Pentecost Prayers

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Hello Friends!

I adore Pentecost. I suppose it’s the non-commercial tendencies of the holiday, the illustrations of nature that accompany the celebration, and the renewing nature of L the Holy Spirit.

Below is a link for a call to worship and opening prayer that I wrote in 2015. Also below is a link to a communion liturgy that I wrote last year.

CALL TO WORSHIP
One:​Listen for the Winds.
Many:​We hear the howling uncertainty.
One:​Feel the Breeze.
Many:​Air of comfort encircles us.
One:​See the world swaying.
Many:​The Spirit stirs us from complacency.
One:​Inhale the Breath.
Many:​The Spirit saturates our souls.

OPENING PRAYER
Restless Spirit, Fiery God,
You ignite our soul with the flames of inspiration-
Light our dimly-lit minds,
Burn in our chilled hearts.
Clear our eyes to see visions from afar.
Kindle our sleep with your dreams.
May we walk in the glowing path of Christ. Amen.

Communion liturgy for Pentecost

Prayer on RevGalBlogPals that can be used as a pastoral prayer

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A Prayer for Graduates

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accomplishment-ceremony-college-267885God of sunrises, new years and next chapters,
In this season of closing doors and cleaning out lockers and saying goodbye
May we remember that commencement means beginning.

May these brilliant souls remember their place on the Great Vine-
That you call them to spaces where they can strengthen the world
And love their neighbors as themselves.
May they embrace opportunities to inhale knowledge
And may they feast on wisdom.

May they know their place here at the Table of Christ
Remains open for them to dine with us again.

May grace abound in these next chapters-
Whether in classrooms or workplaces or on pilgrimages to find their callings.
When failing or falling occurs on their road,
May they know the joy of rising again.

No matter where they journey or how far they travel.
May they see your light leading their journey,
Your comfort to give them peace when traveling gets tough,
And love to sustain them in the frigid winters and blazing summers.

Amen.

 

Mother’s Day Free Spaces

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How many of our churches are Mother’s Day free spaces?

I ask this because many women do not want to come to church on Mother’s Day.  We don’t want people to talk about it, or reward moms or even just celebrate a roll that we are supposed to embrace.  There are many people in our churches who can’t have children or don’t want to or had awful parents.

They do not want to come to church on Sunday.

And yet, we look at this like a holy day.  While parents are holy people, Mother’s Day is not on the liturgical calendar.  Granted, the Law tells us to honor our mothers and fathers.  But scripture also gives us many instances when women were hurting because they couldn’t conceive.

Would Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, Rebekah, Tamar be welcome in our worship places this Sunday?  What about Elizabeth, mother of John?

Ideally, it would be wonderful to stop with the Mother’s Day gushing in sacred spaces – because women who want to worship but who also are triggered by this day won’t show up.  They aren’t welcome because they do not feel safe in the space.  Their emotions are not strong enough to carry them from the beginning to end of the service.

We may even give all of the women flowers or candy.
We may even pray for all women – including the ones hurting and enduring loss.
But they do not feel safe.

So on this Mother’s Day – even when our churches will go ahead with handing flowers and candy to women – please remember the following:

Not all women are mothers
Not all women are able to bear children.
Some moms in the room may have lost a baby.
Some have had miscarriages.
Some are facing fertility issues.
Some women have not had the opportunity to have children because life happened.
Some do not want to have them.
Some people in the room have had traumatic relationship with their moms.
Some people lost their mom in the past year and didn’t realize how this day in church would be triggering to them.
Some people have two dads or never had a mom because of family structures.  A day like this brings awkwardness – even if we honor the fathers a month later.
Some women came to church just to worship and not focus on this.

So acknowledge this day if you must – but do so in a way that is inclusive in nature.  Honor all women because it takes a village to raise children.  Honor families who have lost mothers in the past year.  Ask families who hurt on this day how can we make worship more welcoming of them.  If you have two services maybe keep one Mother’s Day-free.

It’s our job to make sure to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  Our call is to ensure those who hurt are comforted, those who celebrate feel joyful and to challenge preconceived notions and stereotypes when the opportunity arises.

And sometimes all of that happens on Mother’s Day.

