Those Who Can’t Do… Preach

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It’s a funny thing we do, worship. It’s silly really. For an hour (or so) a week we go into a room full of stained glass and a giant cross and stand and sit and stand and sit in uncomfortable rows known as “pews”. Which I still to this day think sounds like a dirty word…

On the last day of UNCO15 East I was sitting in the back of the room behind a computer watching a room full of worship leaders worship collaboratively. I have always said that UNCO is some of my favorite worship I have ever experienced, but each time that has happened, I have been helping to lead the worship.

I was still “participating”, running the powerpoint, but I was reminded how strange and uncomfortable to sit through worship. I am always amazed when parishioners ask me “I don’t know how you do it up there”. The truth is, I don’t know how you do it. How do I stop from feeling uncomfortable? I “do” things. Worship especially. It’s uncomfortable, its vulnerable, it scary.

A friend who is a pastor said to me the other day that he had no interest in teaching people how to worship, if you’re in church you should already know. “I have no idea how to worship,” I retorted, “that’s why I lead it.”

I speak truth here. I often begin “prayers of the people” in worship with “Jesus taught us not only to pray for ourselves, but to pray for others.” I don’t know how to pray for myself, that’s why I pray for others.

There’s really not much more to it than that. I’m a pastor who doesn’t know how to worship or pray, that’s why I do it.

Because worship and prayer are hard. The faith thing? Those who can’t believe, pastor.

It’s too personal for me, this thing that is God, worship, faith. I have to “do something” to keep myself from becoming too open, too vulnerable, too moved. Too anything is bad. or is it?

I know a man who lived a tragic life, it was a heartbreaking story. A few of us knew it. He struggled. He was a single man in his 40’s that worshiped and found community in the church, we were his family. But still, in the midst of worship he sat by himself while everyone else sat with their families.

On Christmas Eve during Silent Night he would sob openly and loudly.

You can imagine the comments. This is everyone’s “favorite moment of the year”. This is “the most meaningful moment in all of worship” (pastor eye roll).

Sometimes he would sob alone, another year someone would wrap their arms around him, some of the people in the room “tolerated” it, others cried too, because his sorrow brought out their own. Others looked with empathy, but went about singing merrily.

Worship is uncomfortable, but it is so because (if we’re doing it right) you have permission to be exactly where you are in life at the moment you are experiencing it, to have permission to feel all the feels and think all the thinks. And you’re doing it in front of other people, in a stained glass room full of people.

If I don’t occupy myself in preaching, praying and logistics of worship, I would sob and weep openly.

Every pastor I know who has left church for one reason or another struggles with “attending” worship. Most parishioners I know couldn’t imagine “leading” on a weekly basis.

I need worship. My soul needs to worship. I need to sit and stand and sing and laugh when I say things like “Our scripture lesson this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mike.”

I need to celebrate wins with a community, I need to mourn my grief in public. I need to gather for an hour every week and pray for you, preach the Word of the Lord, administer the sacraments, and ask forgiveness on behalf of the world which is in so much pain.

Worship is terribly hard, if you’re doing it right. I’m not sure I am. And those who can’t do… preach.

(Un)Resolved: Hit It!

I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from ‪#‎Unco14‬‬, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for January is(Un)Resolved.

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My first CD’s I ever bought was through a subscription, you know one of those where you get 5 CD’s for a penny and then you buy 5 more over a year or two. Of the 5 CD’s I bought with my penny I remember 3 of them. “Use Your Illusion I & II” by Guns and Roses and the Violent Femmes’ “Add it Up”. I believe there was also a Whitney Houston album and Boyz II Men album.

CD’s were new. I had gotten a “Discman” for Christmas from my mother. I also got a cassette of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” from my dad. It was the era of new technology. These cd’s were never going to last… you couldn’t re-record over them, they scratched easily. It didn’t matter that I had literally worn out my Cindy Lauper “She’s So Unusual” cassette TWICE. These CD’s were too fragile…

Recently I have been overwhelmed at work. I need a win, I need something to go right. Everything seems to be happening at once. So I do what I do when I have too much work and am overwhelmed? I ignore it all and make a playlist. Music has always been important to me, it was my drug, my escape. In the playlist I made included the song “American Music” from the Violent Femmes album “Why Do Birds Sing?”, also on the compilation CD “Add it Up”. I really do love the Violent Femmes, but I haven’t listened to them in years. I was immediately flooded back to memories of mid-teens.

