Prayer for Advent Vigil

You should have received a glow stick – – let’s light them up… 

They are a great reminder of how we come to bear light in the world.

There’s the breaking (snap). And the shaking that mixes the chemicals inside. And then ultimately the shining.

We are broken open by the truth of God’s great love for us, the goodness of God’s grace.

The Holy Spirit takes hold of us, dwells in us and changes us, creating new life inside us. Shakes us up a little.

And led by that Spirit, we begin to shine, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the world

In the beginning of John’s gospel, 

we are given the beautiful word picture of Jesus coming into the world as the LIGHT of the world.

We are reminded that the darkness of the age, all the ages, would not prevail… not against God’s light.

This is part of why we light candles in the season of Advent. 

They create a growing puddle of light as the day approaches when the LIGHT of the World appears.

We light them, calling out the truths of God’s presence as our hope, our peace, our joy and our deepest and first love.

We light them to push back against the darkness within us, the shadow side of humanity

They are both with us, all the time – we sing about that complexity in O Little Town of Bethlehem…

“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.  

In Christ, our hopes AND our fears are met.

We churchy folk tend not to talk about fear or those other shadows that threaten to overtake our hearts…

Resentment, Jealousy, Despair, Rage, Sorrow, Hate, Distrust, Doubt

I think we avoid talking about them because we are taught they are all bad. And so, if we admit we experience them, we must also be bad. A bad person. Or at least not good enough, not faithful enough.

Let me say, before we begin to pray… That is a lie from the pit of hell.

You can, indeed, be a decent and deeply faithful person and feel fear. Or anger.

Or any of those emotions. 

We are human after all.

To be fully who we are, we must acknowledge the fullness of how we respond to the world. And remember that Jesus, God in human form, experienced a wide range of emotions.

Having feelings isn’t the problem. It’s how we deal with them that can become problematic.

And if we want to reflect the image of God, we need to find our way through all the feeling.

You can’t heal what you don’t feel. Much less what you pretend you don’t feel.

As we pray, I invite you to add your own thoughts in brief moments of silence, at the end of each petition.

And we will end the silence by raising the light and saying Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

Gracious God

Sometimes, we start the day strong and walking with you in confidence, only to found ourselves scared and anxious

We wonder how long this pandemic will last

We worry about the doctors and nurses and other caregivers

Not only caring for those with the virus but having to do extra work to complete familiar procedures and offer treatment for other diseases

It is scary to think that we might not be cared for if something happens to us or to someone that we love.

It is frightening to imagine someone in our own households becoming ill, facing long term effects, or even dying from this disease

We want to be courageous and carry on with life, but honestly God, the advice we hear can be confusing and the conflict over that advice is disheartening

We need you to bring hope and peace into our pandemic-tinged days and nights

Hear our prayers and help us listen for your words for us

SILENCE

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

We watch as lines grow longer at food pantries and resource centers across the country and down the street

We check our own bank accounts and investments, wondering how they will hold up

We see businesses struggling and fear for the owners and their employees

We want to trust that you will provide for us and our households 

And yet, We worry – Will there be enough… for our families, for our church, for our communities? For those who have long been on the margins?

Hear our prayers and help us listen for your words for us

    SILENCE

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

So much is changing in our world, so rapidly

Technology has changed the way we do everything, and it can be confusing and frustrating

People are living and talking in ways that we never imagined

And it seems many of the rules and habits we were taught no longer apply

It is scary to see the anger on display in our politics, and not just in the halls of government

The streets and the airwaves and the internet have become places where policy and preferences are made known and fought over… sometimes through violent words and actions

We long for peace, we need your peace that passes all understanding.

We long for courage, not bravado. We need to know and to share your perfect love- the perfected love that drives out all fear.

Hear our prayers and help us listen for your words for us

    SILENCE

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

Lord, we have lifted our fears to you and now we lift our hopes to you as well

Knowing that they are indeed, all met in you

Hear our prayers and help us listen for your words for us

    SILENCE

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

Come, Light of the World, shine brightly through us

AMEN

Tonight, we gathered after dark so that we can more easily see things that are made of light. 