See my other stories regarding grief on Mother’s Day:
Between Childless and Childfree
Affirming All Women in Church on Mother’s Day
When Cheesecake is More Than Cheesecake
The Plans We Make

 

 

Hagar, the Handmaid, and the Other Women

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IMG_8226Note: This post includes spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale, season 2, episode 4 entitled “Other Women.”

I see the story of Hagar in a brand new light.

Imagine that Hagar, concubine of Abram, as a young woman forced to live with a family in a new society framework.   Imagine that as they analyze her monthly cycle, she is required to have sexual relations with the man of the house.  Imagine that she cannot say no to the process – that this is her life.

This is the life of handmaid Offred – June – in the story The Handmaid’s Tale.  And this is essentially the story of Hagar.

What do we know about Hagar?  Chapter 16 of Genesis tells us that she was a slave.  She was Egyptian.  She is accused by Sarai of contempt.  She is abused by Sarai and runs away.  Years later, after she gives birth to Ishmael, she is thrown out of the community with little resources and forced into the wilderness only with her child.

The mother of Ishmael was a handmaid.  She was forced to conceive against her will.

June/Offred is Hagar.  And Hagar is a handmaid.  Like Hagar, June couldn’t say no.  Like Hagar she was property, and one of her jobs was to serve as a surrogate – a working reproductive system – for a more-privileged couple.  Like Hagar, she will undoubtedly be cast aside after she gives birth.

See the wilderness where Hagar is cast?  The Colonies may appear different, but they are exile, nonetheless.

June is viewed by Serena Joy through a lens of jealousy.  Sarai saw Hagar through a similar lens of envy, and Sarai expressed that jealousy by abusing Hagar.  In Genesis 16, Sarai is told by her husband that she can do what she wants to with her slave Hagar.  It states that Sarai “dealt harshly” with Hagar which resulted in Hagar running away.  June also runs away… only to be captured again by the powers-that-be.  While the Genesis 16 texts states that Hagar is convinced by God to go back, was that the way it really would happen?  Would God instruct a slave to return to their abusive masters?

Do I believe Hagar wanted to “show contempt” with Sarai?  No.  Do I believe that she was wrongly accused.  Probably.  If she showed contempt it was because Hagar was given the opportunity to feel some power in a powerless situation.  While it says that Sarai has the power, in all honesty, Abram has all of the power.  The patriarchal systems during the time of Abram and Sarai allowed some women to have power over others.  In all actuality, the system put into place by the men during the time fostered a environment where the women hated one another – just like in Gilead.

Sound familiar?  Like Sarai, Serena Joy has power over the handmaid but is also a slave in the system.  She is complicit and a pawn.  June lives in an oppressive system which favors some women over others with handmaids being physically and emotionally abused by the other women – especially by the wives and Aunt Lydia.

Abram looks like the innocent soul in all of this.  Frankly, after watching this show, I can no longer see how this makes Abram greater than Fred.  Abram undoubtedly has sex with Hagar against her will – or at the very least without her free and willing consent.  The patriarchy gives permission to the men to reign over the rest of the society as they peg women against women to achieve their goals.

Is it much different today?  There are slaves in our world- ones that are forced to work and have sex in order to build society and some men’s egos.  We see how slaves are rented to men for a night of sex.  Very often, what appears to be prostitution is the story of women who are forced to be a part of physical intimacy against their will.

But there is another part of all of this.  And with Mother’s Day coming up, I feel like it needs to be said: our system is built on women comparing themselves to other women.  Having children is a vital piece of the patriarchal puzzle.  How we look and with whom we are connected are other pieces.

For those of us who have not had children – and especially those who have truly wanted to give birth – it feel like a club that we are not a part of.  It feels like we’ve been left out of something truly great.  And I wonder if our society has allowed motherhood to be used as another “us vs. them” tool.

The us vs. them was felt by Sarai and Hagar.  It’s seen every time Serena Joy experiences her devastation with her own unspoken infertility.  It’s seen when June wants to return to her own life but can’t.  And it’s experienced by many in our time.

“Women shall be saved through childbirth.”  That’s what 1 Timothy 2 says.  That’s how Hagar was undoubtedly able to have a decent life for many years.  It’s also why people use words like “you don’t know what love is until you have a child.”  But it’s a message that isn’t true.  Women are valuable on their own – no matter if they are married, who they are married to, if they’ve had children, how they’ve became a mother, or whose child they are.

