Giving Tuesday for Advent Week One

Advent may very well by my favorite season, and this year I know it will be especially hard for me to celebrate in the midst of everything being uncertain and uncomfortable and unknown. So I decided to create a daily liturgy for my family, with short scriptures and prayers that are words that my kids are familiar with. And, in the spirit of we’re all doing hard things, and can’t someone help, I’m sharing them here (and on my instagram).

One of the reasons is that I remember reading some of these scriptures when I was a child, for advent. The very scent of a lit match is a holy moment for me, and I want to create that same space for my children.

So, here is what I am teaching my kids:
Peace that tends to necessary work and cultivates space for flourishing life.
Love that surprises expectations and reconciles with enemies.
Joy that embraces those who sorrow and creates possibility.
Hope that recognizes the current situation and imagines generative futures.

I’m wondering if one of the ways that I can comfort my children is in saying that I am worried, disappointed, and frustrated, too. And that our emotions and feelings and thoughts are all valid and true and important. And that the way through isn’t to cover these things up, but to move through them.

This feels like work that we can actually sink our teeth into.

And I’m working to have the scriptures that I’ve chosen do some of this work. Because the gift of scripture is that anger, frustration, fury, disappointment, sadness, grief, joy, happiness, longing, and fulfillment all exist in this book breathed into being through a complicated past.

Life is complicated now. So it’s helpful to know that complications are not new.

If you want to follow along with our family, here are the readings and prayers for this week. (all scripture translations are from the Common English Bible translation)

Advent Week 1
December 1
Isaiah 2:4 CEB
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war. (CEB)

God of peace, teach us how to plant peace
in the midst of conflict.
Show us how to grow healing, forgiveness,
and love in the world around us. Amen.

December 2
Jeremiah 33:15-16 CEB
In those days and at that time,
I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line,
who will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days, Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this is what he will be called:
The Lord Is Our Righteousness. (CEB)

God of direction, help us learn when we are wrong.
Point us towards the difference
between winning and living in justice. Amen.

December 3
Psalm 25:4-5 CEB
Make your ways known to me, Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—
because you are the God who saves me.
I put my hope in you all day long. (CEB)

God of truth, guide us towards you in all that we do.
Save us from the lies that work so hard
to keep us from you and your love.
We want to learn, God, teach us. Amen.

December 4
Psalm 80:4-5 CEB
Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over! (CEB)

God of comfort, you are with us when we are sad.
Help us feel you in the midst of our tears. Amen.

December 5
Psalm 80:6-7 CEB
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved! (CEB)

God of healing, restore us when we are broken,
shield us when others laugh at us,
and help us see ways you are working
to mend the world. Amen.

I’ll post the next one on saturday.

Five Years

I created this blog five years ago as a experiment. During the month of July 2009 I posted every day for a month. They were not always profound posts. They were not always long posts. But they were a way for me to maintain a rhythm of writing.

I have maintained a slightly more fluid rhythm over the past five years. I’ve had post heavy months, and I’ve had months where I only posted once or twice. And yet the writing has remained. I’ve kept at it. The writing muscles have not atrophied. I think I’ve gotten better at writing and expressing myself. I would certainly hope so, at least. I broke three hundred posts a while back, I continue to write with partners and friends, and I press myself to go deeper with my writing.

For the next month, I am going to try it again, writing every single day over the month of July. Last time I did it I didn’t have Internet in the home where I was staying. Now I’ve got a smart phone that has a WordPress platform app directly on the phone. The tech can change, but I have been working on changing myself as well. It is a challenge that I look forward to.

Stick around and I might even share some of my freaky slipstream dystopian dreams.

Lent for a Year and a Half

I am ready for a change, and change is coming. I can feel it in the air, even with the current cold snap. A sea change, a weather shift, a transition in the season in my life.

I see my life through the lens of the liturgy of the church. I know that I am a liturgical nerd, I have always been a little more in tune with the seasons of the church than the general public. I get aggravated when the Baptist church down the road puts an Easter message out on their sign two weeks before Lent ends.

Not only do I have a deep appreciation for the rhythms of the shared liturgical calendar, but I also see my life set in similar rhythms and patterns. I have had weeks of Ordinal Time and Kingdomtide, I have had months of Pentecost, and I have currently been living in a year and a half of Lent.

The past year and a half have been marked by pain. Usually that pain was and continues to be migraines that hit me unsuspected at the most inopportune times. I lost count of the number of sermons I preached, and worship services I led with a migraine. The pain of migraines also makes it harder for me to do other things, and so my life is marked by a pain that interrupts and interjects into spaces where it is truly not welcome. I have kept on doing what I can with my vocation and calling, and I have been able to be part of the community and life of my churches.

The pain continues, but it seems to have lessened. I can see a space in which I might not be tiptoeing on egg-shells to keep from falling into a migraine attack. I am doing better. I can see a way out. The year long Lent is coming to a close.

How appropriate, then, that we are in the Paschal Triduum of Holy Week. There have been some darker nights in my life, even as the pain of the migraines continues to wane. I find myself in an alternate space between the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the night that Jesus spent in the pit. With deaths of loved ones and a continued struggle for my own health, I find myself alternately praying Psalm 88, Psalm 22, and Psalm 23. I am ready for a new celebration. I am ready for a Psalm solely of praise, perhaps Psalm 148. I am ready for a new morning to dawn and the Gardener to come and speak my name, inviting me into the light of hope.

