Grieving the Saints

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Death’s bite clenched my heart again this year. While the loss of my dad stings even almost 14 months after his death, I’ve had three friends pass in the last week.

The third friend died on November first: All Saints’ Day.

The thick fog of grief hovered as the new month was ushered into our lives. From the deaths of years ago to the crisp new blustery winds of grief’s winter, my heart feels deep sadness. Even when the people who die aren’t the closest of friends or relatives, often we feel off. Like a mild cold or minor infection in our bodies, something is not quite right. We aren’t crying for hours, but our minds are distracted.

This is grief too. Even when someone isn’t close, their loss impacts our world because our connection with one another is deep and eternal.

For all the saints, we give gratitude. For all the saints, we sing a bittersweet melody. For all the saints, we celebrate blissful memories.

 

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Eden in the Wilderness (A Prayer for Our Tree of Life Siblings)

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“For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
– Isaiah 51:3

Your prophets told the people that Eden would be here.  Your prophets foretold comfort and joy, gardens and gladness.

And upon arrival, only wastelands stand.

So where is this flowering land?  Where is the spiritual destination foretold?  Where is the sanctuary where soul and body are safe and nourished?  They thought they had arrived…

And yet – only the raw wilderness remains.

Rather than a wilderness flourishing like Eden, this garden remains rocky.  Its sandy soil erodes with each bigoted downpour.

The diaspora people in their new orchards struggle for the fruits to blossom while deep, infiltrating weeds of privilege sprout and strangle.  The flowerbeds cannot abide in beauty while wayward shrubs obstruct the sun’s streams of healing and nurture.

We keep praying for comfort.  Comfort the people.  Comfort our neighbors.  But the warm winds are blocked by the biting breeze of bigotry.

We ask again for their comfort.  And, this time, we must ask for our complacency to end.  We must work for our inertia to end.

Divine Cultivator, even when the winds are harsh and the weeds unruly, let us be willing to abide together in orchards.  Let us be willing to sow together in new gardens, and may we be willing to uproot the crabgrass which overtakes healthy soil.

May Eden abide in the diaspora, and may we be willing to cultivate Eden with all your gardeners.

Amen.

 

© 2018   Rev. Michelle L. Torigian.  Permission is given to reproduce for worship or educational purposes.

A Prayer for Christine Blasey Ford (And All Telling Their Painful Stories)

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God, you waited with us in our shadows,
You currently abides with us on thresholds
And you will walk with us in the sun-

Today, a voice will exclaim her truth.
And you will be with her.

There have been many women and men throughout the ages who have sat in chairs-
Watching as they’ve expressed themselves
And detailed a piece of their past.

Yet trauma awaits them in the chambers,
Lurking behind tables,
Entering the room through vicious questions and piercing stares.

May peace rest upon the heart of Christine
And may her soul be soothed.

May others who need to tell their stories – whether related to this particular case
Or other cases-
Find your strength that already abides in their hearts.

And for the questioners…
May wisdom fill their dreams as they sleep.
And as they wake,
May your clarity guide them when speaking
And may openness stir them into listening.

For the ones who commit such abuses,
Who have left scars upon the spirits of many,
May your voice enter their minds.
May the winds of change nudge them to repent
Not only for the survivors, but for the spiritual survival of our world.

We are slowing moving towards justice.
May Christine find healing
May we say her name, Anita’s Name,
The names of women throughout times and spaces –
From Tamar to Vashti and many more.
In lifting their resilience and courage
We will find ours too.

Amen.

A Prayer for the Ones Not Believed

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DF9B4F19-B887-4D73-84EB-1A6D4B6CE86FGod of the vocal cords and facial expressions and gestures…

Sometimes there are times when we remain quiet in our trauma. Sometimes we wonder if our words matter and our bravery will transcend injustice.

But most of the time we remember the experience when our words evaporated quickly after attempting to express ourselves.

Do we say anything if we know it will fall on closed ears? And the tougher question with which to wrestle is this: what if they turn it around and the blame falls on us?

We become the Eves and the Gomers and the Jezebels when we assert our value. And we think to ourselves “why bother???”

So when we are questioned years later as to why we remained silent, hopefully they will understand. Hopefully.

(You understand this God, right?)

A slow triumph- the stories are emerging. They linger longer and fill our world with much-needed discomfort.

And through you, Holy Narrative, we find our voices. Your strength and courage deliver us from trauma to peace and from injustice to righteousness.

I believe the stories. You believe them too, God.

Let’s do this.

Amen.

Women’s Agency and Autonomy on Trial

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Shrugging off has been our mode of coping.  Most of us women have shrugged sexual assault or harassment as it was happening – either because we hadn’t wrapped our minds around what happened or we know we wouldn’t be believed.

And we, ourselves, do not want to go on trial when we did nothing wrong.

