Month: February 2016

the lesson we were called to learn

The Gospel we read in Children’s Chapel this morning (and that we read downstairs in the liturgy, and that was read this morning in every church in the world that follows the Revised Common Lectionary) was Luke 13:31-35, in which the Pharisees warn Jesus that King Herod wants to kill him.

In the Children’s Chapel of our beloved old church – just a few hours and a few miles away from a shooting spree that left six dead and others critically injured – we talked about how King Herod was afraid. Using dry erase boards, we drew what fear looks like and talked about how it makes us feel. How it makes it hard to make space for love. How it makes it hard to think about others. Then we erased our drawings of fear, imagining fear itself being erased by everything the kids thought would counter it: God, love, laughter, community. Then we drew love in its place and felt our world expand. We didn’t do this in response to last night; we did it because it’s the lesson we were called to learn today. We did it because it’s the work Jesus asks us to do.

The Gospels aren’t the only way to teach kids how dangerous it is to live in fear – to stop seeing others as worthy and beloved – but they do teach us that more clearly than anything else I’ve encountered. And in scripture and every single other way we feel called to that lesson, we need to go there. And take our children there. We need to put fear down and pick up one another. Because this work we’re doing together with our small ones? The work of helping them to understand those around them as brothers and sisters in Christ, in precarious and beloved life, in suffering and pain and impossible redemption? It is weighty. It is a burden and a privilege. And it is necessary in the face of senseless and crushing destruction. It is an antidote to a culture that sometimes forgets to remember the sacredness of life.

If your kiddos worshiped with us today, or even if they didn’t, you can find the weekly reflection on how we spent our time together here.

And if you, like me, are grappling tonight with bloodshed in our little city – with a resistance to vulnerability that leads again and again to rage and death – then I see you, and am praying across the miles and the minutes and the hours alongside you. I am reminding us both of these words, taken from our St. Luke’s Lenten prayers and Bishop John Pritchard’s Second Intercessions Handbook:

Somewhere near us, at this moment, and every moment until we’re here again next week, God will be lovingly present to every part of creation, and every person in it. God will be struggling with us, and shaping us; encouraging and persuading us; delighting in us and despairing over us. God will never give up. And because divinity is inexhaustible, in the end God will always succeed.

May we know much more of Jesus’s steadfastness than of Herod’s fear.

Advertisements

on beginning to offer weekly children’s chapel reflections

Countering the long-held notion that practice follows belief, John Roberto claims in Reimagining Faith Formation that :

the early community that followed Jesus was a community of practice….They listened to stories that taught them how to act toward one another, what to do in the world. They healed people, offered hospitality, prayed together, challenged traditional practices and rituals, ministered to the sick, comforted the grieving, fasted, and forgave. These actions induced wonder, gave them courage, empowered hope, and opened up a new vision of God. By doing things together, they began to see differently. (34-35, emphasis mine)

It is in behaving as Christ that we begin to believe in Christ.

A good bit of that practice happens in the sanctuary, at the altar, in the pews. But we also know that a lot of it needs to happen at home. Roberto calls clergy and lay ministers to the work of “equip[ping] families as centers of faith formation” (46). And he cites Sociologist Robert Wuthnow, whose research overwhelmingly suggests that the following family-centered activities are critical to our efforts to raise children who will grow up to keep their faith close.

  1. eating together, especially the power of Sunday meals;
  2. praying: bedtime rituals and prayer, grace before meals;
  3. having family conversations;
  4. displaying sacred objects and religious images;
  5. celebrating holidays;
  6. providing moral instruction;
  7. engaging in family devotions and reading the Bible. (46, formatting mine)

In an effort to make space for this work – to support St. Luke’s families in the beloved labor of creating a faith-centered home – we have brought into being this new tab on the blog, which will offer a look each Monday into the worship and learning in which we engaged the day before. These reflections will include insights into the scripture we read, the songs we sang, the prayers we prayed, and the questions we asked ourselves.