While motherhood is a calling by God to some women, we as a society need to stop placing it on all woman as a requirement for salvation here on earth or in heaven.  We need to stop this toxic message of us versus them.  We are women – all of us.  Married, single, parent, childless – all of us are valuable children of God and made in God’s image.

“National Day of Prayer” Prayer

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Spirit of God who dwells among us and attempts to connect us with one another…

On this National Day of Prayer, In theory, this theory is a beautiful opportunity to pray for our country and leaders. Yet Christians and politicians have the potential to consummate and birth something unholy, we come to you this day searching for true religious freedom…

The kind our forefathers and foremothers desired at the beginning of this country. We look to you, God, to lead us into a space of plurality- where everyone has the space to pray and understand you in the ways they need. We ask you for protection for those who do not believe like the loudest Powers-That-Be. We know minority faiths of all sorts are persecuted all over the world and even held in contempt by many in our country. We send our love to our agnostic and atheist friends who are often shoved aside and alientated when church and state become too close.

We pray for those who have been hurt when church and state team up to exclude and when hypocrisy abides.

So as our leaders keep saying Jesus over and over without actually following the man, may you give us the strength to walk in the steps of the Christ. May we learn to value one another and healing as Jesus did. May we love our neighbors who are least like us. May we care for the poor, the orphan, alien and widow as we are called. May our faith be one that shines through works of love.

May gatherings on this day include all of the faithful- not just us Christians. May you remind the Powers-That-Be that there is more than one perspective or Christian perspective in the world.

May our state expand to include all healthy and loving theological perspective, and may we set aside state imagery in our houses of worship so that we can focus on loving God and neighbor.

Amen.

Toxic Messages in the Church

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*Note – Trigger Warning regarding domestic violence

This week, I read a Washington Post article about Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who had a recording surface in which he stated his beliefs on abuse in marriage.

Patterson stated that a woman should “ask God to intervene” through prayer. He mentioned “You have to do what you can in the home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.” Paterson also said that he has encouraged women to leave in the worst cases – but only temporarily – because divorce is against God’s will. He released a statement on his previous recording, still not confirming that a woman abused by her husband should permanently leave him.

What Patterson fails to see is that maybe God is intervening in this relationship by calling the abused individual to leave. Sometimes, a woman will give everything she has to be submissive and build her husband’s ego – which Patterson stated she should do. What he doesn’t realize is that her husband will probably still find one tiny thing wrong and take her to task for her imperfection. Praying away abuse does not work but praying for strength to find a healthy life is what is needed in times like this.

What Patterson also does not realize is that abuse often escalates. It may start as emotional manipulation and eventually move to pushing and, later, hitting. When an abuser kills their spouse, it’s often after much time of emotional and physical abuse.

Patterson is far from the only clergy who encourages a wife to stay with her husband during abuse. When going on social media and the internet, many stories surface on the times women have been told by their pastors to stay with their husbands and try harder.

But what about divorce? Doesn’t Malachi 2 state that God hates divorce?

Yes, but does anyone really like divorce? Two people are separating their lives from one another, and no one wants to experience this pain and grief. Yet realizing that the circumstances of the relationship may be unknown to us is crucial. Divorce needs to be placed in the correct context.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the word for divorce meant to abandon or toss out. It was used in texts such as when Abraham expelled Hagar and Ishmael, leaving them vulnerable and without resources. Women didn’t have the same agency during Biblical times as we do today, so these women needed to be married or associated with a man in order to survive. This is not the same as needing to leave a relationship in order to escape abuse. When being abused, women often need to leave in order to survive. Like Abraham and Hagar, abandoning someone who will then experience poverty through divorce is unethical. But abandoning someone in order to find safety is another circumstance altogether.

Women of faith do not deserve being told by their Christian leaders that they must stay in an abusive relationship just because Biblical texts state that divorce is wrong. Women of faith must understand that each of these texts were written in various contexts. The New Testament epistles mentioned that women shall submit to their husbands. However, in Genesis 1, women and men are both created in the image of God. As leaders in the Christian faith, we are called by God to promote a message that all people have dignity and encourage others to make healthy decisions for themselves.