We gathered in the dark, and we will leave in the dark

But we need not fear the dark or the night, or anything the world might throw at us.

Because we do not face any of it alone. 

God is with us – Emmanuel!

Go in hope, peace, love and joy

Amen.

I just don’t even know

I could probably stop there. That sentiment is true for so many facets of life right now. Ask me how I’m doing on any given day, and I’m likely to take a really good long pause because, honestly, I just don’t even know.

But even if you get specific.

Ask me how I feel about going back to North Carolina after a week at home in Florida.

Ask me whether we’ll be able to worship together inside for Christmas Eve.

Ask me how long it will take for my current church to call their next pastor.

Ask me what I think will happen between now and the election. On election night. Between then and inauguration day.

I just don’t even know.

Today’s news about the president and first lady testing positive for Covid? That takes things to a whole other level of shrugging.

I mean, obviously, I don’t want anyone to suffer physically and this virus does not play. I pray they are among those fortunate enough to have mild symptoms and an uneventful recovery.

But I don’t know – is this even real?? Are they up to some kind of shenanigans to distract or mislead us? After all the bald-faced lying that the representatives of this administration have done for the past three years, who could possibly know for sure?

I like to trust people. I like to believe that their intentions are (while human and fallible) generally good. But I cannot believe that of someone who has shown, time and time again, that their primarily aim is their own gain. Collateral damage be damned.

So – I will continue to pray and watch with wary eyes wide open.

Ask me if I can do more to love this particular neighbor?
I just don’t even know right now.

Two wants don’t make a right.

It has been a combination of exasperating and interesting to watch people navigate these last several weeks of CoronaTide. Clearly, we are all tired of the limitations that we’ve dealt with – whether required by civic authorities or self-imposed. Tired and cranky.

In conversations about all manner of things, I keep hearing about rights. Our right to do X or say Y. Our right to be here or go there.

And honestly, most of the time, they aren’t right. It’s not about rights granted, it’s about privilege purchased. Or responsibilities acknowledged.

For instance, purchasing a reservation for a flight doesn’t guarantee the right to sit mask-free (or worn such that it is useless), any more than it grants a right to board if you’ve been bumped because the flight was oversold.

And yet, I watched several passengers disregard the instructions for proper mask protocols until it was made clear they would not have the privilege of boarding with the rest of us.

I couldn’t help but think about the conversations that pop up around going back into the sanctuary for worship. When I hear things like “I have a right choose, a right to take on that risk,” my brain translates that to “I have the right to get sick and to make other people sick while I’m at it.”

That is bad enough when we’re talking about colds and flus. But with this virus? Really?

The Jesus I invite people to follow never spoke about rights, but he sure had a lot to say about our responsibilities to one another. To put others’ needs ahead of our own. To serve rather than be served.

And the Jesus I ask people to remember, laid aside the privilege of being on equal footing with God, emptied himself took on the form of a servant – a slave – and was obedient right up to death.

If anyone had the right to say “Hold up, guys, no one’s getting crucified today…” that would be Jesus. But instead he asked forgiveness for those who made it happen.

Yes, we have rights in this country of ours, and many of us have more privilege than we care to admit. But if we claim to be Jesus-followers, we need to be paying a lot more attention to our responsibilities: to love God with our whole selves (mind, heart, soul, and strength) and to love our neighbors at least as much as we love ourselves.

I want to be able to walk around without a mask. I want to stop being cautious about how close I am to people. I want to sing and shout with my people. But that doesn’t make any other those activities the right thing to do. Yet.

One Day, I’ll Go…

In the Disney-Pixar movie Moana, the song that sets up our protagonist’s inner conflict is How Far I’ll Go. It sets up the hero’s quest, even as it gives a nod to the teen desire to find one’s place (which rarely is at home)

It’s on a Disney music playlist that I like turn on when I need some energy on a short run. (along with Touch the Sky from Brave and Go the Distance from Hercules.

Anyway – How Far I’ll Go was one reason I named my first triathlon training bike Moana. Moving from the sprint to olympic distance rides, the lyrics of the refrain felt both descriptive and aspirational

The line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, how far I’ll go

The other day, though, I felt that pull in a completely different setting.