Lent feels like an especially fruitful time to begin to offer these insights, as it is the perfect season to pursue and create new spiritual disciplines. My hope is that parents and guardians will find these weekly reflections of service. They are intended to induce fruitful dinner-time discussions, deepened spiritual connections, and a heightened understanding that the practice of loving and worshiping God is, ultimately, the thing that “induce[s] wonder.”

Please do let us know how you incorporate these reflections into your particular faith habits at home, how you and your little ones respond, and what else we might offer here to support your family’s journey.

Yours with love,
Renee

IMAG0579

Ashes & Honesty

Last week my older son, who is newly four, asked what the columbarium at St. Luke’s is for. We were sitting at our dining room table, and he was drawing a map of our church, and it occurred to him that there was a room that he didn’t understand. Or maybe he’s been thinking about it for awhile, sensing that it has a hefty importance. An importance of which we don’t tend to speak. Kids sense things.

Though I believe with my whole heart in the necessity of creating a cohesive narrative with kids about death, my heart seized up a little. It is easy to believe in talking honestly with kids about these mortal bodies. It is a lot harder to really do it. But I found my steadiest voice and said, “a columbarium is a sacred place for keeping the ashes of people we love after they die.” Then I waited a minute, a quiet minute, and asked softly, “do you want to talk more about that now, or would you like to wait?” “Wait,” he said. And we went back to drawing.

This will unfold over the course of his childhood. His readiness will unfold. Now he knows there are ashes in that small room. Soon we’ll show him which box holds the ashes of his tiny stillborn sister. One day we’ll explain how bodies become ashes and it will make more concrete the abstraction of death. And as his understanding of community grows, he’ll learn from that room about the losses of those around him. Recognize names. Read birth years and death years. Feel the differing heft of long lives and short lives. Of early deaths and late deaths. Our columbarium is a place for mourning, for communion, but it is also, quietly, a place for education.

I’ve been sitting with this a good bit in anticipation of leading our parish children through the quickly approaching season of Lent, and today I ran across this lovely post.

There, Ben Irwin, writes:

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a sobering reminder of our inevitable death. The sight of ashes on my daughter’s unwrinkled forehead—the thought of telling her, in word and through ritual, that she is destined for the grave—it seems almost cruel. I know… it is more cruel to pretend all is well with the world when all is most certainly not. But try locking eyes with an ebullient five-year-old and telling her “to dust you shall return.” Surely an observance as solemn as Lent isn’t the way to keep our kids in the church. It runs counter to almost everything people say churches must do to attract and retain youth. Keep it fun! Keep them entertained! Keep it relevant! But maybe the conventional wisdom isn’t so wise after all…. Maybe…we [should invite] them to walk through the darker valleys with us….Maybe that’s what they really need us to share with them.

I’d love to know where you are with this. When and where you’ve let go of your own discomfort with death in order to offer it to your children with clear eyes and true faith, and when and where you’ve struggled. How they’ve responded when they’ve bumped up against it. What you think it means to make space for children through the darker valleys.

Upstairs at St. Luke’s this Lent, we’ll face this complexity by drawing closer to Jesus. We’ll move with as much nuance as we can through his time in the desert. Through his teachings: the parables of the fig tree and the prodigal son. Through the perfume poured out on his feet, an extravagant anticipation of death. We will love him through his humanity and his divinity, and try to grasp the two as absolutely, intricately, necessarily connected. And maybe, in so doing, we’ll get a glimpse of ourselves. Because as John Dominick Crossan says in The Greatest Prayer:

What happens to God and what happens to us are interactive, reciprocal, and collaborative….Can what is said of God happen without us? Can what is said of us happen without God?

Let us know where you are this Lenten season. Let us together bring openness and reverence to these coming weeks of return and restoration. Of darker valleys and collaboration. Of hope in ashes and ashes in hope and the love of Christ at every turn.