Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Prayer for Preachers before Christmas Eve

I am a perfectionist, I know that.  But who do I think I am? 
It's not up to me. It's not about me. 
I found myself stressing and trying to write the perfect plays, perfect sermons, the perfect liturgy, the words and prayers that would change hearts and move people to know Christ.  
Who Do I think I am??? 
It's Christmas!  Jesus is showing up! 
It is not about me and it is not up to me. 
SO - I wrote this so I would remember my place. 
Humble me Lord Jesus, to do your will- nothing more, nothing less.  

Lord Jesus, It is not up to me.

On the biggest night of the year when the people come.

It is not up to me.

You will bring them.

Your Spirit will pour out.

It is not up to me.

You will work Lord Jesus.

You already have.

 And you will.

It is not up to me.

To change their hearts, to make them respond,
To bring light to their darkness or free them from burdens.

You have.

Come, Lord Jesus Come.
You already have.

And you will once again.

Come , Lord Jesus Come.

Melt me, mold me, use me.

Ignite me to shine.

Ignite us all.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

Shine in us this Christmas Eve.

Once again, be born in us.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Holy Ground

Today in Preschool Chapel I talked with the children about holy ground. They came in and were so quiet, shy, sweet, and curious.  

After we learned each other's names we talked about the name of the room we were in "The Sanctuary" - a special place where we come to pray, to thank God to know God and then go to do what God wants us to do.

We learned about Moses today and how God called him

 "God called Moses and Moses said 'Here I am'"  We come to here to the sanctuary because God calls us and we say, "Here we are."

"God told Moses to take off his shoes (I slip off my shoes to show them)  because he was standing on Holy Ground-  today we are all going to keep our shows on   "Can everyone say holy."   HOLY  "That means it is special and sacred.  God told Moses- I want you to go help my people.  Moses was scared but God said you can do it because I will be with you.  We come here to be still and hear in this sacred special place of the sanctuary to know what God wants us to do. We can do what God wants because God will always be with us."

 I taught them about acolytes and how we light the candles first thing to remember God is with us just like God was with Moses in the fire.  How God is our light to guide the way.  "The acolyte comes down the aisle and bows just like Moses did- can you bow- (we all bow) and we light the candles."

  Standing up at the altar one boy said, "What is that X that's turned around up there?"

I pointed to the cross- "Does anyone know what this is called?"

No one knew.

I said, "This is a cross.  When we look at it we remember that God loves us.
 Can everyone say that with me: "God loves me!"  We all said it together.

 "When we see this cross we remember all God has done for us and all God keeps doing for us.

Walking behind the altar to point at the stained glass window.

This is Jesus.  Who is Jesus holding?  All the kids say: "A Baby!"  "Jesus loves all the children and Jesus loves you! Can you see that this is the biggest window in our church?  It is important to know that Jesus loves you very much! The church is where you come and learn about Jesus and how He loves you!"

Sitting back down I look at the boy who asked me about the turned around X, "I am so glad you asked that question!"  Looking at all of the children, "Asking questions is so important because that is how we learn!  When you have a question, can you please raise your hand?"

My little questioner says, "Yes and you know if it's really important you can raise both hands!"
Me: "That is a great idea!"

Now I want to sing a song with you called "Jesus Loves Me!"   Has anyone hear this song before?
1 child raises their hand.

Well, if you don't know it it's okay--we're also going to learn the sign language so that we can know it in our head and heart.

We sing-- There faces just lit up.  One boy, in my second class (I did one preschool class at a time) who had stayed close to his teacher turned toward me while we sang.

Before we go, we're going to have a prayer together.  Have you prayed before?

My sweet question boy, "Yep. ... I only pray on Sundays."
"That is awesome!"
"And, did you know you can pray every day too?"

Ms. Joan, "How about we sing a song about what days we can pray?"
We sing together a song of all the days of the week!

We pray:  Dear God, Thank you for this day.  Thank you for my school.  Thank you for my teacher.  Thank you for my friends.  Thank you for loving me.  Help me to know you are always with me, Amen."

I say A - long a- Amen and a little girl says, "Should we say amen (long a) or amen (short a)?"

"You can say it both ways!"

