Lenten Offertory Prayer

In preparing for Ash Wednesday and this weekend’s Lenten retreat I haven’t found a lot of time to blog. Thought I would share the offertory prayer we will be using for Lent this year.

God of the Cross, in losing our lives we find them in you. In sharing our money and time, we receive the blessings of your Kingdom. Use these gifts toward your holy work of peace, justice, and service in the world. Amen.

Categories: Lent/Easter, Offertory Prayer, Worship Pieces | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Missional Prayer

6299495645This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality.  With this event, MennoNerds is exploring  Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what such spirituality means concerning participation in the mission of God.

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“Missional Prayer.” That’s my topic for today. And it seemed like a good topic weeks and weeks ago when I signed up for it. Plus it was one of the latest topics on the syncroblog schedule. So here we are. “Missional Prayer.” And now that I actually have to write about it, I realize that it is a rather odd phrase.

Some might even consider it an oxymoron. “Missional,” after all, generally makes us think of going out into the world, doing the will of God. “Prayer” makes us think of retreating to a quiet place and simply being with God. How can we go and retreat, do and be?

I think that is exactly the challenge of the faithful Christian life.

During my first round of seminary, I fell in love with the theology and practice of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. They preach the Good News and they enact the Good News. They host Bible studies and soup kitchens, hold worship services and art shows. At the heart of their way of being in the world is a commitment to the Inward/Outward journey.

The longer I try to live as a follower of Jesus in this world, the more important this Inward/Outward journey becomes to me. As Christ-followers, we are called to go and retreat; to do and be. It is a balance, a dance between receiving spiritual sustenance and being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

The mission and the prayer are both necessary for a life of faith; and they are not two separate actions or two distinct parts of one’s life. The inward and the outward, the prayer and the mission, nurture each other; they intertwine in ways that make the Christian life possible when it would otherwise be impossible. “Missional Prayer” is not an oxymoron. It is the opposite of an oxymoron . . . an oxygenius?

“Missional Prayer” is any way of being with God that allows us to better understand God’s work in the world and that empowers us to participate more deeply in that work.

Such prayer can involve praying for specific people. These prayers can deepen our sensitivities, open our eyes to needs beyond ourselves.

Such prayers can involve praying for God’s will in certain situations. These prayers can keep us watching for God’s presence in our world.

But more than offering up requests for people or for certain situations, missional prayer means receiving God’s word about the people and situations around us. It means receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to join with the work God is already doing.

If we understand prayer as a conversation with the Divine, then in missional prayer, we should be doing less talking and more listening.

There are, of course, all kinds of ways to listen to God. Many of them won’t look like prayer to anyone who happens to be watching. Many of them might not even feel like prayer to us at first–or they might feel like prayer but seem, somehow, like we are cheating.

But it is not cheating to take a walk in the woods–or in your neighborhood. It’s not cheating to linger in an art gallery–or get out your own art supplies. It’s not cheating to read good poetry or enjoy a good meal or watch a good movie or listen to good music. It’s not cheating to have a real conversation with a friend–or an enemy.

And it’s not cheating to read the Bible or to bow your head and close your eyes or to show up at church on Sunday morning.

All of these can be prayer or not prayer. Missional or not missional.

Missional prayer is not about what we do. It’s about what we notice God doing. And how our noticing then inspires what we do, what we say, who we are.

Missional prayer is not about the words, but when we feel like we need some words anyway, we can simply pray with Jesus: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” Amen.

Categories: Prayers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Defining Some Terms: A Response to the MCUSA Executive Board Statement

IMG_1807On February 17, 2014, the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA released a statement entitled “Moving Forward.” (I’m pretty sure the irony is unintentional.)This statement is a response to the recent licensing of Theda Good by Mountain States Mennonite Conference.

I grieved when I read this statement and realized that once again LGBTQ people are the subject of conversations that they are not invited to be a part of; that once again inclusive churches are being scapegoated for denominational difficulties; that once again the answer from our leadership is a non-answer and therefore a maintenance of the status quo.