In so many ways music was (and still is) my salvation. It saved me from myself, it allowed me to release feelings I couldn’t even put names to, I didn’t even know I had. Music, no matter the genre, and I mean that. From the beginning there was really not a genre I didn’t like. Music allowed this overly emotional child to feel and to not go crazy. I would dance, I would laugh, I would cry, weep, I would sink into the numbness of life. Music took me away from what was happening and into a world where beauty and pain lived simultaneously.

Where true, unconditional love existed, where hate, real hate was allowed to be expressed. Things existed in music that didn’t exist in my world. Expression of feeling was mandatory in music. Without it, there is nothingness. Even the first time I experienced John Cage’s 4’33” I experienced expression of feeling. I was in college at a piano recital given by the associate dean. I didn’t know what was happening, and then I got it. Everything is music.

Music is extremely triggering. Both good and bad. I remember that “Is This Love” by Whitesnake was playing the first time I was kissed, “Son of a Preacher Man”  from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was the first time I was complimented by my mother for my voice, and Matchbox 20’s “3am” was playing the first time my boyfriend beat the crap out of me. In a cruel twist of fate when I have bouts of insomnia I wake up at 3am with that song playing in my head. “and I said, baby, it’s 3am I must be lonely.”

Music made me feel like I could conquer the world, achieve anything, I learned adaptation and change, to “go with the flow” by learning jazz and improvisation. I learned music theory and rules and when to break them. I learned that even in the chaos there was intentional beauty.

Music became my God. As a minister I do not say this to be blasphemous. I say this in all sincerity, Music is God, it is how I experience God, how I enter the world. It is what provides me life, it is in the rhythm of breath. As the choral song by Dorothy Fields goes “To feel the rhythm of life, to feel the powerful beat”.

I cannot, nor will ever get enough. Music will always be never ending it will always be (un)resolved for me. And praise Jesus for that! I wanted to leave you with a song. And I was having trouble picking one. So I will go with the obvious choice, the one I am listening to right now. It is the song that concludes my latest playlist, from the master himself, I give you: Blue in Green by Mr. Miles Davis. So turn the speakers up, grab a glass of whatever you want, and enjoy the unresolve.

(Un)Carnation

This blog post is in collaboration with the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from ‪#‎Unco14‬‬‬, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for December is (Un)Carnation.

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“Does the Innkeeper’s wife have naturally curly red hair?” Freida from Charlie Brown Christmas Special

I’ve hated my body since I was old enough to know I could. It started with my hair. I have natural curly red hair. It was constantly touched, praised, and adored by adults. On the other hand, my mother and sister had straight hair, as straight as straight could be, and oily. My mother (bless her heart) would brush my hair with a wire brush. Do you know what wire brushes do to dry, frizzy, naturally curly red hair? Yeah… it was not pretty.

In an effort to combat the frizz I would cut my hair short. Guess what? Made it worse…

I had freckles and my skin burnt in the sun. I was a little pudgy as a kid. I didn’t loose my baby fat in my pre-teen years like the other girls. I did, however, develop like an actress from Baywatch. This also was not helpful. I still remember being grabbed in the hallways and classrooms in Junior High, my teachers thought this was insignificant taking a “boys will be boys” attitude. It as then however, as much as I hated it, I learned my body could be powerful, that it had power. If people “liked” my body, they would “like” me.

So I used it, I learned to use my body for attention. This is not an uncommon thing for teenage young women, feeling powerless in so many aspects of life that discovering your body has power, especially the ability to manipulate and control horney teenage boys. It made me feel powerful, and powerless all at the same time. I detested myself.

I have spent the last 20 years trying making peace with my body. I remember sitting in therapy after my daughter was born trying to make peace with the havoc pregnancy, childbirth, and the subsequent infection had on my body. “I didn’t expect this at all,” I said, “I had so many body issues before pregnancy I didn’t think it could get worse” I was wrong. I loathed my body after having 2 children in a way I didn’t think was possible. Really, I HATED it before, but after carrying 2 children. Nope. Couldn’t stand it, which translated into not being able to stand myself.

Do you know what it’s like to not look at yourself in a mirror for years? Not be able to look at yourself? Self-hatred that deep?

Sometimes I could force myself to look and I would stare into my eyes, I would try, try to believe myself a child of God, to understand myself as fearfully and wonderfully made. This seemed impossible. “You are a beloved child of God” I would try to convince myself. “BULLSHIT” my mind would scream. “You are fat and ugly and awkward! You are unloveable, I don’t know how anyone stands to look at you.”