Around this time twenty years ago I left an emotionally abusive relationship. I was exhausted being told over and over that I wasn’t good enough and being blamed for non-issues. The experience made a lasting impact on me. While we were not married, I could see how someone being emotionally abused in a marriage would need to remove themselves from their abuser’s presence. There should not be blame on a woman (or any gender) who leaves a relationship to protect their body, mind and soul. God values each of us and longs for us to love ourselves as God loves us.

Just like God hates it when people leave their significant others destitute in a breakup or divorce, God hates when people manipulate and abuse the ones with whom they are in a relationship. All of us reflect the image of God, and if our significant others do not respect this, then we need to find a new path in our lives.

If you or a friend need additional information on domestic violence or abusive relationships, go to http://www.thehotline.org/ or call 1-800-799-7233.

Originally posted on the SONKA UCC blog.

A Service for the Vine and the Branches – Easter 5B

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IMG_7971CALL TO WORSHIP
One: I am one.
Many: But all of us are connected.
One: Each of us offers unique gifts.
Many: Our gifts pooled together build the Body of Christ.
One: I am only a branch.
Many: But your branch is part of Christ’s vine.
One: Let us celebrate uniqueness and relationships.
Many: We are one, but together we create God’s kin-dom.

OPENING PRAYER (unison)
God of the individual parts and God of the whole, we celebrate our distinctive beliefs and efforts. At the same time, we celebrate the great covenant we have with all of your children. Open our eyes to see the ways our gifts create a better world. Amen.

CALL TO RECONCILIATION
One: Who is absent from our church? Who is absent from our communion tables? Who are the people we have excluded from our church family? Let us turn to God and each other with open arms and hearts.

PRAYER FOR RECONCILIATION (unison)
God of everyone, you are present in the lives of all your children. There is not one person who you do not love. You also ask us to love everyone, yet we feel that we must qualify who comes into our lives and our worship space. There are still people in our minds that we believe shouldn’t be a part of our congregation. Help us to see that they are also created in your image. Shape our hearts to welcome the unexpected visitor, stranger and enemy. Through you, we see that all people are your children. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF GRACE
One: God is God of all. No exceptions! Let us be an example of what Christ’s unconditional love looks like in our world. Amen!
All: Amen!

SCRIPTURE
John 15:1-11 & 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

INVITATION TO OFFERING
One: Through our combined efforts, we create a stronger church and community. In our gratitude, we share our treasure with the Body of Christ and beyond.

PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Eternal Source of Light and Love, we give thanks for the gifts you bestow upon us. We are grateful that you call us to use these gifts to build a just-filled world. May your spirit embolden us to use these gifts to bring more love into our communities. Amen.

BENEDICTION
One: Through the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, we go on separate paths,
But the winds of the Spirit bring us back together.
We are individuals, unique, but we are one in Christ.
May the love of God unite us today and throughout this week.
All: Amen!

The First to Go

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battle-board-board-game-700971I was a student in my father’s honor’s Civics class during my freshman year of high school.  For some reason, I remember more from that class than many others.  The time period was late Cold War; often talked about was Glasnost – a concept of openness that (I’m sure) many wish was present in that land today.

It should have come to no surprise that he told our class that he would be one of the first rounded up in some authoritarian regimes.  As a teacher – and a teacher of government who encouraged critical thinking – a government which completely controlled the people would round educators like him up and either imprison them indefinitely or kill them immediately.

His dad (my grandfather) was the survivor of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.  The official day of recognition falls on the anniversary of Red Sunday in which many Armenian intellectuals were arrested.  Many later perished in prison.

From my previous research of the Armenian Genocide, I remember events at the beginning of the atrocities.  As I looked up this information today, I found a term in which I wasn’t familiar: decapitation strike.  Apparently, as a means of achieving instability and removing leadership, one party will round up leaders and intellectuals to decentralize power and avoid resistance.  In genocides of people, the oppressors will use opportunities like this to control the remainder of their opposition, remove their resourceful leaders who are the heart and head of the movement, and allow them to live in a state of fear.

As my dad said – those who provide knowledge (especially contradictory to the oppressors) or allow for freedom of thought are the first to go.