It’s exhausting to live in a word in which we have to be hyper-vigilant while also knowing that even in our vigilance we may still be taken advantage of.  Even when we work to ensure our own safety and assault occurs, we know we will transformed from victim/survivor to evil voice.  We will become the demon, the Eve, the Jezebel, the Gomer – all wrapped into one – when coming forth about the incident.

Living eighteen years after the turn of the millennium and nearly 100 years after women began to get the right to vote (although not all women), we still fall short of what it means to be fully human.

There’s a message we hear from our leaders and institutions:

We don’t care about your bodies.  We don’t care about your health.  We don’t care about your livelihood.  In many ways like people of color or immigrants or LGBTQ people, you matter less.

We don’t want you to make decisions about your bodies.  We want to make them.  We want to use them when it is convenient for us.  We want to control them to ensure that a traditional patriarchal system continues.  We want to dispose of them when they no longer suit us or if they don’t fit our ideal standard for what a woman should be.

This is how it feels.

And when I read the story of Lot offering his daughters to be raped just to keep the men whole and holy, it makes me sick.  It’s not just a story that was told centuries before the birth of Jesus.  It’s also a story in which many people believe is the inspired Word of God.

So God would rather women be raped than men?  Why do either need to be raped?  Why are we not bettering our systems to hold rapists accountable?

Which brings us to this standing theology: Men’s bodies are holy.  Womens bodies are sinful and unclean.  Men are to be believed.  Women should endure pain because they aren’t as fully human as men, right?

(As someone who endures chronic pain due to reproductive health issues, I’ve felt dismissed by doctors on more than one occasion – even female doctors.  I’ve seen the health of my friends dismissed as I’ve notice the maternal mortality rate hanging too high for a developed nation.)

Between this story of alleged rape, the story that Kavanaugh wanted female clerks with a “certain” look, and his record on women’s reproductive health care rights, I see the larger picture of Kavanaugh and how he values – or doesn’t – women’s autonomy and agency.

And I know – he hired many women to serve as his clerks.  But the way a Generation X man devalues a woman will be different than a man who is a Boomer or from an earlier generation.  The way that one man devalues a woman is different than man from another generation or a man from his own generation.  He may hire a woman because he knows that women provide intellectual services yet may still believe that a woman still holds less autonomy and agency in other areas of her existence.  A man can appreciate a woman’s mind while still objectifying a woman’s body.

So I stand against any nominee for the SCOTUS or anyone leader in our Executive or Legislative Branch who carries on this ethos of male supremacy.  I stand against a system that doesn’t question what he’s done or the choices he has made.  Shouldn’t we have learned something from the time that Clarence Thomas was accused?  It’s been well over 25 years; shouldn’t we be farther along in the process of full autonomy and dignity for all women?  Shouldn’t we choose presidents who don’t take advantage of subordinates or assault women or pay women or brag about what they can do to women without their full consent?  There are men in both parties who have devalued women.  Why do they still have power?

We are women.  We deserve to walk at night or go to parties or hang out in social clubs or anything else without having to worry about being raped.  We deserve to go to work without being harassed.  We deserve to go to doctors and be believed because we know something isn’t right with our bodies.  We are not disposable, and we are fully human.

When will the powers-that-be in America and across the world believe us?

Or will we humans still be having this conversation in three thousand years – just like the story of Lot’s daughters?

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – I believe you.  You are a beloved child of God.  You are made in the Image of God.  No one can take that from you – no matter how hard they try in these next few days.  And we have your back.

A Labor Day Communion Liturgy

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One: Creator of the harvest- We lift our voices in praise!
Many: Creator of the table – In you we find our peace.
One: In gratitude we gather to share this meal.
Many: With thanksgiving, we gather to share our love for neighbor.

One: As the sun sets earlier, the days become cooler, and the crops near harvest, we celebrate the plenitude of fruits available to us.  We acknowledge the ways that we can use our gifts to care for our siblings in need.  We extend this table through the work of our hands and the missions of this church.

As we celebrate this sacrament, may we remember the laborers in the fields:
The harvesters of the wheat and grapes.
The transporters of the their yields.
Those who transform wheat into bread and grapes into juice.

Bless their hands and feet as they labor at farms and gardens, in trucks and warehouses.  We give thanks for the ones who prepare the table here today.  May their gifts of preparation and hospitality inspire us to extend hospitality to the strangers among us.

After laboring on the streets of Jerusalem-
Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God-
Jesus clutched bread in his hands.  He blessed the food, gave thanks, and heartfully expressed to his friends that this was the bread of life.  “As you eat this bread, remember me.”

After supper, Jesus grasped the cup filled with the gifts of the vine.  In his blessing, he reminded them “whenever you drink of this cup, remember me.”

Spirit of wisdom and of wonder, wind around these elements today.  May they stir us from stagnation into actively loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  May our participation at this table transform us into the people God is calling us to be.

With gratitude, we gather at this table.  As we take a piece of bread, let us experience the love of God as seen in Jesus the Christ.  As we immerse the bread into the cup, let us remember the grace that pours from God.