Welcome to my inner voice.

In my late 20’s my doctors discovered a genetic disorder where my body stored fat and processed food differently than “normal”. The hormones in my stomach literally told my brain I was starving, like hadn’t eaten in weeks starving. So my body would store fat. After my kids were born medical science advanced and I actually had a few options. I chose the least invasive and so far it seems to be working. But it doesn’t erase the years of mental angst, the internal hate I’ve had for my body my whole life. Now I say to myself (and out loud for that matter now that I’m single) I look alright with clothes on, but you don’t want to see what’s under here…

Trust me, it’s not pretty.

I am still working to make peace with my body, age and gravity are not helping me in this department… Yet, my body keeps me alive, it’s the only one I’ve got, without it, I am but dust. I have asked God the majority of my life what the purpose of this body was. I saw my body as against me, and in a lot of ways it was. No matter what I did, it did something else. As I get older this struggle will continue. I already have the beginnings of arthritis, other aliments are coming. (side note: I can actually hear the Wicked Witch from the West in my head say “I’ll get you my pretty”, because sometimes I’m hilarious)

On Christmas Eve we sing “Silent Night” and hold candles thinking of a perfect looking holy family. When really, there are screams of pain of childbirth, a dirty barn floor, blood, fluid, terrified parents and a baby who have just been through the trauma of childbirth fill the air.

All is calm, all is bright?? NO, not in a million years.

God incarnate came into this world the way we all do, through the pain of childbirth, he experienced the pain of the body, he was dependent on his mother for food, he depended on others for care, he had constraints of the body just like everyone else. He had to eat, drink, and rest. His parents and grandparents had to teach him not to put his hand in the fire or play with knives. That the body was fragile and resilient all at the same time, that it should be honored and cared for.

Without the body Jesus could not have been God incarnate. And in all honesty this is vital to my faith. God walked the earth in the ways I do, to understand me better, in order to love me better. I actually do believe this. He got blisters on his feet and didn’t want to get out of bed somedays because it was just too hard. But then he fasted and prayed, then he did what we all do, he allowed his body to carry his Spirit, he allowed this great gift to be used for the glory of God.

As I think about how many years I have spent rejecting my body I also think about how Jesus embraced his. How the root of sin (according to doctrine) came in the form of shame of the body (Genesis 3). How Elizabeth felt the joy of first kicks when John recognized Jesus in utero, and the overcoming of sin and death came in form of the death and then resurrection of the body.

This is my faith. My tradition. The body and blood is shared in communal meal. It is sacred and is to be honored. As is mine, as it is a gift from God.

(Un)Gratitude

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This post is part of the UNCO synchro blog. You can read other posts from the series here.

I talk a lot about gratitude on this blog (see these), and this is the season of gratitude, thanksgiving being a few days a way and all. But we have been given this challenge with UNCO to think about “ungraditude.” I know it’s not a word, but go with it…

I was thinking about all the things I’m ungrateful for and there is a long list this year. But here’s what all the things really come down to… I’m ungrateful for brokenness, for my ability to cause another pain, and for another to cause me pain.

Once upon a time someone hurt someone else, in some way, some how. We call this sin. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on sin, I wrote about it in The Four Letter Word) Like every person I have been hurt, and I have caused hurt. I have bullied and struggled, I have projected and manipulated to get what I wanted, I have been dumped on, projected on to, hurt in countless ways. Some forgivable, some I need God to forgive.

I am ungrateful for all of it.

I love community, I love relationship, I love interaction and people and connection. I hate the way we hurt each other. I hate that I may expect something from you and you from me and we might disappoint. I hate that your shit and my shit might collide and we have to navigate the shit blinded by our own pain. I hate that you might die on me, or quit on me, or worse, leave me just because. I’m afraid of leaving you for no good reason or quitting on you or dying on you. I hate that in my attempt to help I might end up hurting you.

This is the risk we run. This is the risk to being in relationship, the ability to be hurt or cause pain. Because we’re imperfect, sinful, fallen (whatever that means) creatures. Why is not a useful question here, how may be…

Self Awareness is key, sure, absolutely. Knowing my triggers and how I have been hurt, vital. Knowing when I am spoiling for a fight or in need of something and having the ability to ask for what I need. Quite helpful in relationship. However, even when I am able to ask that doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to provide, and I need to be okay with that too.

