Our joints stiffen and swell. Radiating pain shoots across our necks, backs, knees, and hands. What aches will tomorrow bring? we ask ourselves. How do we walk one step at a time or fulfill our callings with the limited use of our bodies?
As we mark World Arthritis Day, may the gifts of treatments better our lives. May inflammation decrease and movement increase. May we figure out how to live fully even when various types of arthritis threaten our futures. May your Spirit guide us in the shadows and lead us into the sunlight again.
Like many of you out there, I’ve become a fan of Ted Lasso. (I probably should say that I’m now a superfan of Ted Lasso, considering all of the times I’ve watched the series all the way through.) Ted provides a leadership that is constructive and encouraging of the team – from its owner to the players to all who work for the Richmond team.
There’s a piece of the story that I believe is crucial to write about today, World Mental Health Day. (Friends: this part might contain spoilers, so turn back now if you do not want to know what will happen before the end of season two.)
In the first season (or series, as it’s called in Britain), Ted has a panic attack one night during the team Karaoke event. The owner of the team talks him through his attack, supportive of his struggles from their early days together.
In the second season, Ted has another panic attack during a game. I’m not sure what brings this one on, and I don’t think it really matters to the viewers. The most important piece is that Ted has a panic attack and must face what is happening.
Ted begins to open up to the people closest to him that the reason he left the game was due to a panic attack. And one of his confidants (Nate!) discloses this anxiety event to the press. Up until that point, Ted’s mental health issue is not public knowledge. Yet, Ted decides that talking about it with the world is crucial to bringing an end to the stigma of mental health and sports. In fact, the entire season focuses on mental health, as Dr. Sharon Fieldstone helps out the Richmond players with their own struggles.
What a blessing the story has been for the movement towards mental health. As someone who struggles with anxiety and panic disorders, I identified well with Ted’s journey. (I first wrote about my childhood journey here.) When Nate outs Ted’s panic disorder, I became very angry. “How could he do such a thing! It’s not his story!” I thought to myself. Nate attempted to discredit and shame Ted through sharing such personal information. I didn’t care how much Nate was struggling himself; I was extremely angry that a person used a health struggle to damage the reputation of another human being.
I suppose I felt embarrassed for Ted. I felt the shame that was surrounding him and that others imposed on him. And yet, when it comes down to it, why was there shame? Ted began to address the struggles. Ted went back to work the next day. Ted opened up and spoke about it to normalize the experience.
More people than we realize struggle with mental health issues. From anxiety to depression to personality disorders to being bipolar, many of our neighbors go through temporary and life-long struggles with mental health issues. But in our struggles, we feel alone. We feel like no one else is going through what we are enduring. I felt that way as I child and sometimes as I got older. But then people began to talk about it, and I spoke about it – not just to be transparent in my journey but to help someone else as they go through something similar. I give thanks for my friend Rev. Dr. Sarah Griffith Lund who has been an inspiration to me writing about my journey. I find her books Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church as well as Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness and Marriage incredibly important for progressive Christianity. Like Dr. Lund, I am encouraging of anyone enduring mental health issues to seek help through a counselor and medication as well as other self-care activities. And like Dr. Lund (and Ted Lasso!), I am open to sharing my story as well.
Again, you can read something I wrote years ago here. But also, I’ve written a chapter in the forthcoming book When Kids Ask the Hard Questions, Volume 2: More Faith-Filled Responses for Tough Topics (edited by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Karen Ware Jackson). This chapter includes encouragement for parents to seek help if their child has anxiety or any other mental health issue. Children or adults should not feel alone in their journey, and if I can help one person feel less alone, then sharing my story is well worth it. I highly encourage you to check out this book because of the myriad of topics included. Children and parents should never feel alone in any struggles.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:
“ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Today, to use the phraseology of Paul, I boast of this weakness of mine. I boast not from pride, but because I feel free and light in being able to tell my story. I boast because I see the presence of God in my weakness, and my relationships with God and others have grown closer in this vulnerable state. And that means, like Paul, seeking contentment in this very vulnerable moment and becoming transparent will hopefully bring strength to the entire body of Christ.
So today, on World Mental Health Day, I celebrate the stories of others who became a little vulnerable to be honest so that others feel less alone. And I celebrate my story – because it shows both my vulnerability and resilience, knowing through baby steps and the strength of God finding a wholeness is possible.
You sow new seeds in our world, and call us to harvest them when the time is right. You fill our world with new melodies, and ask us to sing them to change the air around us. You call us to use new wineskins for our wine. You ask us to try new delicacies, travel to new lands, and listen to the stories of our new neighbors. Let us embrace the Spirit of newness surrounding us, listening to your transforming call in our lives. Amen.
PRAYER OF RECONCILIATION One: Loving God, Divine Chef- We cling to the usual menu of life. We order the same food. We invite the same people. Yet what if you are calling us to order new cuisine and dine with a new group? All: Transform our minds to the adventure of newness. May the meal and the conversations we share open our hearts to new tastes, textures, and experiences. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF GRACE One: God serves us grace as we reflect on our past errors and hurtful actions. God sets us on a new path filled with mercy and wisdom. Let us rejoice as we embrace fresh beginnings! Amen!
