Pastorshaming

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We’ve all heard it and seen it: “If your pastor doesn’t preach on (fill in the blank), then walk out.”

Undoubtedly, people who are posting such statements have never served a church with truly different perspectives.

I’ve personally only had experience being a pastor in churches where there are people to the far right and far left and everywhere in between.

So while my message may be focused on hot topics of the day, I have to say things in a way that as many people as possible will listen to the message- because if I seem like I am siding with one perspective, then some people will close their minds and hearts to my sermon and to where God may be directing all of us.

And the message will not reach the people who have not yet heard it from another angle – especially if the news they watch are biased towards the other perspective.

Yes, it is our calling to be prophetic as well as pastoral. It’s our call to love all of the people in our pews. We can’t completely shy away from the subject, but we must speak words that will be considered. We must evaluate the time and space in which our message will be delivered.

So friends who are prophetic and shaming your fellow pastors into mandatory preaching on subjects: please stop it. Please stop putting extra pressure on colleagues. We are all trying our best in our unique contexts. Additionally, we must preach according to the Spirit’s call – not from the pressure of our clergy colleagues.

And to friends reading this who may disagree with your pastor- please give them a break. They are trying to be faithful to the Gospel. They are trying to share the Good News. And it may sound the opposite to what your favorite politicians may be saying. This is not the time to automatically side with your favorite politicians. This is the time to engage in discussions and dialogues on why people believe what they believe. This is a tough time to be in the pulpit because. Please extend grace to your pastors and one another.

To my fellow pastors who serve diverse-perspective churches: let’s keep working together to scatter the seeds whenever possible. We are called to preach the Gospel, and it’s tough. So let’s work together to lift one another up.

If your pastor doesn’t preach on (fill in the blank) this week, have a conversation with him or her. Please do not leave. This is a crucial time for us to dialogue our way through the wilderness.

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The Dead Dads Club

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Years ago, I came across a scene of Grey’s Anatomy in which Dr. George O’Malley had just lost his father. He was standing outside of the hospital when Dr. Cristina Yang approaches him. The two engage in the following conversation:

CRISTINA: “There’s a club. The Dead Dads Club. And you can’t be in it until you’re in it. You can try to understand, you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss… My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.”
GEORGE: “I… I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t.”
CRISTINA: “Yeah, that never really changes.”

This scene rapidly came to mind on September 18, 2017. Early that morning, I became part of the Dead Dads Club. In a fog of exhaustion, I was thrown into a fraternity of humans wandering in grief.

It’s a permanent club with new members joining us every day. Since my induction, I’ve noticed more friends joining the club. Some joined after their dads perished following a long illness. Others were whisked into the club after a shocking death. I wish I could close the door on their membership. I wish I could delay their painful initiation. And yet, they joined us in the mournful ranks.

This year, many of us are enduring our first Fathers’ Day in this club. We scurry past the Fathers’ Day cards at the store. We try to forget what this Sunday is. We may be grateful that we don’t have to go to places like church where Father’s Day is all over the place. We hope we can make it ten minutes at a time throughout the day, knowing it will be a full year before the next one.

Ugh. Just ugh. I hate all of this.

Like George O’Malley said, I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad isn’t. I still feel like he’s just in the other room when I talk to my mom. I still feel like I’ll catch up with him a little later. I still want to call him when I hear something happening on the news or when I remember something I learned in his Civics class.

But he’s no longer here. And I have to live with this for the remainder of my life here on earth. Part of my brain just can’t grasp this. I don’t think I ever will fully wrap my mind around the world without my father.

So here I am with my fellow “club” members. We all don’t want to be a part of this club. But we are glad that we don’t have to journey alone – not that we want others to have to go through this pain. If we all have to face the pain, at least we can be there for one another. I give thanks for the friends who reached out this week who happen to be enduring similar pain. I give thanks for the friends who sat and waited at the funeral home – just in case I needed them at any point. They are my cohort, and with them we will make it.

So for the day or whenever I need, I rely on God’s mercy and grace to allow what tears may need to fall. I give myself permission to reach out to others in this dreadful club. Because through God and neighbor, we may find some peace along the way.

A Prayer for a Friend’s Ordination

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Spirit whose power hovered over the early swirling seas and whose power called the cliffs to creation:

You will encircle my sister in her ordination today. You will give her the words you gave Mary Magdelene to share the good news on the crisp resurrection morning. You will give her the strength and courage you gave Vashti and Esther and Rahab. You will give her the pastoral  nature to sit with the dying and sick and grieving as you did with Ruth.

For such a time as this you call her, Holy Fire.

We thank you for her call, her passion, her openness to you. We thank you that her season of waiting for this plant to bloom has arrived. We thank you for this threshold she walks across today.  We thank you for your grace which continuously covers her heart.

May this prayer be my hand resting on her shoulder as your winds encircle her on this very special day. She walks with the sisters of all times and places who preached and cared for your children.

For all of this we celebrate.

Amen.

 

A Prayer for Exhaustion

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Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- as my steps become labored and my eyes fall to gravity.

Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- as Standing too long had become for me a form of torture. Lead me to places of rest- whether couches or beds or a nice plush patches of grass.

Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- as my words make little sense, and my brain feels like mush, and I trip over my own feet.

Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- when work appears too great and the temptation to work longer lurks beneath my to-do list.

Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- when sleep seems like a privilege and when given the opportunity, I am just too tired to drift to sleep.

Deliver me from exhaustion, Holy One- as Sabbath was created for us, and without it, we are arid beings.

Amen.

Liturgy for a Final Sunday

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For my last Sunday at St. Paul UCC, Old Blue Rock, Cincinnati, I wrote this service which includes a communion liturgy. Please feel free to use with attribution!

CALL TO WORSHIP
One: ​As the trees release their spring flowers and welcome ​summer’s deep green leaves,
Many: ​God’s spirit accompanies us.
One: ​As each season passes their baton forward and years ​speed by in a flash,
Many: ​God’s Spirit strengthens us.
One: ​As we welcome new faces and bid farewell to others,
Many: ​God’s Spirit fills us with peace.

OPENING PRAYER (unison)
All:​God of questions and answers, of mystery and clarity, we grasp onto your presence today. In this time and space, we celebrate the crossing of thresholds. Here and now We express our gratitude that you abide with us in our laughter and tears. Saturate our souls with strength. Open our spirits to understand that all will be well in our seasons of change. Amen.

PRAYER OF RECONCILIATION
One:​Holy one, we enter this space today knowing that the winds of ​change are entering this sanctuary. The doors have opened to the ​Spirit’s surprises. But before we look towards a new chapter, we ​must conclude our current one.

All: ​God and Neighbor, we come to you today knowing that we ​must move towards a new future. In this space, we ​acknowledge that our hopes and dreams occasionally fell short, ​and we let one another down. Before we close our doors, may ​we extend grace to one another. May we know that we will ​always be part of the vine and branches, and that our love for ​one another extends throughout eternity. Amen.

Silent Prayer

ASSURANCE OF GRACE
One: ​God understands our human hearts. God extends grace ​continuously, and God delights when we pass that grace ​and mercy along to one another. Let us celebrate that ​even in our most human moments, we hold the image of ​God within us. May peace abide.
All: ​Amen!

INVITATION TO OFFERING
One: ​In both seasons of stability and change, God gives us the tools we ​need to serve this congregation, the Church, and the community. ​In recognition of our talents, time, and treasures, we give back to ​God in a spirit of gratitude. Let us celebrate all that has been and ​all that will be in this congregation by sharing our gifts.

UNISON PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Here and now, God, we express our joy for the gifts you’ve delivered to us and for the talents you’ve bestowed upon us. May each gift that we’ve been given as individuals and as a congregation be used to shine the light of Christ into the world. Amen.

SERVICE OF COMMUNION
One: Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season for everything.
Seasons for planting and reaping
Seasons for mourning and dancing
Seasons for losing and seeking.

Today, at this table, we embrace the intersection of two seasons:
The season of welcoming and the season of bidding farewell.

We welcome new faces to the table of Christ knowing that all are
welcome to this time and space as Jesus the Christ crafted a table set
for all.

This table also represents a time of farewell- of the departure of faces
from this space. Yet as we reach for the bread and cup, even with
droplets of sadness in our hearts, we understand that the table forever
unites us for eternity.

May the Spirit of God surround these elements as the Spirit surrounds
us in our seasons of change. May the Spirit guide us in our ministries
and service. May the Spirit bless us as we mourn and dance, lose and
seek, plant and reap.

On the night before Jesus’ departure, Jesus gathered his friends one last
time for a meal like no other. As he took the bread he blessed and broke
it.
“Remember me” he said and passed the loaf to his friends.

On the night before Jesus’ departure, as the friends gathered one last
time for this meal which extends beyond time and space, Jesus took a
cup filled with the fruit of the vine.
“Remember me” he said and passed the cup to his friends.

A first meal. A last meal. A meal like no other.
This gift from the Christ connects us for eternity.
And through our time together today we are forever part of this Table.

UNISON PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
God, your love crafted the table at which we feasted today. Your love
connects us whether we are nearby or miles apart. Through your
love, we grow closer to you and our neighbor. May the bread and cup refresh our souls and renew our relationships, and may we know that we are part of this table for eternity. Amen.

BENEDICTION
One: ​​As we depart today, may we know that through Jesus the ​Christ we are eternally siblings in faith. May we go ​forward in love, may the memories of joy abide with us ​forever, and may we celebrate our shared time on life’s ​journey: Forever connected. Forever loved. Forever part ​of the Body of Christ.
All: ​Amen.

A Prayer for Last Days

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Divine One who shifts the workings of the universe-

This marks the end of a chapter- the final words on a page. How sad this segment of the story is closing! With voices retiring and being moved into the archives of my mind, I find myself saddened by this narrative’s end.

I will miss conversation and laughs, the characters I’ve grown to love, and the flow that’s delightfully comfort.

But we all know, Divine One, that comfort is not your goal for the active moments of our lives.

You ask us to turn the page, to trust that this next chapter includes beauty and joy. You ask us to trust you as we look towards the future with cautious optimism.

So as I cheer on the new chapter, I beg you to feed my heart with peace. May I release these memories and people and places into the world, knowing that you care for them, knowing that you connect us forever, knowing that we are all being called to serve your world.

Amen.

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

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.