I could go on and on and on about all of the problems inherent in this statement; about all of the ways that it disappoints and even disgusts me. And while that blog post would be kind of fun to write, I think it would not be particularly nurturing to the broader church.

What might be helpful, however, is to define a few of the terms and phrases that keep getting thrown around in this denominational conversation–words and phrases that make star appearances in the recent Executive Board statement.

1) Accountability is not the same thing as obedience. Obedience simply means following the rules. Accountability is about relationship. It is about living together in community and encouraging each other toward greater faithfulness–faithfulness to Jesus, not faithfulness to rules.

If you tell me I can’t eat any more chocolate and I comply, that’s obedience. If I tell you I don’t want to eat any more chocolate and you get all the Hershey bars out of my house, that’s accountability. There is a big difference.

2) “Polarities” suggests two groups at equally radical ends of a spectrum. So, to begin with, it is difficult to understand how one could “exacerbate the polarities.” Polarities are, by definition, fully exacerbated already. I am also not convinced that the people who say, “please make space for us in the denomination,” are taking a position that is as radical and hostile (i.e. “polarizing”) as those who say, “make everyone comply with our beliefs or we will leave the denomination.” (More on this here.)

3) At variance. It just means that we disagree with some statement made by some group and approved by another group at some point in relatively-but-not-too recent Mennonite history. Some churches are at variance because they refuse to consider female pastoral candidates. Others are at variance because they practice open communion. Others are at variance because they welcome LGBTQ individuals into church membership and leadership. We need to quit using the term “at variance” as some sort of scarlet letter. Or, as was expressed to me when it was added to my Ministerial Profile, a “slap on the wrist.” It is merely descriptive, and it describes pretty much everyone in Mennonite Church USA.

4) Loving dialog means that we love each other and we are in dialog. It does not mean that we keep our mouths shut for fear of “exacerbating the polarities.” It does not mean that we have conversations about sexual minorities but never with them. (Please read Jennifer Yoder’s testimony regarding her experience as a queer woman among Mennonites.) It does not mean that we accuse anyone who disagrees with us of fraying “the fragile strands of accountability that hold our church together.” It does not mean we threaten to leave if we do not get our way.

If we are loving, then our words are thoughtful and honest. If we are in dialog then we speak and listen and respond and listen and speak . . . for as long as it takes, or at least as long as both conversation partners are committed to the “loving” aspect of the dialog.

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To be honest, when I read that the Executive Board had appointed a(nother) task force, I just wanted to sigh and roll my eyes. But such a response would not have been loving or conducive to dialog. So rather than sigh and roll my eyes–O.K. I said honesty was also part of the deal so I should say in addition to sighing and rolling my eyes–I will pray and hope that we get some definitions right along the way.

I pray that the “task force” will actually be a force for the forward movement implied by the title of the board’s statement. And I pray we will understand that “forward” means discerning what is right for this time, not clinging to denominational rules from nearly a decade ago–or more.

And mostly I pray we get the definition of “Christian” right. That we will be true and faithful followers of Christ Jesus, walking in his way of peace and love and justice.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

Carrying Grief

IMG_2764Last Friday was the first Valentine’s Day since my dad died. My brother and I don’t know what Dad usually did for the big day, so we got Mom some flowers. They are pink, not red. And the card simply says, “Happy Valentine’s Day;” it does not have one of those cheesy romantic Hallmark verses that my Dad somehow managed to get away with year after year.

She cried when she saw the flowers. With my mom, there are a lot of tears. And it’s not always easy to tell the happy ones from the sad ones. I’m sure these tears were both kinds–the love for her children and the longing for her husband pooling together in the corners of her eyes and trailing down her cheeks.

