For the first awakened breath we take for this day, we celebrate with you. We pull ourselves out of our slumbers to see where our adventures with you will go.
But first, coffee.
We give much gratitude for the beans that you have produced to give us an elixir of awakeness.
For the smooth (or bitter) tastes that cross our taste buds, we give you gratitude. For the many ways that we can enjoy the fruit of your creation, we give you thanks. For the second and third winds these beverages bring our way, we share our appreciation with you, Holy One.
With our mugs and recycle-able paper cups, we toast our ritual of dawn with you, God of alertness and light.
Call to Worship One: Our God searches us and knows us. Many: May we search for God on our journeys. One: Our God is acquainted with all of our ways. Many: May we seek the ways of our God. One: Our God flees with us to the farthest limits of the sea. Many: May we sense our God in our fleeing and retreating. One: We praise you, Creator God. Many: For we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, as we know very well.
Invocation In the cracks of the cement and in the flickering streetlights, you are present. In the summer breeze and the wandering firefly, you make your presence known. Open us to the small ways you speak to us. As you reveal yourself in the mighty and miniscule, may we be willing to embrace the unconventional pictures of you. Amen.
Prayer of Reconciliation and Reflection Holy Savior and Seeker,
As we wander aimlessly about this world, we become distracted by empty, shiny objects. We focus on the dramatic instead of the holy. Instead of seeing your presence in the ordinary, we look for something more glamorous. Fill our hearts with hope in humble voices and simplicity. Make way for your visions to enter our dreams. Amen.
Assurance of Grace Our Loving God, the Holy Savior and Seeker and Great Creator, will transform our minds as we set our sights upon the intentions of God. Throughout our journeys, God’s grace will fill our lives with hope for the future. Amen.
Call to Offering As we continue to recognize the image of God all around us in our lives, we will begin to sense how God is calling us to use our gifts to build our church, our community, and our world. May we recognize the ways we build our relationship with God and neighbor as we dedicate our gifts to God.
Blessing of the Gifts Radiant God, Holy Light, In gratitude for your love, we share our treasures, our talents, and our time with this congregation and community. We humbly ask that you illuminate our minds and hearts to recognize your presence as we use all our resources to craft a kind and just world for all. Amen.
Benediction As we leave this space and continue to co-create with God, May we sense God our Creator filling us with inspiration to craft a world of love. May we sense God our Seeker and Savior accompanying us into the valleys and peaks of life. May we sense God the Carpenter of Justice and Love awakening us to new avenues of caring. May God of the Expanding Universe open us to a world of new visions and dreams. Amen.
Rev. Michelle L. Torigian (c) 2022 Permission to use and adapt with attribution
Admittedly, I weigh more than my last class reunion. I have additional gray hairs and wrinkles. My success to failure ratio isn’t all that phenomenal. I didn’t expand my family in any way since the last time I met with these people.
Basically, my vulnerable, 43-year-old self is heading into the den of expectations known as the class reunion. And for some reason – maybe nearly reaching some new level of self-actualization – I care slightly less than I did at 38.
I really can’t describe what group I belonged to throughout high school. I was definitely a band geek with some flavoring of academic nerd and artistic flair. At the beginning of high school, I was extremely dorky. Having a father as a civics teacher at the same school didn’t quite help my reputation. I dated very little – probably due to a unhealthy mix of subpar self-esteem mixed with standing in my strict father’s shadow.
By junior and senior year, I had found my rhythm – identifying with the overachievers at the school, hanging out in G-rated situations and pretty much getting along with most people.
After graduating high school, I lived at home during some summers and holiday breaks. A few months after graduating high school, I left my hometown, only to return for vacations and occasional nights away from seminary.
Life happened – lots of it, and not in the way I was hoping. My mom would clip out photos of engagement and marriage announcements and send them to me – none of which were my own. I stayed safely away in single-Floridaland while my classmates coupled up and had children.
Sometimes, I challenge my expanding body and nervous soul to attend alumni gatherings in which I see everyone I knew from the days when I was some fantastic 95 pound overachiever with much more of my life ahead of me.
Yet, I think we’re reaching that point when we don’t care as much about how much we haven’t done or how fabulous we are compared to someone else.
We’re reaching the point in which we are just happy to be alive and happy that our friends and classmates are well and still alive.
We’re happy that we’ve all taken time out of our busy schedules and traveled many miles to set aside this weekend to connect in 3D instead of social media.
We are all in our middle years, facing the aging of our parents, their deaths, transitions with our health and understanding that life constantly takes turns for good and bad. And, yet, we are all still standing.
