Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Do Not Resolve ...

 This weekend is full of traditions.  We will ring in the New Year at home watching favorite movies and will eat black eyed peas on New Year's Day so we will have good luck.  We will call our family and wish them a great year.  We will stay off the roads and away from drunken revelers. 

And we will skip the New Year's Resolution thing.  I have given up on this tradition.  Too many folks make meaningless promises, break them too quickly and then feel guilty.  So I will skip the meaningless resolutions.  I will not resolve to stop something or start something new.

However, there are some things I will continue this year. 

I will continue to love God, follow Jesus, live my faith and share it with others.  I will continue to love my family beyond words.  I will continue to parent my child and hold him accountable for his mistakes, while also letting him know how much I am proud of him. 

I will continue to teach my students with all that I have in me.  I will continue to support the causes that are important to me - progressive politics, gun control, ending domestic violence, supporting women's causes, and others.

I will continue to spend time working to end economic injustice and hunger.  I will continue to work to end straw gun purchases in Philadelphia.  I will continue to be proud of my church and the advocacy we are involved in.

I will continue to love action movies and mystery novels.  I will continue to enjoy the TV shows I love to watch.  I will keep on blogging and studying social media and preaching.  I will continue to support my family and friends in their dreams.  I will continue to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees (even though it causes me grief in Philly). 

I will continue to be obsessed with Dr. Who and Torchwood.  I will continue to be upset when stores put out Christmas stuff before Halloween.   I will continue to be silly with my son.  I will continue to tell jokes badly and to laugh as often as possible.  I will continue to be happy with who I am.  I will continue to pray for those in need and believe in the power of those prayers.

So I am not resolving to do anything new next year.  I will continue to be me and all that that implies.  God made me … God loves me … and God will continue to guide me.

May you continue being who you are and who God made you to be.   May God guide you into the new opportunities this coming year allows.  May you continue to love God and share that with others.  May you know peace and may your faith continue to give you strength.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent and Christmas Are Not for Sissies!

Christmas is an amazing time of year.  It is filled with shopping trips and lists of things to do.  It is filled with writing cards and spending time on line at the local post office.  It is filled with family gatherings and craziness with relatives you seldom get to spend time with.  It is filled with rich food and too many snacks sitting around to munch on.  It is filled with long lines and gift returns.  It is filled with company parties and too many adult beverages.  It is filled with hectic schedules and stressful travel arrangements.  It is filled with rushing about and feeling behind too much of the time.   It is filled with much, too much that can drain us spiritually and emotionally from the true meaning of the season.

But the Christmas season is not yet here – it’s close but it has yet to arrive.  We are still in Advent – the liturgical season of preparation for the coming of the Christ child - despite how we might be living in the present.  Advent is a time of expectant waiting and anticipation for the Second Coming of the Christ as well.  It is about being ready.  It is about preparing ourselves to receive this amazing gift.  It is about celebrating the first coming while preparing for the second.  It is the beginning of the liturgical year, but too often we rush through it without embracing the opportunities it affords.  I have seen far too many examples of this in the past month.  And I have fallen victim to it a few times as well.

We want to rush through Advent to get to Christmas as quickly as we can.  We rush into singing Christmas hymns because we cannot wait.  We rush into the stores at midnight on Black Friday because Christmas shopping cannot come too quickly.  We rush into the joy of Christmas without wanting to experience the despair often associated with anticipation and waiting.

Rushing past the waiting is easy.  Waiting for the coming of Christ is hard.  It’s not for sissies.  It means embracing the reality of being on a journey that brings us closer to God and closer to the coming of our Savior.  But it means waiting in the brokenness.  It means taking the journey without shortcuts. 

We wait for a Savior that comes to heal our broken world, who comes to free the captive and give sight to the blind, who comes to bring justice to those who are afflicted and oppressed, who comes to make the world what God intends, who comes to bind our wounds, who comes to make things right.  But we have to wait and prepare for that coming.