With the anniversary of the genocide happening the day prior to the release of second season episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, I suppose I was thinking this when I was watching the season two, episode two

(SPOILER ALERT)

June/Offred is on the run.  Members of the underground movement trying to help her escape take her to The Boston Globe offices.  Obviously, the offices are empty, but as June walks around (and discovers where she is), she sees desks waiting for their workers with family photographs and Boston Red Sox gear.  Then she enters another area of the offices and sees a row of nooses dangling from the ceiling.  Nearby is a wall with a number of bullet holes.  Journalists and others who worked at the newspaper were killed in those very spots.

Because when the intellectuals and those who provide information are still alive as an authoritarian regime rises, they pose a threat.  And this is always something to keep in mind when we repeatedly hear “fake news” from our leaders about reputable news sources.  The powers-that-be are weakening the values of a healthy country – one that encourages freedom of thought and freedom of the press.

I think back to what my dad said thirty years ago, and something else comes to mind: I would now be part of that group.  When those of us who are leaders, knowledge-providers and proponents of critical thinking are in opposition the authoritarian regime in our land, we must realize that we, too, could be the ones imprisoned or killed.  Now, I don’t think this is going to happen here anytime soon – at least I hope not.  But we all must stay awake to the possibility that these things can happen anywhere at anytime.

They happened to the leaders of Armenia 103 years ago, including to another 45-year-old clergy member with the last name Torigian: Father Vaghinag Torigian.  He refused to give information to the oppressive powers, realizing that he would probably lose his life either way but knowing that he would if he didn’t comply.

Unless we learn from the past just like George Santayana said, atrocities will happen again.  But we must keep moving forward to work for justice – even in scary and threatening times.  This is what it means to “take up the cross.”  We must be willing to fully live into our values – even if our lives our threatened.  Jesus did.  He was willing to be authentic to his faith by not only sharing God’s love, but standing on the side of the people and against the powers-that-be.

Depending on what you think of Christianity and faith, some may see that Jesus was also one of the first to go of his new faith movement…

That’s what has happened when the Armenian Genocide started.  To some: justice is more valuable than life.  It’s our call to ensure that all people are treated fully human and that our agency remains intact.

Are we willing to go to the cross… or be shot… or hung for what we believe?

My Ethos

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There will be some changes I’ll be announcing on here in the near future, but for the time being, I thought I would post something about who I am at my spiritual core:

I believe in the full humanity and dignity of all people – no matter their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status and country of origin, marital status, and ability.  And I believe that in each of those defining characteristics there are people who are privileged and people who aren’t.  To me, Jesus would have stood up for and next to the people who were not the privileged ones and challenged the privileged to see their place in the systems of oppression.  

All of us are children of God and made in the image of God.  And we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

So if you see me post an article or write a blog post or preach a sermon and you may not agree with my perspective, please know that I’m approaching the subject from the perspective that I want all people to understand that all people are equally made in the image of God.  I will stand up against unjust systems by writing or attending rallies.  From pulpits, however, I will not preach partisan politics.  Instead, I will approach current day happenings through the lens of the gospels and the prophets.  And in this day and age, that may seem more political than it should.  For many of us, this is how we feel we are faithful to God.

Love is sounding more radical by the day…

It won’t be easy, and I encourage you to call me or visit with me to try and understand why I have approached the topic as I have.  But I hope that we will grow through the process of conversation.

May we all be blessed as we muddle through these sacred conversations on love, justice and peace.  Amen.

A Lament and Words of Hope for Syria

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Samer Daboul, photographer, Syria

Syria- my heart breaks for your health. Your own leaders feel your value is minimal. Powers-that-be across the planet forget that you are children of God.

Like the Syrophoenician woman and her child, they deserve crumbs too. They deserve more than crumbs.

Jesus came to see this. May the Powers-that-be see the people as fully human- as needing more than crumbs. May they see that these children of God crave more than just remnants of goodness found scattered between the shells of bombs and under clouds of poison. May their own leaders see that their lungs need to feel the clean air of the Spirit and not the toxic gasses of hate.

God will call us over and over again to turn our swords into plowshares, our bombs into cornerstones, our guns into farms. God is calling us now to forget the muscle memories of violence and myths of war as a natural means of achieving peace.

May we cease the creation of warheads and build houses of tranquility and prosperity for refugees seeking God’s love and peace.

May we as people of earth, as persons all created in the image of God and as companions on the journeys around the sun gather together to pray, to send energy, to share love with our siblings in Syria.