And I really hate that this is all I can do–give her flowers and cards and space. Indulge her new-found passion for Jayhawk basketball, watching the games my dad can no longer watch. (The games he wouldn’t want to watch this year.) Step around the boxes that say “Go Through Later.” Make sure the books in the give-away box don’t have his odd half-printing, half-cursive, writing in the margins. Remind her that we need a monument at the grave. Some time. When she’s ready.

I have my own grief, of course. And I hold hers. Because that’s what daughters do. Or maybe that’s what pastors do. Or at least that’s what I do.

I hold the grief. I want to throw it out the window and let the hungry birds carry it away piece by broken piece. I want to dump it in the compost bin and think about it decomposing in the humid heat until it is good for growing next year’s flowers and food. I want to tuck it into a hand-made card and mail it somewhere beautiful and warm and far away.

There are so many things I want to do with this grief–mine and hers. Yet I find I am still here, holding it. Letting it soften my words and extend my patience. Examining it for clues about how to be in this world now, without Dad. Trusting it’s nudgings toward cards and flowers and small steps of love.


Categories: Ponderings | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Thoughts on Valentines Day

IMG_0322[Revised and re-posted from 2011]

I’ve never been much into Valentine’s day. Post-Valentine’s Day chocolates on sale, yes; the holiday itself, not so much. I never had a boyfriend in Jr. High or High School, so it was just a day to get nothing–which was humiliating–or to get sympathy flowers from my parents–which was more humiliating. Now that I’m married it just seems a bit redundant. Plus, after Christmas, New Years,  and then family birthdays in January, I need a holiday break.

Or maybe not a break. Maybe just a focus on the true meaning of the day. Because  Valentine’s day is not really about those cute little cards (though I love those). It’s not really about getting flowers from the one you love–or feeling awful because you don’t have anyone to send you flowers. Valentine’s day isn’t even about chocolate.

At the root of this celebration of love is St. Valentine. Now, there is some disagreement about who exactly Valentine was, what he did, even which Valentine the holiday is named after. The story I like best is about the 3rd Century priest, Valentine, who was arrested and imprisoned under the regime of Claudius II after he was caught marrying Christians. Because of persecution, Christians were not legally allowed to marry each other. But Valentine married them anyway.

I can’t help but draw a parallel with a particular persecuted group today, and with those priests and pastors who officiate at weddings that are not technically allowed.

Maybe it’s a leap–or at least a hop. But surely holding up courageous same-sex couples and the pastors who marry them is more in the spirit of St. Valentine than dyeing pretzel dough pink and shaping it into hearts. (See accompanying photo.)

So this Valentine’s Day, I send special love and good wishes to the many same-sex couples who are living lives of integrity despite obstacles that some family, friends, churches, and governments seek to put in their way. And I am grateful to the many other pastors and priests who have conducted and will conduct wedding ceremonies for all healthy, committed Christian couples. (And I am glad that such pastors, while they may face consequences, are no longer in danger of being stoned and beheaded by the government.)

This Valentine’s Day, I am praying the misunderstanding and persecution will end soon. (I’m looking at you, Kansas.) That Christians will begin to care less about the sexuality of the people in a marriage, and more about the the quality, the Christ-likeness, of people’s love for each other.

Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all.

Categories: GLBT Concerns | Leave a comment

On Public Writing and Polarization

IMG_1616I recently helped write a letter to leaders of my denomination, Mennonite Church USA. This letter asks that the denomination make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless LGBTQ people. Over 150 credentialed (and formerly credentialed) Mennonite pastors have signed it.  I shouldn’t be surprised that there have been letters in response to our letter. And now there is a sense among some that all of this letter-writing is polarizing.

And I’m a little confused because, in this context, “polarizing” seems to mean “to state your opinion in a public forum.” But I always thought it meant “to force people in opposite directions.”

If our letter said, “Every church in the denomination must hire a gay pastor and open their sanctuary for gay weddings,”–that would be polarizing.

If our letter said, “Our interpretation of scripture is the only valid interpretation and anyone who disagrees with this interpretation should be disciplined by the conference leadership,”–that would be polarizing.