But how about we learn one more song- and this one is clapping song-- we sing it at the end of church here and it goes like this, "Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen"
The kids happily clap and sing!

We had a giant group hug and they said Thank you for Chapel and off they went.

It was a great morning!  How awesome to welcome children into God's love!

This afternoon I get to go offer worship to some of God's children who are older at the Crossings at Ironbridge for the 4th Thursday Worship Service there.

God is good!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thoughts on Abortion, Humanity, and the Damage of Distance

After being submerged in sermon planning and then traveling back home for a Visitation and Funeral- I'm finally catching up on the news that broke earlier this week about Planned Parenthood.

People ask me all the time about controversial issues and what the church thinks about everything from Energy Policy, Israel and Palestine, Human Sexuality, Gambling, and Abortion-- you name a controversial topic- people want to talk about it.
 And we should.
            We should not be afraid to talk about hard things.

Karl Barth said we should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

When I walked into the chapel at Birmingham- Southern College I read the United Methodist Social Principles and I thought, "WOW!  Here's a church that is not afraid to talk and live and act in a way that says- we care what happens in the world."

You can read more about the United Methodist Social Principles here.  We don't all agree on all of these principles-- what's important is that we allow our faith to respond and guide us to be in both conversation and action with the world.  We also understand that many of these issues are not easy to talk about and they are not always black and white.

 United Methodists have a history of speaking up and acting on issues of social justice.  We don't only talk- we do.  We care about the world and we refuse to idly sit by waiting to die.  Our theology is grounded in an understanding that God's grace has  poured love into our lives and so we respond to the love of God intentionally by living in loving relationship with Christ and others.  What we do - works of piety, works of mercy, works of justice-- flow from our response to God's grace and the stirring of the Holy Spirit.

Well, I am stirred up tonight.
 I should be sleeping- I was exhausted when I began reading and watching videos of the news that broke this week.

We're meant to be engaged with the world- not hide from it.
And when we get engaged with what's going on- we wake up.

So I'm awake right now... even though I should probably get some rest soon.

In 2001 I spent a month in Mozambique working on building the foundation of a school in Cambine with my college.  As the Chronicler for our trip I was able to visit two hospitals- one was funded only by the government and the other received both government funding and funding from The United Methodist Church.  The first hospital lacked separate wards for people with TB, HIV, for women and children.  Some people did not have beds- many were on the floor- the pharmacy was mostly empty.  There were many hard things to see.  There were two women dying from infection after having back alley abortions.  They had more children than they could count or even feed.  They were not allowed access to birth control.  Their husbands raped them repeatedly and thought of this as their right.  I ached for them and the tragedy of their lives.  Their children would soon be orphaned.
The hospital funded by the United Methodist Church in Chicuque    was drastically different with beautiful separate wards, a decorated children's section, equipment, and much more.  I was and am so proud to be part of a connectional church that makes places like this possible through apportionments and our united work together.

If you've seen Dirty Dancing- you've seen the terrible scene where Penny has had an illegal abortion and barely survives.

For many reasons- there are women who feel they have no other option.  I believe that we can do better. If we really care-- we need to help women early and help them know that there are more options.  I believe in our country there are safe ways women can obtain the services of a safe abortion, but my hope is that we can do all we can to make this rare.

Ed Stetzer points out in his article from Christianity Today:
"In 1992, President Clinton talked about making abortion "safe, legal, and rare."

I believe we need to work on truly making it rare.

What if the church loved so deeply--  more than words... kind of love-- love with actions and resources and hospitality?  What if every woman had people around her to love her and let her know, "I'm with You" to such a degree that she knew she would not be judged for her pregnancy or her choices?  That she would be loved no matter which option she chose concerning her pregnancy- and that she'd never be alone.

I believe proponents against abortion begin with good reasons, yet often speak too much about what not to do and lack follow-through and action on how to care for unwanted children. Yelling at women walking into a clinic does nothing to help this cause and lacks compassion for the woman (likely frightened and stressed) who likely does not want to be there.

I believe proponents who speak in favor of choice are not pro-abortion, but I believe the lack of action at working to make this choice be not just safe and legal- -but one that women choose rarely is a travesty.

Life is sacred. The life and well being of a mother and the life and well being of an unborn child. 