We are happy to see that many of us have set aside our cans of ozone-reducing hairspray to attain bangs of great heights and chopped off business-up-front-party-in-the-back mullets – although it’s all good if that’s our hairstyles of choice.
We are happy to set aside time to feel like our inner 18-year-olds still exist even when our bodies feel every second of their 43-year-old lives.
I thank my God every time I remember you. I thank my God every time I can cross the miles to see you.
There. I said it. It’s been my reality for the 43 years I’ve been alive. I’ve apologized millions of times for my existence. My competitive nature does not play well with my graceless attitude because I compare myself with others and then give myself a tough time when I haven’t achieved the same. I blame myself for not marrying in my twenties or thirties. I blame myself for not having children or being at the top of my career. I blame myself for my weight and all of my health issues (most of which I can not control). I blame myself for the times when I fell short of my goals and dreams.
I blame myself when I forget something relatively small because I forget that I am human.
Because I am so hard on myself, I tend to really rob myself of grace when others give me a tough time about mistakes. For some reason, ever since I was young, I believed that I needed to be my own worse critic, so when someone else is tougher on me than I am on myself, I raise my level of self-criticism.
I forget that my faith is one that is all about grace. I neglect to acknowledge that God is pouring copious amounts of grace upon me even as I rob myself of the same. While I am generous in grace with others – mostly because that is the way I would want to be treated – I can not gift the same to myself.
Technically, living in my own critical, graceless head is hell because there is a wall between me and God’s mercy. If hell exists, it can’t be any worse than this, I now think to myself.
There have been times in my past when I’ve noticed that my soul is either filled with rage against me or completely empty. My soul has lacked love from me, and now is the time to work on filling up that tank with something positive, not the negative it has become accustomed to.
So today I open myself up to the world of my greatest shortcoming: lacking self-grace. Today, I move towards loving myself, knowing that I will continue to be human and continue to make mistakes. And sometimes, what I will do will hurt someone else – not because I want it to, but because we all overlook others. But now when I make those errors, it’s my call to begin the process of forgiveness, to extend reconciliation not only to neighbor but to self.
This new project of mine can be best summed up in the words of Florence + The Machine’s song “Shake It Out”:
And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
Dear graceless heart, it’s time for you to go. It’s time to heal from your scars. It’s time to embrace grace as a way of living.
True confession: I have had many moments when I wish I was a Stepford Wife…
Now, 90-95% of my life I wouldn’t want to be a cookie cutter girl. And if you know me, you know that I’m far from being cut from the same cloth as everyone else.
In my twenties, I was a member of the Junior League. As most of the members were wives with husbands who made upper-middle to lower-upper class salaries, my single self who made a lower-middle class non-profit salary felt extremely out of place. There were more times in those early years when I wanted to have the lives of the women who surrounded me.
The harder I tried to have lives like theirs, the more I was being called away from that lifestyle. I was a trapezoid-shaped peg attempting to fit into a round hole.
Since my twenties, I stopped caring about living the rich or semi-rich life and having a bazillion square foot house – especially now that I’m a pastor. I appreciate being able to support myself and take pride in not “needing” a man to take care of me but rather having a man in my life to walk besides me.
Being single past your early-to-mid thirties is hard to swallow – mostly because we’re different than most of society. Some days adapting to this is not exactly easy. I remember questioning God and shaking my fist to the Divine. Why can’t my life be as “ideal” as most of those around me, God?
Of course, ideal is what it looks like on the outside… We don’t know what happens offline…
Remember when Carrie Bradshaw says to her friends in a season two episode of Sex and the City “The world is made up of two types of women: the simple girls and the Katie girls. I’m a Katie girl.” The “Katie girl” is in reference to Barbara Streisand’s character in The Way We Were. Carrie was another trapezoid-shaped peg trying to fit into a round hole. There are people who follow social graces, speak well, dress impeccably, have perfect home and look like a polished human being. That was not Carrie Bradshaw.
That is not me. And at 43, I’m pretty resigned to the fact that it will never be me.
I wasn’t made to be a Stepford Wife or president of Junior League or a simple girl or a cookie-cutter life. I wasn’t called to have a life that mirrors most everyone else. I wasn’t made to be the same as most of my friends and colleagues. I am quirky, nerdy, weird and wonderfully made.
I aspire to one day own a townhouse. I hope to have a smaller wedding someday that reflects who we are as a couple and looks much less like a production. I hope to keep preaching, keep writing, keep advocating and keep being just slightly more quirky than most people I know.