I had just climbed up to the Clingmans Dome observation tower. It was a gorgeous morning in that part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountains were verdant and lush, and just peeking out over their trademark blanket of misty clouds.

I had seen on the maps that just beyond the paved path, I should be able to locate where the Appalachian Trail intersected with the far western end of the North Carolina Mountain-to-Sea trail. I’ve been hoping to walk a few more stretches of the MTS while I’m in the state, so why not track that down?

I followed a sign and scrambled down a few rocky steps to find myself in that exact intersection. I walked a ways down the MST, until the canopy and the wildflowers and their insect friends started crowding the path.

And then I realized the repellant was in the car, not on me.

So I went back up to the trailhead and looked in the direction of the Appalachian Trail.

And all of a sudden, my heart leapt. And started singing..

The line where sky meets the trees? It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes

One day I’ll go...

There something about the beach that calms me and something about cities that energizes me.

But there is something altogether different about the trail
The marked and yet always evolving paths
The challenge of getting up and over and down and across obstacle
The light through the canopy, the crunch underfoot and the birds overhead

It calls me. And next time, I’ll have my gear.

And when I cross that line, there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

And she wondered, where are all the words?

The other day, I sat down with a little bit of time, thinking I might do some writing that wasn’t for work.

And basically, I had nothing. I had run out of words, which is really odd. I started doing inventory, and realized why I was hitting this wall. In any given week, I craft

  • 2 different sermons
  • Portions of 2 worship services
  • An email about our interim process
  • 1 or 2 emails with prayer and news for the congregation
  • Multiple emails and texts to members and leaders of the congregation
  • Multiple emails and texts to family
  • Facebook posts and messages (church, family, friends)
  • Extemporaneous Facebook live devotionals every weekday

That’s a lot of words in normal times, but these are pandemic times. It takes so much more energy to do almost everything, since there is so much more going on in my brain ALL. THE. TIME.

And, I suppose since so many of these are on FB or YouTube, it feels like they are already out in the world.

Never fear – I do have lots of thoughts about lots of things and haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Just tethered a little farther away from here.

Pentecost Thoughts and Prayers

Adapted from an email sent to Shallotte Presbyterian Church for Pentecost

I went to the beach this morning to record the Acts scripture on video. I thought maybe I could add a reflection afterward, something more timely than what I recorded for today’s worship- back on Thursday afternoon.

The truth is that my heart has been troubled the last few days – It’s hard to read about tongues of fire bringing about good things while cities across the country burn.  

After I read Acts 2:1-36 (and posted here), I took a walk, collected some sea shells and collected my thoughts.   

I realized that what I want to do is completely beyond me, beyond my ability, beyond my scope of work: I want to make sure that all God’s children, everywhere, are ok.   

I know.  It’s not my job to heal the world. It’s not my job to make sure that all people have houses and jobs, that no one goes hungry, that no one gets murdered in the street or beaten in their own home, that no one is shunned for who they love, that no group is left behind financially. 

But I see so much hurting, so much sorrow, so much righteous (and unrighteous) anger being shouted from streets and rooftops. It breaks my heart.  I know it breaks God’s heart. 

I believe this because God has shown us what love looks like. It looks like Jesus: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, setting the captives free (Luke 4:16-21); Love looks like the church: sharing from its abundance and healing the sick (Acts 4:32-37; 5:12-16).   

The good news of the gospel is quite simple. The world doesn’t have to be this way.  God sent the Spirit to the church, so that the church can go to the world.  Friends, that means WE are God’s plan for seeking out the scattered and broken, so that they might know the beauty of belonging.  

Let us pray:

For the cities and towns across the country where voices are being raised in protest against true injustice. And for those who would use these gatherings as opportunities to sow seeds of mistrust and chaos. May your church in these places be a place of sanctuary and a voice of truth. 

For the households in which illness and sorrow are have taken up residence. May your church be the voice of hope and compassion and your Spirit bring peace. 