There is much that Planned Parenthood does that has nothing to do with abortion.  They help many families have access to family planning, they provide cancer screenings, they provide a great deal of education.

I am completely disgusted at the video of Deborah Nucatola which you can see in numerous places, but I believe first released via The Washington Post.  

I am sure she does not represent all of Planned Parenthood and I appreciate the shared disgust of her lack of compassion and economical way she spoke about real people and real lives given shared by Cecile Richard's official video response from Planned Parenthood.

I'm not only disgusted.  I'm outraged that someone whose sole purpose in that moment should be the care and well being of a troubled woman- would be focused not on her well being- but on how to best harvest the organs of her fetus. I'm enraged that it appears her day was focused on how many of what specimens she needed rather than the women she was there to care and serve

 Her use of technical language has clearly distanced her and she has forgotten her own humanity.  She's made things so clinical, that she has forgotten compassion.

I am angry.

In the midst of this I seek grace to know where God can lead us now.
In the midst of this I confess my own distancing of the world so I don't have to feel all the feelings you feel when you love authentically.

I think we do this with our language all the time - it may not be clinical language- but it comes in all different ways and it makes us forget who we are and how we are meant to live all the while distancing and masking our true selves.

We call people who are a stranger in a foreign land- "illegals" and we forget their humanity.
We divide people into camps of GLBTQ Allies or homophobes and we forget their humanity.
We slap labels - progressive, liberal, conservative, tradistionalist.... and we forget our humanity.
We call Black Men -thugs-- and forget their humanity.

Rather than deal with language, vulnerability, privilege, and power-- we simply allow ourselves to separate out until we forget that we are meant to love one another.  We get farther and farther away. Distance does damage.

Early church Father-  Dorotheus said, "The closer we are to God, the closer we are to one another.  And the closer we are to one another, the Closer we are to God."  We're losing a lot when we forget to see one another as sisters and brothers made in the image of a loving God who wants us to love-- to love at all times, but especially in our brokenness.

I'm angry Deborah Nucatola became so very distanced from the reality of humanity and became so immersed into a black and white reality of clinical cruelty.  I pray that she may recover her humanity to speak to and about others as real people.

I'm also angry that I'm part of a culture that contributed to her distancing herself.  She slipped away.  No one starts off this way-- but they can fall--- further and further into compassionate oblivion.  No one noticed her lack of compassion-- no one held her accountable to caring.  We have to do better.

So what do we do?

I believe we need to wake up.

I believe accountability and justice must occur.

We need to pay more attention, care deeper, come closer.

We've got to do better at keeping our connection to God and one another not only in tact but strong and growing so we don't forget our humanity or that of others.  That starts in community with the vulnerable hard work of asking, "How is it with your soul?"

Those in the medical field should have check-in's with counselors and therapist to make sure that they are still seeing patients as people and not consumers.
Police are already required to undergo psychological testing and compassion/empathy training.
There are checks and balances developed so that soldiers aren't put back in the field when they aren't ready.
Clergy in the UMC undergo a thorough ordination process so that toxic people aren't ordained and do damage.

Even with these kind of checks balances in these professions and others- people still act out, do wrong, and lack compassion.

But we're failing when we're not working hard as a community of faith- to care for one another in ways that counteract desires to draw away and become distant.

We need to deal with each other- not grow distant.

We need to love enough that everyone remembers how to love.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prayer for a Mammogram

 Lord, be with me as I walk into the room.  Clothe me in your comfort as I take off my clothes and put on the dinky hospital gown with the snaps that confuse me.  Put your words in the mouths of the nurses, technicians, and doctors who see me.  When I walk in the room with the giant machine let me lift my eyes up to you and not this machine of torture used for good.  As parts of me that you created are smooshed into ways you did not create them to be, release the anxiety from me and vanquish the fear.  I’m not so worried, Lord about the pain of being smooshed… I fear all that comes later.  Breathe this fear out of me. When it’s all over and the dinky robe goes in the laundry bin, continue to clothe me in courage, grace, and the undeniable truth that you are with me.  Amen.

Setting my mind on the Spirit

 It's the first week of Lent.  I decided I wanted to write and reflect more for Lent.   Years ago-- I wrote on this blog more often and ...