Simple Girls, Stepford Wives and normal people who fit the mold of a cookie-cutter (if they truly exist) are just as much made in God’s image, loved by God, used by God and are called by God. And those of us who are “Katie girls” who don’t fit molds and are weird and nerdy and complicated in almost every part of their lives are also made in God’s image, loved by God, used by God and are called by God. We are all just asked by God to share God’s love in a variety of ways.
In the words of Oscar Wilde “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Throughout my adult life, I’ve had conversations with some of my unmarried friends about the relationships that they’ve had.
And some of the mistakes they’ve made.
Granted, there are lots of types of mistakes singles and couples make- everything from slight fibs to huge indiscretions about money and parenting and every other subject imaginable. Yet some of the most shame-filled confessions made by non-married people include the physical connections they’ve made with others.
While there is a loud group of Christians who focus primarily on curing the world of sexual sins, most Christians are probably across the board when it comes to how they view sex outside of marriage. As a member of the clergy, I’m not saying that sex between two unmarried people is right or wrong, but there are times that it can be healthy and unhealthy, and each person must find what’s the most healthy expression for themselves and for those with whom they physically connect. Unfortunately, in times of desperation, grief, drunk or sadness, people make the some of the most unhealthiest decisions of their lives.
It’s human. Yet what ends up happening is they relive their mistakes in their heads over and over and over again.
What would it take to let it go? What would it take to embrace the grace that’s already there?
But the little voice keeps luring them back into the shame of their prior actions.
There’s a story in the Bible where David manages to seduce Bathsheba who then becomes pregnant from the encounter. The story ends with God “killing” their infant child as punishment for whatever happened between the two of them.
Except that it wasn’t God. It was medicine or the lack thereof rearing its ugly head at a very wrong moment.
So often, people want to associate STDs and unplanned pregnancies as God’s way of punishing humans for sexual relations. People “deserve” what they get.
That isn’t the case.
No God would punish two people for their roles in an affair or seduction or momentary lapse of judgement. No God would force someone to live a life sentence of a disease or sentence someone to death for one wrong decision. God’s grace is pouring upon each and every one of us for any type of unhealthy decision we’ve made. God’s grace is attempting to erase the shame from our lives and asking us leave it behind us.
Our job as the Church isn’t to judge what people have done or are doing. Our role is to walk with them in a spirit of grace, giving them opportunities to find new life if they feel called to it.
And helping them let it all go.
This blog post was written as part of both my weekly series “Single in the Sanctuary” and as part of November’s SynchroBlog on “Grace.” See other blog posts associated with the SynchroBlog theme here:
This week, the internet burst with comments and postings to discuss this dress:
Photo Credit: Swiked/Tumblr
My first thought was “Who cares? It’s just a dress. There are more important issues to discuss than the color of a dress: poverty, homelessness, trafficking, hate crimes, health care…”
And that’s basically what I initially posted on social media. In response to my post, a friend reminded me that this is more than a dress.
I saw a white and gold dress. Yes, the dress is undoubtedly white and gold. Undoubtedly. (Am I right?) As I looked longer at the photograph, I wondered if the dress could be blue and gold. Was it lighting and shadows that gave me this doubt? Was my brain playing tricks on me?
I still had no idea how people saw the lace as black. I truly tried to see it from their perspective – squinting my eyes and staring harder. But I could only see gold or brown, not black, lace.
Maybe if I stood on my head I could see a different color trim…
Articles were released on the scientific reasoning behind how we perceive color. A combination of factors aided whether people saw blue and black or white and gold: how the eyes are picking up color, how the brain works, and the lighting of the room. (Being that I’m not a scientist, I won’t try to explain this, but check out these articles HERE and HERE.)
If something so objective as color can divide people, how much more will subjective topics like religion and politics come between people? The dress becomes a concrete symbol of how we can perceive things differently than the people closest to us.
After giving it further thought, I wrote this on social media:
If there’s more than one way to see the colors of a dress then maybe there’s more than one way to see God and faith.
In seminary, I learned of the Wesleyan Quadralateral, a system where one establishes their sources of authority on Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. The way many of us study Scripture differs, and sometimes there are conflicting accounts in the Bible. Translations also play an impact on how we read scripture.
We also come from a spectrum of traditions with each one highly influencing our theological core. If we are Protestant, we may find that our teachings lean heavily from Martin Luther or John Calvin more often than St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, two theologians who influence the doctrine of the Roman Catholics. Even our individual churches and families of origin impact the ways tradition influences our beliefs.
Additionally, experience is the great lens through which we see life. When we gather the information around us through the filter of our own joys and pains, we see only small pieces of a larger picture.