Because God only knows when I am going to say something mundane that will trigger someone else. Or vice versa. We mean well as people, we really do, but we hurt each other.

A few weeks ago in Youth Group we were discussing things we were ungrateful for. They had great answers: war, pollution, bullying, suicide… but, like most of us, they wanted to fix it fairly quickly. The most echoed thought was “we need to have the bad days so we can appreciate the good.” And this seemed to be an acceptable thought, by the youth and the youth leaders. I pushed a little, but really, this is not just acceptable, this is preferred in our world. It’s how we justify the hurt.

I don’t need the hurt justified. I don’t need bad days to appreciate the good. I hate bad days, they cause me and the people around me pain and I am just ungrateful for them. I’m ungrateful for the brokenness that causes them and the sinful cycles we are all stuck in and project on each other because of them.

This is where I usually fix it and wrap it all in a bow, somehow turn it into being grateful, but not today, not with this post, I will however end with this:

God, I am ungrateful for the bad days, ungrateful for the sin that pulls me from you. Ungrateful for the shit that life creates and my ability to hurt and be hurt. I am ungrateful for it all. Heal our broken hearts, heal my pain. Amen.

Child of Blessing, Child of Promise

Last week was unco West, which meets at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Just like all other uncos (which is short for unconference) it was amazing, and I met people I wondered how I ever lived without and spent some time with the people that feed my soul.  At the end of the last worship we decided to give each other a blessing, with water. We remembered our baptism, washed away our shame, and blessed each other with abundance and permission. As a worship leader the bowl was started near me and I was privileged to be one of the last to be anointed.

So it’s my turn to go forward and I have been holding a 2 year old little girl. We do this at unco, rely on the community for everything, including entertaining each other’s children. It is church and community in the truest form. She and I have been playing for a while now and her mom is in front of us.  Kath turns around and anoints her daughter, a beautiful moment for everyone, but then this precious girl dips her fingers into the water and touches my forehead.

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I have baptized many children- all special, all sacred moments, all a privilege, but never have I received an blessing from a child. Not this way.

I have experienced the grace of both of my children, I have been anointed with bath water, spit-up and snot. I know that this little girl was simply mimicking what her mother did, but she did it. She touched my forehead with her tiny fingers and wiped that cold tap water on my head. She blessed me.

I have a lot to atone for in my life, enough shame to last 10 lifetimes- but in that moment- there was purity of joy, there was innocents in my arms and on my head. God came in that moment in the hands of a child and pushed me out of myself. Love is like that. That sweet girl through her fingers blessed me with innocence and grace.

May she (and I) grow to be a strong woman of faith and wisdom. In the name of all that is good and holy. Amen.

Ezekiel 37 Prayer Stations

Another Blog Post by our Guest Blogger Ashland’s Summer Intern Katie Jasa!

Prayer Station #1: Breath Prayer

Location: Classroom

ImageA breath prayer is a type of prayer that allows us to connect with God no matter where we are or what we’re doing. In a breath prayer, we pray to the rhythm of our own breathing, which we intentionally slow down. The breath prayer can be a prayer in itself, or it can lead into further prayer. By practicing breath prayers regularly, you allow a “spirit break” that becomes as natural as breathing.

Here’s how you do it: Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly; then breathe out slowly. Repeat this several times. Say the first line of the breath prayer (while breathing in). For example: Lord. Then, breathe out slowly, give the second line of the breath prayer, have mercy. Repeat the prayer several times (it could be a four or five or several minutes worth, allowing other thoughts to disappear and concentrating on your breathing, essentially, you are not “saying” the word but “breathing” it) and then allow time for silence.  Close this time of breath prayer with a simple prayer maybe “thank you Jesus for your love, Amen.” You may use one of the following breath prayers or create one of your own using a line of music, a poem, another Bible verse, and so on.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Be still, and know God.

Create in me, a clean heart.

This is the day, the Lord has made.

Fear not, I am with thee.

Peace, be still.

God, is here.

 (Shannon wrote up the instructions for this station, and transformed one of our preschool classrooms into a quiet meditation space. There were beanbag and rocking chairs, as well as soft music playing. We put burlap over the preschool toys and added posters to the walls as well)

 

Prayer Station #2: Journaling

Location: Sanctuary

ImageThink about the times of drought in your faith.

·       When has your faith felt dry, or dead? When have you hoped for more? What dried you out? Write about these times.

Think about the times you longed for help from God.

·       What did you thirst for? How did you ask for new life? Write about those hopes.