BENEDICTION May we embrace the flavor of newness in the meals we eat this week. May the aroma of the unfamiliar draw us into new adventures. May the stories of strangers open our minds to new paths. And as the foreign becomes familiar, may the Spirit of God draw us into transforming this world with our new understandings. Amen.
(c) Rev. Michelle L. Torigian. Permission to use with attribution.
Divine Dawn of Redemption, as the tomb has opened, we peer into the future. Like in the garden long ago, so much around is still unknown. Yet you have refilled our souls with hope. Even when fear lingers, your peace-filled spirit surrounds us, bringing us the confidence to continue to move forward. May we embrace this new era of resurrection with steadfast faith, even when anxiety and amazement disorient us. Amen.
Blessing of the Gifts
Holy One, with gratitude, we celebrate all gifts we have been given and the gifts we share with the church and our community. May the treasures, talents, and time we share build a world in which all people experience resurrection and renewal. Amen.
As we enter a world where resurrection is possible, Nudge us forward when the unknown is overwhelming. Empower us when anxiety and amazement seize our spirits. Allow our trembling voices to share Alleluias with a hurting world. Open our hearts to our neighbors yearning for rebirth. And allow us to see the empty tomb in each season of our lives.
Divine Love, in this week of contemplation, may we remember the presentation of your love through the Christ. As we share in the breaking of the bread, may we recall the beautiful unity of Christ’s table. May the mandate of this day, to love our neighbors as ourselves, be etched into our souls. Widen our minds to see our neighbors from a new angle. Widen our hearts to serve as Jesus the Christ once served. Amen.
The communion liturgy keeps in mind a hybrid approach to worship this year. Some people may be in our presence, and others experiencing worship at home. This was adapted from last year’s “sheltering in place” communion liturgy.
Christ gave us the mandate to love one another. Christ gave us the peace that we will never be left alone. Christ gave us the picture that we are connected as vine and branches. Christ gave us the assurance that no one will take away our joy.
God is with you! God is with us all! Open wide our hearts. We open them to new possibilities. From here tonight to dining room tables, this is the time to give God our thanks and praise.
Jesus the Christ has created a realm of love for each of us- one in which we will be reunited with loved ones, one full of sacred memories, one in which we are assured of God’s comfort.
It was a night filled with teachings and memories. Undoubtedly, tears were shed and laughs raised. This was the night before Jesus died. Jesus took bread. As he blessed it and broke it, he said to his friends Whenever you eat this bread, eat in remembrance of me.
Later, Jesus blessed a cup filled with fruit of the vine. Friends, this is the new covenant. Drink this to remember me. Drink to remember our time together.
Spirit of God, surround the bread. Surround the cup. Surround us – here and elsewhere. Bless us in our eating and drinking. Bless our connection – near and far. No matter if close or distant, our covenant with God will keep us together.
May we spend this time remembering: The ones who can’t be at the table. The ones who are no longer at the table. And the one Christ who created this sacramental table experience. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Loving God, Great Provider-
After this time together, near and far, we give thanks for the opportunity to commune with the Christ and our neighbor. May the love that was experienced tonight through bread and cup open our hearts to the beauty, pain, and joy across our world. May this sacrament move us to offer our neighbors our love. And may our time at the table remind us of the ones who are forever in our hearts. Amen.
Blessing of the Gifts and Benediction
As we are not having a “collection” time during our service, our congregants are dropping them in boxes on the way out of the sanctuary, mailing them into church, or giving online. We have combined the two together.
Holy One-Your gifts build a world of love, filled with memories of your presence in our lives. May we use our gifts to continue to create a world of care, living into your mandate to love one another as you love us. Amen.
We walk into the dusk knowing the journey of Jesus. May we remember his steps to the cross. May we embrace his profound love. And may we share this grace each and everyday, leading our world to resurrection.
(c) Rev. Michelle L. Torigian 2021. Liturgy may be used with attribution.
I took one class in college that one may classify as a “blow-off” class: Television and Society.
Now, my intentions for taking it were not because it appeared easy. Along with my two concentrations of public relations and professional writing under my degree in English, I was hoping that the stars would align, the classes would be available, and I could fulfill the requirements for a minor in Communications. (I was one class shy.) This class was an elective for the minor. (Admittedly, taking a class such as this helped out when I had to leave school for a week when my grandmother was dying. But that’s another story for another time.)
In any case, this class featured television from various eras and styles, taking account the time period in which the show was featured. As we looked back on the 1950’s, television was drastically different than in the 1990’s.
And today, over 25 years after taking the class, television is drastically different.
No longer do we need to catch a television show when it airs or set our VCRs to catch the show. Now, everything is On Demand. If my DVR doesn’t record a program, it will be on Hulu the next day. Furthermore, this gives the viewer the opportunity to binge watch television shows – from just one episode to a whole season in one night.