Even if our letter said, “You have to change the denominational guidelines or we will leave,”–that would be polarizing.

What it says is that some of us believe that to faithfully follow Jesus our ministry must include a welcome and affirmation of LGBTQ Christians. We know you don’t all agree with us, but please let us stay and be church with you.

If this letter is indeed “polarizing,” it is only because there are people within the denomination who are at the opposite pole–the pole that says, “We will not be church with people who understand the Bible’s teachings on sexuality in a way that differs from our understanding.”

And apparently there are people at that pole. So it is difficult to see a way forward. Honestly, I do not know how (or if) all of us in MCUSA can hold together as a denomination.

But I will go out on a limb and say this: The way forward is not to dismiss every publicly stated opinion as “polarizing.” The way forward is not to simply repeat the word “unity” while the denomination crumbles–like a 5-year-old with her fingers in her ears and her eyes closed singing la la la la la.

We have to talk with each other honestly and listen openly. Yes we should be kind. Always. But being kind doesn’t mean pretending to agree when we don’t, and it doesn’t mean simply whispering about our disagreements within our own little circles.

And I’ll step just a bit further out onto that limb and say that they way forward is not to try to make everyone happy. Being church isn’t about being happy; it’s not even about being right; it’s about being faithful. I do believe that most of us are trying to be faithful. So may the Holy Spirit guide our feet . . . and our mouths . . . and our letter-writing.

Categories: GLBT Concerns | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

Consider the Birds: A Prayer

This prayer is based on Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:25-34:

Holy God of Abundance,
As we sow and reap and gather into barns;
As we work and earn and calculate our net worth,
Let us consider the birds of the air;
Let us consider the lilies of the field.
Let us notice and look and give thanks
for the food that feeds us
and the food that feeds the birds;
for the clothes that cover and warm us
and the colors and textures that clothe the flowers and fields.
May we dwell in gratitude–
not gratitude as a denial of today’s problems,
a refusal to admit that tomorrow will bring troubles of its own,
but a gratitude that is deep trust,
a choice to embrace the grace.
Holy God of abundance, ease us away from worry
and point us on the path toward your Kingdom. Amen


Categories: Prayers, Worship Pieces | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Isaiah 1:12-17

The following is an excerpt from this past Sunday’s sermon. You can read the whole sermon here.

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Our history as a Church is a history God’s people as agents of holy change and maintainers of the status quo. During the Holocaust, many Christians supported the Nazi party and others joined the Confessing Church–risking their lives by opposing Hitler.

During the Civil Rights era in the United States, the Apartheid era in South Africa, there were Christians who wanted to uphold the racial divisions in society and others who argued for change. Martin Luther King, Jr., argues in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that the church should be the headlights, not the taillights–the church should be leading the way toward racial justice, not following behind popular opinion. And that letter, of course, was written to fellow clergymen who were telling him to calm down and be patient.

And of course there are issues of justice today that the churches are not speaking about in one voice: the violence in Israel/Palestine that we discussed last week; questions of environmental care and justice; the death penalty–which is a hot topic in our own state legislature right now; rights for sexual minorities; the deep racial inequalities in our penal system, immigration . . .

Sometimes the tension between being holy change and maintaining the status quo is held by opposing religious groups–different congregations and denominations. And sometimes the tension is also held within individual communities. Because rescuing the oppressed and defending the orphan and pleading for the widow are all well and good in theory. But in practice, justice requires structural change–and we are all standing on this structure together. Those of us who are pretty comfortable are understandably not too excited about the possibility of the ground moving under us–of losing our balance and sliding into a less comfortable position.

Being nice is a lot easier than doing justice. Attending worship is a lot easier than doing justice. Following rules is a lot easier than doing justice.