Waiting is still where we sit – for a few days more.  If you, like me, have rushed too much into the Christmas Season too quickly – take these last few days and nights to truly prepare.  Take these last few days to wait expectantly.  Take these last few days to hear once again – or for the very first time - the lyrics of the great hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting out of the Helicopter

I have heard of some pretty serious hovering parents – often called Helicopter Parents – in my life and I try not to be the same way.  I protect my kid as best I can but I have to let him lead his own life.  I cannot hover over him and/or force him to make the decisions I want him to make.  I understand that sometimes he will make good decisions.  And sometimes he won’t.  All I can do is teach him the best lessons I can and guide him as I am able/or as he needs me.  But that type of parenting seems to be at odds with some others I know.

I happened upon a TLC show recently called “Toddlers and Tiaras” that scared the living daylights out of me.  These parents – mainly Moms – are so enmeshed in their kids’ lives and successes that they have little identity outside of their children’s.  They dress them as adults, slap on absurd amounts of makeup, sprinkle them with glitter, and teach them to dance in sexy (often inappropriate – in my opinion) ways to win child beauty pageants.  The show made me very uncomfortable.  I watched half of one episode and was almost ill by the end.

One of the interesting things about the show is that they depict these parents in each episode without narration and without really making any judgment as it airs.  However, one glance at their website and you see sections entitled “10 Most Controversial Parents” and “Oh No They Didn’t.”  It is clear the show is intended to show the absurdity of these parents’ decisions but at the same time they are also putting on display the huge industry that is child beauty pageants and all of the companies, professionals and coaches that are behind the scenes.

While I understand the need to be nonjudgmental to get folks to be on their show – I had a tough time watching it at all.  As I mentioned already – I barely got through half of one episode.  I found that I could not watch it without almost yelling at the TV – “are you kidding me?” and “Mom, get a life!”  There are even moments on these episodes when the children show how much they are disinterested in the pageants and how angry they are with their hovering, pushy parents. 

Granted, I am making a judgment on this show after a limited viewing but it did not take me long to have my fill of these helicopter parents (I must admit, however, that I perused some clips on their website while preparing to write this blog entry).  I know that is judgmental – but I could not help it as I watched the show.  Putting a cone bra on a two year old is more than I can take.  Making a deal with a three year old to keep her fake nails on all day by promising her a pink gun is more than I can comprehend.

And as I was watching this show – I realized that there are certainly times when I helicopter over my own son.  But I have never had him take part in something he had no interest in, wear make-up/what I wanted him to wear to show off, or dance on stage to win cash and prizes – thank God.  And I hope beyond hope that I never find my own self-worth essentially caught up in him and I hope that I never push him into a position where he is uncomfortable (as many of the kids and Dads were on the show). 

The truth is -- there are times that I wonder what he is doing and I want to know the details of his decisions.  But I have to resist.  I trust him.  I raised him well and want him to be his own person.  If I want him to be himself he has to make his own decisions, make his own mistakes, and make his own way on his life journey. 

So even though there are times I will want to hover – I resign as a hovering parent.  I am stepping out of the helicopter.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Worship is Not Just for “Natives”

The other day I was asked by a pastor friend why some of his newer members sometimes ask “clueless questions” about worship.  “They should know this stuff,” he said.  It was an “aha” moment for him when I asked if these folks had grown up in the church.  They hadn’t.  Then he said, “Well, I guess I’m the clueless one.”  It was an odd conversation because I would think it was obvious – but all of my church visits over the past few years have proven how out of touch many of our churches are with those who did not grow up in the church.

I have led, participated in, and sat in worship services all of my life.  I was raised as a Preacher’s Kid and have been a United Methodist clergyperson for 20 years.  Being part of that means I have been in a lot of worship services.  One thing I have worked very hard to keep in mind as a worship leader is that not all of the folks sitting in the pews know the language, practices, and rituals of worship.  Many worship services assume a level of understanding that is just not true anymore.

People are not as denominationally loyal today as they once were and many have not grown up in the church.  When they do make the effort to come to church seeking a connection to God we should do all we can to welcome them and make the worship service as accessible as possible.  First and foremost we need to create worship that is awe inspiring and praises God.  We need to create worship that connects us to God, makes the Gospel story of Jesus Christ come alive, and empowers us with the Holy Spirit.  We need to create worship that is rich with the sacred and ritual that help us experience God’s presence.