A Prayer for the Choir

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God of harmonies and melodies,
Of clanging and clashing cymbals,
Of sopranos and basses, of tenors and altos-

As voices unite together in this new season,
Bless the vibration of vocal cords
And the lungs which birth the songs.

May the words streaming from their spirits
Be ones in which unite us with You and neighbor.
May each stanza strengthen the souls of Your children
And may the chorus invigorate static hearts.

May those absorbing the sounds and beats of these tunes
Experience your presence through song.

Divine Symphony of Love,
Our hearts of gratitude celebrate this ensemble
And all who gift us with music.

Amen.

A Prayer for the Cast and Crew

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Creating God, Divine Inspiration-
For human imagination we give gratitude.

We ask for blessings upon performers inhabiting stages
And opening themselves up to the present moment.
May their joy for the craft be contagious to all.

For the costumers and sound production technicians,
For the makeup artists and light operators,
For the ones preparing props and raising curtains-
May Your wisdom fill their minds and Your precision fill their hands.

For directors, choreographers, stage managers, and orchestral directors-
May their positive leadership infuse all people active in the production.
May Your vision dance within their heads
And Your dreams fill their souls.

We give thanks for the hospitality of ushers
And the presence of the audience.
May the shared experience of the show be one in which we grow to love humanity.

Bless all cast and crew – no matter who they are or what part they play.
Like Your world, it takes all of us acting together-
Using our sacred time and our unique talents-
To make Your Divine-infused creation to revolve.

Amen.

The Refugee

A throwback post as you march for refugees and immigrants today…

Michelle L. Torigian

IMG_0426I am the granddaughter of a refugee.

Without the courage and resilience of my grandfather, I wouldn’t be here in this country.  I wouldn’t have privilege.  I may not have food or housing or the respect I deserve as a woman.

Or I may not be alive.  I may never have been born.

Somewhere back in each of our histories, I can imagine that we have the one person who was a refugee, an alien in a new land during a time of exile.  In the diaspora, they were strangers and lived on the grace and hospitality of others.

Exodus 22 says that we “shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

My grandfather was an alien, a refugee.

My grandfather told me the ugly stories of genocide, of wandering around the Caucasus region for years as an Armenian during and after…

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Art and Life in Step: The Handmaid and the Refugee Parent

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This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale, season 2, episode 10.

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I can’t imagine a more apropos episode of The Handmaid’s Tale for today.

Earlier today, I saw the following Instagram from Elizabeth Moss:

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I had a feeling I knew where this episode was going…

After some very brutal scenes earlier in the episode that needs a trigger warning, the last 1/3 of the show presents us with a familiar storyline. June/Offred is granted the opportunity to visit her daughter Hannah and spend a few rare moments with her child. As we see earlier in the series, the child was kidnapped from her parents and June was forced into sexual and surrogate slavery.

The conversation is heartbreaking. As their visit continues, the child asks her (former) mother why she didn’t try hard enough to look for her. She hides behind the Martha as she is so unfamiliar with the woman that gave birth to her and raised her for the early years of her life. Hannah screams out for her mother as people pry the child out of the mother’s arms at the end of their short visit. The two do not know whether or not they will see each other again.

So this is just another dystopian series, right?

Or is this too real?

What we see in this episode and hear on the news are eerily similar: children being ripped from the arms and lives of their parents.

(As they filmed the episode, I highly doubt they knew this episode would be airing this week of all weeks.)

Like what is going on today, the party who very much wants to push a pro-family platform destroys families that cross their path.  Children are ripped from the lives of their parents, undoubtedly crying themselves to sleep as they abide in a world of uncertainty.

Some people believe it’s part of God’s plan or divine intervention that such horrific moves are made. They want us to follow they demands of the government instead of God’s ethics. And yet, as they continue to believe they are the good guys, our world becomes like Canada in The Handmaid’s Tale: seeing a humanitarian crisis unfold.

Like some posts I’ve seen online this week, leaders in the Bible who separated children from their parents were not the “good guys.” Rather, they were Pharaoh and Herod. They were notorious not only for taking children away but killing them as well.

I don’t think any “Good Christian” wants to identify with the two of them. But here our Jesus-professing leaders are- following in their footsteps.

Dystopia is a breath away from us right now, America. When children and parents are ripped apart from one another, and the children are kept in cages, not allowed to be picked by adults, and may never see their parents again, the distopian nightmare is real.

You may read this and say the refugees have broken the law. But they came here because their living conditions were so unstable and dangerous. And we turn our backs on them. We’ve been told over and over in Scripture that we are to care for the orphan, widow, and alien/stranger, and we ignore the many Biblical texts that give us this mandate. No matter what the law says or what the powers-that-be want the law to look like, Jesus was (1) a refugee and (2) a law breaker as he healed on the sabbath. Our powers-that-be wish to forget this.

I encourage each of you to watch the last 1/3 of the episode. Hear the screams between mother and child. Watch the tears swelling in their eyes. This is not fiction. This is not dystopia. This is America in 2018.