For the families who are struggling and unsure how to the navigate financial, relational and spiritual challenges they face.  May your church nourish their hungers, tangibly and faithfully. 

For the challenges we will face as congregations, learning how to be church in a world that is not likely to ever look or feel exactly like it did before.  May your church be courageous, creative and loving, bearing witness to the faith, hope and love that always has and always will abide. 

Lord, in your great mercy, hear our prayers.

Amen. 

Courage is a Rock

It is one of the rare tchotchkes on my desk that I honestly can’t remember where or when I got it.

I remember picking it up. Whenever.

And feeling the weight and coolness in my hand. Wherever.

And I remember being drawn to that the inscription: Courage

It’s come with me to a few desks now. Courage.

It can bear witness to times I stood firm,
times I was uncomfortably vulnerable,
conversations I wished I could avoid,
moments of truth-telling,
decisions that were right but so very very hard.

It can bear witness to tears I never shared with anyone.

These days, it is my rock.

I know I am not alone in the leadership of our congregation. I have a wonderful group of elders and deacons, active and “resting.” I have mentors and coaches and folks who inspire me from afar.

But I am on my own most days.
Socially responsibly working from my house.
From my house that is not actually my home.
Connecting with all those leaders and helpers, mostly online.

Which means I alone
And alone can be discouraging

Sometime early last year, I picked up a copy of Padraig O Tuama’s Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community. It quickly became part of my devotional practice, as his playful words and poetic sensibility feel like the voice in my head (if it had grown up in Ireland, that is).

One of the prayers he shares from the Corrymeela community’s work for reconciliation is the Prayer for Courage. I have prayed it for myself, for communities, and for other friends on many occasions.

This morning, as I read it again during morning devotions, I almost stopped after the first few lines.

“Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God,
the Croi of all being.”

Croi, he explains in a footnote, is an Irish word (pronounced Kree) that means heart. But it is also the name of the chapel space in Corrymeela, in which prayers and silence and dialogue are shared. It has a living roof, and is filled with the spirit of the living, reconciling God.

I read those lines this morning and looked over at my rock.
Courage comes from the heart. Huh.

We are always welcomed by God,
the heart of all being,
from which courage is birthed.
Whenever I need it.

We are always welcomed by God,
the sanctuary of all being,
the room of requirement,
the space that is always held for me. Us.
Wherever I am.

Courage is a rock.


Not exactly what I signed up for

I finally sat down to watch Spider-Man: Far From Home tonight. I like a good comic book flik. And the Marvel ones tend to have enough redemption and hope built into the story lines that I can enjoy the ride.

I might not always need a ride with pretend dangers and heroes that find their way in the end. Right now? Yes, please.

I won’t spoil the film, in case you’re as behind as I am on movie-watching. But here’s what you need to know. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a brilliant and decidedly awkward high school student who just happens to have superpowers. MJ is far from the mostly helpless blonde versions we’ve seen in recent films. She’s every bit his equal, and brown-skinned to boot.

They’ve survived the narrative arc of the Avengers films and the trauma specific to Spider-man: Homecoming, so they are very ready for their class trip to Europe. A summer escape from the responsibilities most HS seniors looking toward college or the rest of life has looming.

Peter is dealing with the additional weight of grief, having lost a mentor in Tony Stark/Iron Man. Peter knows that his powers come with responsibility to more than just himself and his dreams, but he knows that they also come with a price.

The big trip is interrupted by what looks to be another alien invasion, but without the Avengers to save the day. Mysterio – a new hero- shows up, and Spider-man is recruited to help. But he’s torn. He finds himself sitting at the top of a tower (in Venice, I think?).

Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) flies up to check on him.

Quentin Beck: How are you feeling?
Peter Parker: I didn’t think I was going to have to save the world this summer. I know that makes me sound like such a jerk. I just, I had this plan with this girl that I really like, and now it’s all ruined.
Quentin Beck: You’re not a jerk for wanting a normal life, kid. It’s a hard path. You see things, you do things, you make choices. People look up to you. Even if you win a battle, sometimes they die.

I so feel you, Peter.