However, we too often create worship that is for “natives” – those who are part of the insider culture of the church.  We too often create worship that is not inclusive of children and folks not part of the traditional church culture.  We often create worship that does not speak fully to the needs of the people in our pews and definitely does not speak to the needs of those who are not usually present.

I am not saying we do worship poorly.  We often do amazing worship.  We frequently create and participate in worship that feeds the people present.  We often lay out a banquet of Gospel and Grace that nourishes and enlivens.  However, too many are still walking away starving.  Our worship is regularly too heady and lacks passion and engagement.  And often it assumes a level of experience and knowledge that is dangerously unaware.  We use books for worship that can be confusing and difficult to use – and we do not help people with them.  We use prayers and litanies that insiders know and others do not – and we assume those not used to the words will figure them out.  We use language that not everyone in the room understands – and hope they “get it.”

I think we all need to examine our worship and our preaching to make sure it is accessible to folks who may not know the secret handshakes or have insider status in our churches.  We need to use language and images that bring life and depth to our worship and preaching that anyone could understand.  We need to enrich our worship and spirituality with rich spirituality.  We need to create environments of welcome and are multi-sensory. 

We definitely need to feed the folks in our pews, but if we starve those who show up without experience in our faith traditions – we have failed them.  We can do better.

A recent article on United Methodist Communications website addresses this topic and offer 5 trends in worship to address the needs of those who are not traditionally part of our worship.  You can see this article at -

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being Inspired

I was asked recently what inspires me.  I had a hard time answering the question.  Not because I did not know what inspires me, but because there are so many ways to answer that question. 

I get inspired in my personal life by beautiful nature, blessed friendships, connections to family, the laughter of my child, walks in the woods, awesome sunsets, opening buds of flowers, changing colors in the fall and so many other things.  I also get inspired by music, art, pop culture (some, not all), movies, and stories of overcoming obstacles. 

And I get inspired by the turn of a fantastic double play by baseball players who are paid too much, but jump up and down like little boys when they make a great play.  I get inspired by theater and a lofty song sung from the heart by a tremendous talent who has committed to their craft for years and paid their dues.

In my professional life I get inspired by the work of other homileticians (preaching professors) who work to teach their students options to express the Gospel in ways that engage and lift the people in their pews.  I am inspired by my students who reach for new learnings - sometimes forward bursting with enthusiasm, sometimes backward to safe shores, and sometimes shakily with fear and trepidation but who reach anyway. 

I am inspired by the affirmation of others who like my work. I got some of that this past weekend in Austin at the Academy of Homiletics.  Folks responded to my work and asked me questions that will lead me into further exploration.  I sat with PhD students who shared what they are working on and it inspired me to keep at it.  I had breakfast with fellow scholars from Drew University who are in the Academy and heard ways they are doing fantastic things in their field with the education they received from that institution. I got inspired by being in the room with some of my heroes of the art of preaching and hearing their stories of teaching and preaching.

I am inspired in my spiritual life by great preaching (of course), rituals that move my soul, the singing of many traditional hymns and some contemporary stuff, meditation and prayer, reading the Bible, working on a sermon, being in cathedrals and back rooms of pubs doing worship, talking about my faith with other journeyers, and feeling the breath of God.  I am inspired by the social justice work done by so many churches and individuals on so many issues - but especially working for the poor and marginalized.

I am inspired by the questions my teenage son asks about life and death, the ways my church celebrates the Eucharist, the prayers of the people of God lifted in unison, and the lighting of Advent candles in preparation of the Coming of Christ - as a babe the first time and again in the Second Coming. 

These are just some I the ways I am inspired generally and how I have been inspired this past week.  I hope you have a hard time answering that question, too.  I hope it is hard to think of an easy answer because so many different things inspire you in many, many ways.

I thank God for inspiration and for the opportunity to use those inspirations in my life, my work, and my faith.