Don’t get me wrong, I am generally in favor of being nice and attending worship and following rules. Really. It’s just that . . . well . . . I need to use a phrase here that I have come to really hate. I just told Twila this week how much I hate it: “The Bible is clear that . . . “

I hate that phrase because the Bible is an ancient text written in various foreign cultures and languages, much of it based on oral transmission of stories over centuries, copied and translated over and over again through the ages. Not to mention the internal tensions and downright contradictions within the books of the Bible.

I hate that phrase because almost every time I hear “the Bible is clear that” it is followed by something to the effect of “homosexuality is a sin.” Honestly, I am somewhat befuddled by the number of people who think the Bible is clear on this issue. I do understand how people can have opinions that difer from mine regarding the ultimate witness of scripture related to human sexuality. But I do not understand how so many people can think the Bible is clear on this. Because it is not.

Even on things that we would think are pretty clear moral issues the Bible can send mixed signals. Like, for instance, that we should care for aging parents. Seems good and right. But then you’ve got Jacob tricking poor, blind, dying Isaac. And Jesus telling the would-be disciple who wants to stay with his ailing father to “let the dead bury their own dead.”

“Clear” is not often a term we can use when speaking of the Biblical witness.

Still, I think in this particular case I need to use the phrase. Taking into consideration the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the proclamations of the prophets, the life and teachings of Jesus, the testimony of the early church–considering the full breadth and depth and complexity of the Biblical witness–yes, I will say it: The Bible is clear that God desires justice.

It’s not that God does not desire our offerings and songs and prayers and sermons. It’s just that all of those things are not ends unto themselves. God does not desire worship for worship’s sake.

God desires worship because it is a time set aside for us to come near to the heart of God, and we cannot truly be near to God’s heart without beginning to share the Divine desire for justice.

God desires worship because it can open our eyes and our hearts to the plight of the oppressed and vulnerable in our society.

God desires worship because it is a way for us to open ourselves to the power we need if we are to work with God for holy change in the world.

Jesus speaks of worshiping in spirit and truth. So may our worship ever be in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the truth of the Divine desire for justice.



Categories: Bible Study, Preaching | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rule of Life

Photo from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com. Some rights reserved.

Photo from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com. Some rights reserved.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought I would re-post his Rule of Life. It was a Rule for himself and a Rule that those who wished to join him in his efforts toward justice were expected to adopt as well. You can find it published in the book Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson, and on various blogs and web sites around the internet.

King wrote and spoke many, many encouraging words. These are the ones I’ve carried in my wallet and pinned up in my office:

  • Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  • Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham [or anywhere] seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  • Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.
  • Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
Categories: Practices | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dancing with the Elephant

3189243548In one of my Mennonite Facebook groups the other day, someone asked who would be the first to blog about the “elephant in the room.”

That elephant would be the recent licensing toward ordination of my friend and colleague Theda Good. Theda is called by God and gifted by the Spirit to serve a church and the Church through pastoral ministry. And she is married to an incredibly loving and supportive woman named Dawn.

Some people are afraid this elephant will smash into our nice glass-front curio cabinets, breaking the pretty china we’ve held onto all these years. The stuff we pack and unpack and dust (or not), but never actually use. And it’s true that elephants and fragile glassware are not the best of roommates.

Some people are sure that the entire structure is in danger. I’ve already read comments about what a good college try we’ve given this whole Mennonite USA denomination thing–too bad it hasn’t worked out. People are ready to clear out of the house in anticipation of the elephant barreling through a load-bearing wall.

Some people, to be honest about it, are hoping that the most extremely elephant-phobic housemates will just cut their losses and move across the street to an elephant-free house. Well, at least a house where the elephants are better-hidden.

But what I want to do is put that elephant in a party dress and dance around the room with her. I want to step and twirl and leap in rhythm to the music of the Spirit. I want to fill up my dance card with anyone and everyone who is willing to stay in the room–or even the house. We’ll dance together, leading and following and trying to make our steps match the ever-changing tempos of the music.

I don’t even care if all the moves are right or if my toes get a little bruised. I just want to dance.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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