And because of the lesson of the dress, we can see that our brains reason differently, a point which should always be taken into account.
My friend was right: the dress is more than a dress. It begs us to understand that we won’t see the world as our neighbors and that everyone comes to their beliefs through a multi-layered lens.
Through the exercise of the dress and knowing how our brain works in gathering information, this is the time for us to become a more understanding people. It’s time for us to stop the shame and name calling of people who have different political and theological perspectives than we hold. It’s time for us to stop claiming that such-and-such people will go to hell or that they won’t be accepted by God.
It’s time for us to see that no matter what color dress, theology, politics, or anything else we have or see, we are fully accepted by God and made in God’s image.
I’ve received multiple marketing pieces from a church expansion in my area. The church prides itself on welcoming people just as they are – no matter who they are. They want to get to know their visitors’ authentic selves.
Do they really?
So I went to their website and noticed quite a few things that communicates otherwise: sermons that consider being gay a sin… messages that state that living together is wrong… women prohibited from certain leadership roles.
To me, this doesn’t affirm everyone like it says in their marketing pieces.
This is no different than other large churches in our area. “Come as you are,” they tell us. But when it comes down to it, their theology is set in stone and not even God Herself could change it.
Listen, I think there’s a good chance that all churches stretch the truth to get people to visit. But when you tell people that they are welcome like they are and then send various messages that say otherwise, then that is false marketing. You are not welcome as you are… you are welcome as the person God will transform you to be.
I’m not saying that everyone in our churches will agree with us or like us. But we deserve to come to a church without feeling spiritual stones being thrown at us- especially when we think the stones won’t be thrown.
What if you could find a church that would welcome you no matter who you love or how you love? What if you could find a church that would welcome you no matter what your family may look like – even if it means two unmarried adults raising their beautiful children? What if you could find a church that would want you to be a leader even if you are female? What if you could find a church that affirms your doubts and allows you to struggle with your agnosticism or even atheism publicly? Isn’t that worth just as much as smoothies in the middle of worship or a band with hip music?
Wearing blue jeans or coming into church with uncombed hair doesn’t really affirm your disarray. Celebrating a God that loves your soul just as it is right now – in all its chaos – is worth everything.
In the meantime, I would ask the churches who want gay people to change their sexual orientation, or who shake a finger at couples who intentionally and thoughtfully live together before marriage, or who don’t allow half of the population to hold leadership roles to say so in their marketing. Stop lying. Stop bearing false witness to yourselves. Be real. Be authentic. Say it like it is.
This post is based on a sermon delivered at St. Paul United Church of Christ on July 27, 2014.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. ~~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
It was a cinematic grand romantic gesture that has been spoken about and referred to in pop culture throughout the past 25 years. In the movie Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack, stands outside of his ex-girlfriend’s window at dawn holding a boombox over his head, playing the song “In Your Eyes,” in the attempt to win her back.
The act has been imitated in pop culture again and again. It’s a very sweet deed. Maybe a teen or twentysomething would think that this is the greatest act of love, and as a young person, we would expect someone to hold up a boombox outside of our window to win us over. Maybe at 16, when this movie was released, I would have believed that this was the ultimate act and display of love.
But is this love? And why do we see this surface love in so many movies and pop culture references?
Let’s move from the grand gesture of standing outside of a window with a boombox overhead to the song that’s playing on that boombox. A few years before the movie came out, musician Peter Gabriel released the song “In Your Eyes” which was featured in that scene.
The lyrics of the song resound a love that goes deeper into the heart of God, a love that’s more than a grand romantic gesture:
“In your eyes
The light, the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway
To a thousand churches
In your eyes
In your eyes
Of all the fruitless searches
Oh, I see the light and the heat
In your eyes
Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
The heat I see in your eyes”
Both this song and today’s scripture are reminders of this complete self that exists in God’s eyes, and the hope to see each other through God’s grace-filled, unconditional loving lens.
Today’s text is one that is often read at weddings. It was probably read at many of your weddings and if not, you have undoubtedly heard it at a wedding. Unfortunately, the most important part, at least in my belief, is often left out. Some people stop reading the text at the point where it says “love never ends.” To me, the most sacred part follows this. The text reads: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I believe this is an extremely important piece of scripture to be read at every wedding. It’s a great reminder to a couple that you won’t see each other as God sees you all of the time, and it’s something you’ll have to work at over and over again. In this lifetime, we see God, our neighbors and ourselves through that dimly lit mirror.
Granted, true unconditional love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. But there is something deeper about this love that we are called to have – not only with our significant other but with all people. It’s a love we can experience when we use God’s lens in seeing one another.