Needing to stay inside this year has given people the opportunity to watch shows at their own convenience, enjoying an evening’s worth of programming based upon the time and audience. I’ve had the chance to watch shows that had just fully completed their run (Schitt’s Creek) and new seasons of other programs (The Crown and others).
Not only has our style of watching shows changed, but the content itself. Just recently, I read an NPR article on why Grey’s Anatomy decided to include the Covid-19 pandemic into the show.
One of the medical consultants, Dr. Nasar Alazari said this:
“The disease is our zeitgeist” is a very important point every industry and corner of our society needs to embrace. We will never be the same because of this time. Television needs to reflect it.
And so does the church.
Television and Society class taught me that as times change, the content of television and our viewing habits change. This year has taught me that as times change, the content of church and our participation habits change. I would say that this is another “Video Killed the Radio Star” moment; nothing stays the same, and we are called to adapt.
Covid-19 is our zeitgeist, which the Oxford Languages defines zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” Just as WWII was the major backdrop of the early 1940’s, this virus is the backdrop for 2020. The tension of the Babylonian Exile was a major zeitgeist of the writings in the Hebrew Bible. We can’t escape this backdrop.
Of course, this means content of services, including sermons, reflect this tension in a way that is real but hopeful. It’s a part of our landscape. A medical show can’t escape storylines on the virus because it’s a major part of medicine now. Likewise, we can’t disregard this because it’s part of who we are now.
Furthermore, the structure of faith communities have changed forever. Do people need to watch church at 9:30am on Sunday mornings? No. Church is becoming On Demand. We can watch it whenever it is convenient. I now think this will be a permanent part of church life. What we must do is pair that with the commitment to stay connected with our congregants. To our faith community, the work of connecting to people has transformed, and I think this level of working to connect has changed the way we do church. This has brought us closer together at a time when we feel physically distant.
Like with television, this time has permanently changed all of us – and every corner of society. The Church is permanently changed. And that one sort of “blow off” class I took in 1994 helped me see that whatever the zeitgeist, we will keep surviving and keep adapting.
Oh how could we be here! How can our neighbors care so little about us, focusing on freedom instead of compassion?
Despair and resentment grow within my heart. At some point I’ll reflect on forgiveness, but right now I rage.
It was more important for some to hold big parties which created more cases instead of imagining how their actions would ripple into the world.
It was more important for some people to make a point of not wearing masks for the sake of their “freedom” instead of embracing the beauty of connection and sacrifice for the greater good.
It was more important for people to defy recommendations based on ideology instead of seeking science and reason.
And so our medical professionals worry each day if they are next. Because some wanted to out to dinner, our schools must close. Because of ego, gatherings commence when they should be placed on hold.
Dear God, I’m angry. I’m furious because our loved ones can’t gather with us for holidays. Some are sick. Others are dying. I’m angry at our fierce independence because it creates barriers to achieve a healthy society.
I’m angry because they don’t care about my health.
So with my neighbors, we scream in anger at where we are today, knowing that some turn their backs on justice and mercy, on interconnectedness and love.
I’m not ready to forgive. I’m not ready to forget.
Today’s the third anniversary of my dad’s death. While I’m doing ok living in a world absent of his voice, I obviously miss him greatly.
The thing I noticed about my grief is that it takes on different forms. Maybe I feel a bit of malaise. Maybe my mind is more distracted. Maybe my blood pressure becomes elevated. (The last one has been an issue whenever someone close to me dies.)
What I must remember is that I am required to be kind to myself this week each year. The day I got the call about dad’s cardiac arrest was extremely traumatic. The week sitting by his bedside and sleeping in hospital and hospice rooms was exhausting. The memories of this week cause a number of feelings to bubble up and many that are just below the surface.
I’m off today. I can tell. My grief is not the outpouring of tears all of the time. But it’s present. I will keep going, and I’m grateful for God’s grace to cover my mistakes and distracted mind and God’s peace to accompany the traumatic memories.
Just like the last three years, I’ll get through this.
Creator God, source of all knowledge and wisdom-
In this unique era of our lives,
When laptops on kitchen tables
And masks in public spaces
Have become our norm,
We ask for blessing of our students.
Some of these young scholars will be learning in classrooms.
We pray for health in body, mind, and soul.
Bless their masks as they wear them from first bell to last.
Bless the air in the classrooms. Bless their unusual recesses and lunchtimes.
May wellness be their companion.
Some of our learners are absorbing knowledge from new spaces-
Laptops instead of smartboards
Dining room tables instead of desks.
May their focus be great.
May connections grow between students and teachers
And students with one another.
We pray for health in mind, soul, and body.
Bless the energy in their homes, and the loved ones assisting them.
Bless the students navigating education
As they split their time between home and school-
Parents, grandparents and friends.
We pray for health in soul, mind, and body
We pray for the health of all their connections.
May their unique schooling inspire all of us to think outside of boxes.
Bless the parents wondering how to balance all of this.
The family members who are classmates and teachers in our current world.
Bless the teachers, staff, and administrators leading in this new realm of education.
Bless our communities as we work to stay well and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
May 2020 be the year in which we grow with you, God of wisdom.