The pandemic-related work I’m doing for my congregation isn’t about saving the world, but it’s not what I had planned. I was going to come in, meet some good people, take them through a fairly straight-forward process to find their next pastor and move on. And now…. well.

We’ve all been thrust into a world where the risk is real and very confusing. We have to make choices based on the best information we have, and that gets harder the more exhausted we get. And I do feel like a jerk when I just want to take a break and stop caring about ALL the people. Until I talk to a friend who gets it.

After this pep talk, Peter says to Beck something like, “It feels good to have someone to talk to about superhero stuff.”

My colleagues wear stoles and collars, and we tend to shy away from the idea that we are heroes, much less super. But in our conversations, I see great power – fierce love, fervent hope and deep faith. And I see that we all need a reminder that we’re not jerks when we just want something to go to plan. We are simply being human.

May we come through all of this with our humanity intact, still clinging to the faith, hope and love that abide.

How’s the Weather

It’s raining here today. Will be all day, apparently.

The weather app shows big wet blue bar from 6am to 4pm, and the radar image reminds me of an outer band of a hurricane – all ragged stripes of various colors.

But standing on my front porch or listening to it fall as I look out the windows of my sun room, I don’t see what’s coming. Just what is happening right now around me.

No anticipating, just experiencing and trying to make sense of what that means for right now.

That’s not the only way today’s weather is a meteorological metaphor for the entire month of April.

This rain has followed the intensity pattern of the emotions I’ve been feeling all month… a little light sadness followed by a deluge of frustration. A slow down as I find my footing that is followed by a wave of grief. And then a little more sadness that feels like it’s tapering off, only to have exhaustion come thundering in.

All of it natural and real and, ultimately, life giving… but not the sunshine I prefer.

And then I remember that all sunshine and no rain leads to drought.

So… I’ll watch the rain and trust that the sun shines on behind the clouds. I’ll cry and cuss and trust that the joy still abides.

The ground will soak up the water, the earth will be nurtured.
And I will press on, live on, too.

Things I’ve learned this month

I swear, April 2020 has lasted approximately three years, and we’re not even to the end yet. As a fan of Doctor Who, I have known for quite some time that our western linear understanding of time is not nearly sufficient to explain how we experience time. That’s more about trying to keep commerce and transportation coordinated.

Time as we experience it? That’s stretchy and squishy and completely unpredictable. I mean, who hasn’t felt like a day flew by, even as it lasted way longer than its 24 allotted hours?

But that’s not what I came here to babble about. I have actually learned a few things this month that I want to make note of:

  1. Mangos are really hard to cut. They are quite fibrous and very awkwardly shaped. But they taste amazing.
  2. Turnips are edible, and not just by rabbits and other characters in farm- or garden-centered children’s books.
  3. Trail shoes are really important if you’re going to run near a lake after a rainy week.
  4. No matter how resilient you think you are, some days are just shitty and hard and your bounce-back tools will fail you.
  5. I am capable of making my bed for several weeks in a row.
  6. You never really outgrow dyslexia, so always always always check the numbers you write down.
  7. (or 6.A) When you are adapting a recipe and doing math, write down the number you just figured out so that you don’t have to re-figure it every time you look at the paper and can’t trust that you’re remembering the fraction properly.
  8. Going up and over the bridge toward the ocean is roughly the emotional equivalent to driving under the archway onto Walt Disney World property.
  9. Silence can be a really lovely companion. Until it’s not.
  10. Practicing the hard work of living with integrity and vulnerability is 100% worth it when things go bonkers in the world and you don’t have the emotional or intellectual bandwidth to do/be anything else.
  11. Peeps and animal crackers make really bad s’mores. Even with good chocolate.
  12. Chocolate bunnies can be melted and globbed onto very fresh strawberries for a tasty treat.
  13. Low-carb ice cream left to melt for a little while can be a fine substitute for whipped cream (handy if you have more strawberries than you have chocolate bunnies to melt)
  14. Life really is more about improv than performance, more adapting than planning. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan or act with intention, but it require loosening our grips and opening our minds.
  15. Pay the money for a good chair at the home office.