I am so close. I can feel it. I can sense the tightly furled buds of spring ready to explode into triumphant color. Easter morning waits for me, and soon will declare that I am invited into a new life. And what a glorious day that will be. I will be ready to again shout Alleluia.

Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed. And I, and you, are raised up in him. Alleluia.

Surprise Blessing: Monarch Butterfly
Surprise Blessing: Monarch Butterfly

Let’s Have a Parade!

For Christmas, my parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the one of my responses:

“Seventy-six trombones led the big parade, one hundred and ten cornets came straight behind…”

There is just something about a parade.

We watch the holiday parades in New York and Pasadena, we celebrate with the small town displays of hard work and gleeful extravagance, we get excited because a parade is coming.

And then maybe, just maybe, we get the chance to be in a parade: directing a float, handling a balloon, or simply able to wave out at all the people watching and waiting to see what is next.

A parade is almost like a piece of music. You cannot experience the entire parade all at once, it has to pass by you, letting you see the disparate parts, the different elements of color and sight and sound. If the whole parade was all at once, then you would miss the fun of it. If they were all gathered in a field at one point, and you had to look at them all from a single vantage point, then there would be details that you would certainly miss. Part of enjoying the parade, in the same manner as enjoying a piece of music, is in the extended experience, rather than condensed into a single painful crash of noise or vision.

You get to look forward to something, as you watch a parade. Each time something passes, something is coming right behind. And if we are lucky, then the grand finale is at the close, and it will make all this waiting worth our time and patience.

And so we wait. Perhaps, if it is cold, we wait with a thermos of hot chocolate, or if it is desperately hot, we wait while fanning our faces, and trying to keep in the shade. Sitting in lawn chairs, or in the tail gate of a car, or simply on the curb, we wait and hope that the waiting is worth the coming celebration.

But even if it is not, if the parade is not what we hoped, perhaps we tell ourselves that we enjoyed it anyway. Maybe we make it worth our while, because of the time that we spent. We make the experience of a parade more than just the parade. It’s partly the waiting, the expectation, the watching, rather than the string of people and things displayed before us. It is the camaraderie of the spectators, the gleeful cries of children who watch and wave from their parent’s laps.

We go to a parade, and enjoy our time, regardless of what happens, merely because we were there.

Perhaps for some of us, I would certainly hope so.

Pardon a metaphorical leap, for a moment, as we consider that parades are like music, and that possibly, a worship service can be like a parade.

See, in worship, there are people who will show up who merely came because they felt that they had to, and maybe they will sit on the curb and wait for everything to pass by them so they can leave. But the folks who enjoy worship, who truly come to worship and to celebrate, they see the time as a gift. It doesn’t matter if they are on the side or on the route streaming by the people; some people, when they come to worship, will find that they have worshipped when they leave, regardless of what happens. It can be a celebration complete with incense and chimes, liturgies and hundred voice choirs, or a simple time of congregational hymns and prayer and preaching, but worship will be worship for them.

Part of the joy is in the participation. It is in the decision, when you go, to know that you will enjoy it, you will find it has worth, that you will have been there, and it was good.

‘Tis the Party Season

It is coming. It is that time of year in the church when all the different groups in the church have a Christmas party. Each group sets a date and time, and then looks forward to it. As a pastor, I’m expected to come to all of them, and bring my husband along as well.

Before I go any further: I enjoy spending time with my congregation. I like celebrations and I love the Christmas season. But it seems that the month of December can be spent in Full On Christmas celebration, and miss my favorite part: Advent.

I’m ready for next year, when Thanksgiving won’t be so darn late, so that there will be more than two days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. I want that space, not so that I have more time to go shopping, but so that I have time to spend in anticipation of the season of preparation before entering the hectic party season.

I wonder if churches would think about spreading their parties out over the year. But really, I’m nearly the only one affected by it, there might be a few who have a couple parties to go to, but I have four or five.

Here’s something odd. My first year at Duke I ended up going to a party every night of the week at the end of term. And that didn’t feel like anything extra at all. Granted, I mostly had studying done, and I was only working part time.

Ah. That’s it. The parties are part of my job. A good, joyful, celebratory part of my job, but job nonetheless. And in the Advent and Christmas season, it’s not as if my load gets any lighter, rather, there is more to plan, and the past two years, there have been more papers to write. It seems that everything in my vocation is stepped up, in a higher gear, and filled with more tasks and requirements.

And in the past, it was the opposite. When I was a student, there was the huge tail of the semester with final exams, then a deep breath of space where I could celebrate and enjoy the last week or so of Advent before Christmas.

This year, I want to celebrate Advent. It is one of my favorite seasons. Advent means coming, and it is when we prepare for the coming of the Christ child. Some of my favorite hymns are Advent hymns, and yet most folks want to sing the Christmas Carols right out of the gate.

As a culture, we like our instant gratification, but Advent allows us to spend time in waiting. I like the practice and discipline of waiting expectantly. I like the time when we sing Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, sometimes even more than Joy to the World. This year, I will work on waiting, even in the midst of the parties, and sit in anticipation of the love that came down to live among us.

Happy Almost Advent Y’all!