The second most important piece of this text, again in my belief, is the verse “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” The love we experience and give will transform over time. Sure grand romantic gestures are a wonderful and refreshing surprise in a relationship – even in a marriage after 25 or 40 years. But our understanding of love continues to evolve as we grow and as we continue to set aside our childish ways. When we are a young person, we think love is the feeling we have when we fall in infatuation the first time. We want to hold boomboxes over our heads as we proclaim to the world how we feel about this person. But love is much much more than a feeling. Our view of love continues to transform from fireworks going off in our hearts to something deeper – a relationship which indicates that we are trying to see the other person from the lens of God’s unconditional love.
The third most significant piece of this text in my view is the verse “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The amount of hope that is in this verse can transform any type of relationship from one that could fall apart to one where possibilities can happen. Looking through the eyes of God to our loved one, our neighbor, a stranger and our enemy brings about possibilities that we may never thought were possible, including healing and peace.
In our marriages and all sorts of relationships, we’re going to mess up. We’re going to be our awkward, messy selves. The question is: will the people who matter see us as God sees us? Over time, we realize that in our health and in our illnesses, people show us love. In our deepest grief and in our greatest celebrations, people are around to love us. Love is greater than the chaos in our lives. The people who see us in just the slightest way God sees us will stick by us in almost any situation. They will see a more complete version of ourselves
The reaches of love as refer to by Paul extend to all sorts of relationships. From that of a married couple to the relationship between Christian brothers and sisters, this love is one that calls for us to look through the lens of God’s eyes, to continue to grow in the way we look at love and to hold on to hope even when relationships seem hurt or broken.
How have you looked at someone through the eyes of God recently? How did it change your view of them? How have you looked at your spouse or significant other lately? What about your children, other family members or friends? And how about the person you can not stand? If you were to close your eyes right now and put on your God-glasses, how could your relationships grow stronger?
Yes, God is the God of romantic gestures, of boomboxes overhead as music plays at dawn to woo a lost love. God is the God who would hold the boombox outside of our window to draw us to Her or Him. God is the God of weddings, of romantic moments that refresh us and first loves.
And God is the God of dimly lit times in marriages and shadow-filled friendships, of sickness and bad times, in poverty and loss. God is the creator of hope and endurance in our relationship journeys. God is the one who helps us see that we are complete in each others eyes.
May we embrace the romantic love of youth and the deep love that we find in the dimly lit spaces. And may you find the lens of God to see others as God sees all of us. Amen.
Now let me reframe who today’s widows are: single moms/parents. Any of them. They could have become a single parent because of the death of spouse, divorce or experiencing a unplanned pregnancy. Orphans are kids who have lost a parent or both parents, kids who have minimal relationship with or who are minimally provided for by a parent, or kids are estranged from parents.
People of all political perspectives will donate food over and over again to make sure they have food. I’m just wondering if we need to do more to make sure that the system is fair? What steps are we missing so that they can have a life of joy?
Today’s widows often feel shame when they have to go on welfare/food stamps/Medicaid. Many don’t believe that they would face a time when they would need government assistance. Political pundits keep making them feel “less than.” Politicians keep voting for them to receive less and less aid.
To some, taking care of the widows and orphans has become an optional faith mandate.
Shame and guilt and cutting programs doesn’t really help the widows and orphans. Food helps some on a shorter-term basis. (If someone has a disability, they should receive assistance to live, but that’s another blog for another time.)
When it comes down to taking care of those who struggle, I think there’s something greater: helping them live into God’s call for them.
Single moms often don’t have child care or health care or money to go back to school to strengthen their future and acknowledge God’s call. When their child gets sick, the child MUST go home from school or daycare. Who takes care of them? The widow is forced to miss a day of work or school. Such circumstances requires them to leave their achievements and God’s call behind.
The Bible says over and over and over again to take care of the widows and orphans. It’s time we truly take care of them by walking along side of them and helping them grasp God’s dream for their lives. If you want women to get off welfare: create a system where they can do what’s need to achieve their degrees. Create daycare options where working moms can drop off their sick child for a day. Do not have “points” systems at work so that a widow will go on probation if she has to miss a day of work to take care of her child.
As a single woman without children, it’s tough enough to make sure I have the energy and resources to follow God’s call. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a woman with children. So maybe it’s time for all of us to work together to make sure this mandate of “caring for the widows and orphans” actually takes place.*
*And please don’t play the blame game and say “having a child out of wedlock was their choice when they had sex.” Seriously? Like most people haven’t made those choices at some point? Some just have the privilege of birth control and great support systems.