.  From nights in isolation to our days of fog and bewilderment, we search for your healing presence.  We seek your wisdom and guidance in the coming weeks as we look towards the future.  May your Spirit of Hope permeate our souls as we wander in the shadow-filled valleys.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
Loving God, Divine Shepherd, we listen for your voice, but get drawn by some distracting voices squawking nonsense.  We allow these loud voices to lead us instead of your wisdom.  May we focus on and enact your intentions for our world, our country, our communities, our church, and our own lives.  May your steadfast love and mercy call us on healthy paths which cares for all of of your children.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace
The gift of God is grace which pours over us and leads us to still waters.  May we embrace second chances in God’s mercy which will accompany us throughout our entire lives.  Amen.

Reflection on Giving
The Good Shepherd, our God, requests that we learn from Jesus the Christ’s example.  Through Jesus, we see the ways we are to serve one another.  Through Jesus, we see the leader who is willing to ensure that all neighbors live the abundant life.  What can we sacrifice to ensure our neighbors’ needs are met?  What can we give to ensure that our congregation is able to fulfill its mission and share the good news during this pandemic?  This is our opportunity to see where God is calling us to share our treasures, time, and talents.

In a spirit of gratitude for the gifts that God gives to us, we pray together,

Divine Shepherd, your presence is the rod and staff which brings us peace.  We know we are called to follow your lead.  Open our souls ready to live into a spirit of abundance instead of a mindset of scarcity.  Open our hearts to your flock – your children across our communities and world who are struggling.  Open our minds to the possibilities of how we can share our gifts during this challenging time.  May we continue to focus on your voice as we discern what is next for us.  Amen.

Benediction
As we leave our time together today-
May God find you pillows of comfort on which you will rest your head.
May God lead you to places and in ways that will keep you healthy and safe.
May God restore your souls during the long days and nights of quarantine.
We will not fear, for you are with us God. 
You will follow us to the ends of the earth and remain with us in our homes.
Your goodness, mercy, and steadfast love will accompany us,
And we will dwell in your loving embrace our whole life long.
Amen.

(c) 2020 Rev. Michelle L. Torigian.  Permission to use with attribution.

Easter 3A in Quarantine: God Sightings

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Entry Into Worship
When the light of today dims into the horizon,
God will accompany us into tomorrow.
As our health wanes and our hope lessens,
God will fill our lives with new possibilities.
As loneliness overtakes our hearts,
God’s embrace will fill us with comfort.
In these long days facing the unknown,
God’s peace will last with us into eternity.

Invocation
Holy Winds of Hope, as we continue in uncharted territories, may your breezes nudge us to look around us.  As the wilderness surrounds our souls, may we still see your presence in the flowers in front of us, with our kin sheltering with us, and in the star-filled sky above us.  We need not seek far; we can sense you in the voices echoing on phone calls and video chats.  With gratitude, we share our joy that you are near, today and always.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
God of Steadfast Presence, as we grow to know these shadows next to us, we focus on the lack of light.  We stop seeking the light that comes from you and which brings us peace.  We direct our attention to loud voices of distraction instead of the stillness of you, God.  Our minds are wrapped around news feeds and tomorrow’s concerns.  We focus on everything else and miss the God-sightings in our midst.  Open us to your presence next to us.  Grab our attention so that we sense you in front of us now instead of barely noticing you in our rearview mirror.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace  
We are forgiven for the ways we have missed God next to us.  God understands the mind and heart of humans, and God will appear to us again and again.  Amen!

Reflection on Giving
If we keep searching, keep exploring, we will notice God’s presence near us.  And we will detect the needs of our siblings across our communities as well.  We will discern God’s call of the ways we need to care for this congregation as well as the people outside of the church’s walls.

This has been a time for us to seek God in the wilderness and to listen to the ways that God is asking us to be creative in ministry, communication, and care.  What is God asking us to do next?  In what ways will the gifts we contribute this week further the mission and ministry of our congregation in this time of exile?

We give thanks for God’s calling and for the treasures, time, and talents provided by God.  With gratitude, we pray together:

Divine Presence, in these times of wilderness, you shine your light upon us.  You help us to realize our purpose and give us wisdom on the best ways to utilize our gifts.  Open our souls to possibilities on how we can minister and share your love with our church and community – even when we are miles apart.  Amen.

Benediction
In the steps we take today, tomorrow, or sometime this week, God of Hope, 
May we see your presence directly in front of us.
May we feel your presence in the winds above us.
May we smell your presence in the flowers around us.
May we taste your presence in the food surrounding us.
May we hear your presence in the laughter which comes from within us.
For you are always a part of our exiles, our promise lands, our dreams, and our eternities.  Amen.

Written by Rev. Michelle L. Torigian.  Feel free to use/adapt this liturgy with attribution.

Easter 2A in Quarantine: Peace Be With You

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Entry into Worship
Peace floats on the breezes
And peace sails on the calm waters.
Peace is heard in the dove’s coos
And in a child’s laughter.
Today, we pray for peace-
A peace which transcends the restlessness in our world,
A peace which fills our souls with hope.

Invocation
Divine Architect of Peace, the waves of anxiety crash upon us daily.  Will we have enough?  Will we survive? When will “normal” return?  We are riding the swells of the emotional seas.  God of Peace, in this great storm of life, calm the waters.  In the howling wilderness, settle the gusts. For you are our source of peace, our deliverer of serenity.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
Holy Tranquility, we listen to the news instead of seeking your serenity.  We read article after article instead of meditating upon your presence. Your child spoke “Peace be with you,” and we turned our backs.  Help us to focus on the hope of resurrection and renewal instead of the world’s destructive preoccupations. May we focus our care in ways that are constructive for our neighbors across this community, country, and world during this pandemic and times of isolation.  May we turn our worry into acts of mercy and justice. Encourage us to seek help for overwhelming anxiety so that we can live whole and healthy lives. Amen.

Assurance of Grace
Even when we turn our backs to God’s peace, God continues to send holy calmness in our direction.  May we continue to open our souls to this steadfast peace which already surrounds us. Amen!

Reflection on Giving
In this season of uncertainty, we often want to hide in the caves of scarcity.  Instead, God calls for us to give in a spirit of abundance. Through these gifts, we are able to reach many people outside of the church’s walls.  Through these treasures, our mission continues – even when the world slows down.

With hearts of hope and openness, we pray together…

Divine Tranquility, may we embrace your steadfast peace.  Through your peace, may we confidently give our treasures, talent, and time in order for the work of the church to continue.  Through your peace, may our congregation utilize these gifts wisely to reach a world filled with anxiety and uncertainty and to share your hope and love.  Amen.

Benediction
As this morning starts a new week, may we embrace the peace of God-
A peace which will carry us through moments of turmoil,
A peace which will connect us with God and neighbor,
A peace which will ask us to be still, and get to know God,
A peace which surpasses our understanding.
May the hope of God, the peace of Christ, and the love of the Spirit
chase away despair and encourage us to embrace divine serenity.
Amen!

Written by Rev. Michelle L. Torigian.  Feel free to use/adapt this liturgy with attribution.