Think about how you transitioned out of that dry valley, if you have already done so.

·       Was it a sudden change, or gradual? Was your faith renewed or enriched in some way? Write about these moments of change.

 For this station we put pictures of desserts around the sanctuary with the questions, so that people could sit in their pews and write.  This station worked well for people who were less mobile.


Prayer Station #3: Bare Bones

Location:  Back of Sanctuary

“As I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling,

and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” – Ezekiel 37:7

ImageThink about the things that have made you who you are. Who are the important people in your life? What places matter the most to you? Which events changed you? Consider the good and the bad things in your past. As you think about what defines you, trace the bones of your hand with paint. Look at the shape, and reflect on who you are in the present.

 Press your hand on a piece of paper, and see how your hand hides the marks of your bones. Remember that God sees every part of you, down to your bones, even the parts of you that nobody else can see. God loves you for exactly who you are, both inside and out. Reflect on God’s love for your entire self.

 We couldn’t really do prayer stations based on Ezekiel without doing something about bones. I got the idea for this station from http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2010/10/ezekiel-and-dry-bones-x-ray-craft.html, and then wrote questions to turn the craft into a prayer.

 

Prayer Station #4: Community Blanket

Location: Communion Table

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones:

I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you,

and cover you with skin,

and put breath in you, and you shall live;

and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” – Ezekiel 37:5-6

God’s love has covered us with many blessings, and each one makes up part of who we are as a church. How does God build you up? What gives your life and hope? Draw or write something that you are thankful for on the fabric, making a blanket that reflects our community.

 For this prayer station we wanted to focus on how God covers each one of us. I’ll finish sewing the felt squares together soon so that we can use the blanket as a covering on the communion table in the upcoming weeks.


Prayer Station #5: Seeds of New Life

Location: Courtyard (out door of Sanctuary)

“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

– 2 Corinthians 4:7

ImageThink about things in your life that you want to hide, or things that have marked you. Take a pot and write these things on the inside as a confession.

 Pour water into your pot, blurring your words and drenching the vessel. As the clay fills up with water, picture yourself being filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as these words are washed by the water, your sins have been washed away in the waters of baptism. Remember your own baptism, and know that you have been forever changed and claimed as one of God’s beloved children.

 Once the water has drained from your pot, fill it with soil. Think about the ways that you are ready for God’s call to flourish in your life. Open yourself to new life, and plant a seed into your pot. As the seedling grows in the next few days, remember that faith can transform our lives.

 

This was a much longer prayer station than the others, and unfortunately was also outside in the hot sun. We had been thinking about doing a confessional station as well as one that reminded people of their baptisms, and somehow ended up combining these ideas into a multi-part station.

The idea for the confessional writing and washing came from a prayer station at UNCO, which used stones and a bowl of water. I also incorporated some of the overflowing Spirit language from http://www.creativeprayer.com/water-and-spirit/.  I got the idea for the seed from http://www.creativeprayer.com/planting-hope/, although our version was a bit simpler. I liked the symbolism that the vessel which was first marked with sins was eventually filled with the potential for new growth, and it was nice for the congregants to take away something tangible.

 

Extrovert’s Guide to UNCO

unco 13 breakoutSo I am a host of unconference, a non-conference for church leaders. It is this week at Stony Point Conference Center. It is one of the most enjoyable things I am apart of.

I will let you read the website learn more about it. However, there is an assumption that it is only for extroverts, and there was a guide (I looked for it but couldn’t find it) to an introvert’s guide to unco.

But this week I realized there also needs to be an extrovert’s guide to unco.

First, I want to say, unco is for both!!

I love being an extrovert, but we have a stereotype (at least in my world) that being an extrovert is better. And I don’t know what it’s like on the other side. But I want to say that being an extrovert is exhausting, I would dare to say most of the time. I am easily excited, easily stimulated by talking to others, and laugh loud and proud and often.

However, the idea that conversations are life-giving to me is true in terms of creativity and processing and work. But here at unco I am so full of life, so stimulated that I am getting very little sleep. I am exhausted and excited beyond my own understanding. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

BUT introvert’s aren’t the only ones in this world that need permission to walk away and spend some time alone. In fact, not only do I need permission but it is so hard because it’s life-giving.

This is the problem of my life, not just at unco, but I need to understand this. It is the opposite of an introvert, being by myself does not renew me, being with these people does. But just as introverts can’t lock themselves in a cave, I sometimes need to walk away from the conversation.