Yesterday, because the first lesson included Isaiah's heavenly vision of seraphs singing "holy, holy, holy," we sang at least 3 hymns using those words in the course of the service. I handed out shakers and jingle bells to the young children and asked them to shake whenever they heard the word "holy" in readings, prayers or song.
What followed was amazing on two fronts. First, they got it right a great deal of the time. Every chorus of bells and shakers was followed by smiles from the adults in the congregation. And there wasn't nearly as much noise in between the "holies" than you'd think.
More importantly, even when someone shook at the "wrong time," it caused me to ponder how those things were holy as well. There was a long set of shakes as the names of the sick were read during the prayers, which felt like a special blessing for those who were suffering.
Finally, I think everyone present paid a little more attention to the words being used. A few adults commented that they had been "awakened" at several points during the service.
Which of course calls into question the common wisdom that small children are "not paying attention" or "not getting anything" out of worship.
When my kids were little – requiring spoon-feeding and
twice-daily naps – I was dubious when grade-school parents told me that we
would not be any less busy as the kids aged. It must get easier, I thought, looking at their enormous
nine-year-olds who could zip their own jackets.
OK—is anyone surprised? – I get it now. With our second
grader, we are getting glimpses of the complications that come with kids who
are old enough to have homework but not old enough to track the assignments’
due dates very well. We are not hockey parents and never intend to be, but it’s
amazing how a couple music or swim lessons a week can make a working parent’s
schedule exponentially more complicated – especially when one working parent
also works some evenings and the other frequently travels.
I get it. I know why people “sleep in” on Sunday mornings,
even when “sleeping in” only means
staying in your jammies after your 4 year-old hauled you out of bed at 6 a.m.
People are busy -- sometimes by choice but often by sheer economic necessity. Church can feel like one more optional
thing, the first one to fall off the schedule. What’s a congregation to do? The
answers usually fall in one of two categories.
people what to do. If they’re not at church, it’s because they don’t understand how
important it is.Just hold your ground
and keep reminding them how urgent the task at hand is.
options. If one program is getting just OK results, two or three other options
would strengthen the whole. More options means more face time, which means people might get to know one another better, and the vicious cycle of low-attendance-low-energy reverses. If you need
to add staff to accomplish this, that’s fine.
As a pastor, I can see value in
both of these approaches, but as a parent, I’m stymied. When I look at my life, which I assume is neither much less nor
more complicated than others, here’s whatI see
·I don’t want another program to drive my kids
·I don’t need another thing to track in my head
or on a chart, like minutes of piano practice, servings of vegetables or time
my child spends reading.
·I don’t need even one more “hidden danger” to be
·I don’t want one more damn bullet point list of
how to parent better (“Oh! Now that you’ve put it simply, in a quick-to-read list, I’m sure I can follow all 12 ways
to ensure perfect nutrition for my kid who only eats noodles!”)
·I don’t need one more thing to feel inadequate
about as a parent.
Here’s what I do need:
·Gratitude and wonder for each and every day my
children are alive, growing and learning
·Reasons to get down on my knees and see the
world through their eyes.
·Confidence that I can be a good faith guide to
them even when my own faith is shaky.
·Friends who will ask how it’s going and to whom
I can give a completely honest answer.
·Adults who’ve gotten through this stage of life
and encourage us even if they did it differently.
·Faith that God loves my kids even more
passionately than I do – as if that were possible.
How can the church provide the latter without creating more
of the former? That’s my question, and I continue to ask it.
As a California transplant to Minnesota, I frequently hear from friends and relatives about how hard it must be to stay active in the winter. Implied, often, is the idea that we couldn't possibly value the outdoors as much as they do in a place where it hovers between 50 and 70 all year round.
Well, this month the national rankings on childhood obesity came out, and it's clear that weather has nothing to do with it. The worst states are those that typically rate the worst for education and child poverty levels as well: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas. The sunshine states out West fare well, but not as well as Minnesota. How can this be?
Obviously, getting outside and exercising is a good thing to prevent obesity, especially in kids. And I'm sure there are many families that do not enjoy winter sports as fully as ours does. But still. Minnesotans -- especially children -- would not rank this well if we were simply eating our vegetables and going to the gym for seven months of the year.
We get out. We savor sunshine, even when it's below freezing (we also get more of it than many other northern states. . .). We savor the lakes even when they are frozen. And -- most importantly -- we invest in public parks, public schools and public recreation facilities that are available to everyone, not just those who can purchase a membership at a club.
I'm not one of those people who think we'll solve childhood obesity by preaching. Most of us would get fat if the options for food (junk) and activity (TV) available to us are limited, as is usually the case for people living in poverty. Public investment that makes healthy lifestyle EASIER is critical.
It has been, as one letter to the editor of the New York Times put it, the kind of week where the "feel-good story" of the month is. . .a plane crash.
So I was so happy this morning in church to sing Jonathan Rundman's pop-y "Hey, Hey Samuel" and act out the story of Samuel popping up from his bed as God is calling him. My colleague -- appropriately -- pointed out that this story is actually a pretty grown-up one with lots of not-so-pretty consequences, but God knows we need some room to be playful with the Bible these days, as beat up as it is by the literalists of the right and the literalists of the left.
So NEXT Sunday, Oooh I can't wait. I get to preach on Jonah!! By itself, the lectionary only gives us the barest whiff of this book's wonderful whimsy, so I'll have to fill things out a bit. But what a delight, especially in a time when prophets who take themselves much too seriously abound.
Jonah is a book of prophecy in the way The Daily Show is news. Which is to say, you can learn as much, or more, about what's really happening from the farce than you do from the "serious" version.
Even though it's a rare 2nd Sunday after Christmas January 4, we're going to slide into Epiphany on January 4 this year. See my former post on the Gift of the Magi for thoughts on the Matthew text.
And, though it commits the usual sin of melding Matthew and Luke's nativity stories, I'll be reading my kids Humphrey's First Christmas as the Magi approach. Humphrey is a child-like camel who wants nothing more than a blanket like the other camels -- until he is moved to give it to the baby Jesus.
Our ace nanny gave this book to my son, who treasures his blankie above even his trains. The illustrations are what really make this book a treasure -- something about camel's teeth brings home the way the Incarnation is a gift to all creation.
Carol Howard Merritt at Tribal Church has written an insightful piece on prayer, prompted by her daughter's request to God for snow. Her concern is that her daughter not get the wrong idea about prayer. My comment, which you can read at the site, is that snow is not the equivalent of praying for a bicycle, or another such purely personal request.
We pray for snow a lot at our house. Yes, we want to play in it. But more than that, we want snow because it is a sign that winter is not going away forever. We want snow because it blankets the earth and lets northern plants do what they are supposed to do for the winter. We want snow because it reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere and holds down the temperature just a bit more. We want snow because if we don't get it now, the drought which began earlier this year is going to be much, much worse next spring.
We pray for snow in the same way we pray for peace -- not because we expect global climate change to halt at our request, but because we pray that our pleas, our actions, our change of heart might also be assisted a bit by a God who wants the planet to survive as much as we do.
What to do, what to do with this odd Lutheran tradition? We wear red, we sing our Lutheran fight songs, and we celebrate something that the rest of the world neither cares about nor, for the most part, comprehends.
I spent my seminary years outside the Lutheran community, for the most part, so I think I have a true appreciation for what makes us distinct. The trouble is, most of the time that theological distinctiveness is lost in a sea of cultural baggage: Scandinavian food and jokes, German bullheadedness, 17th century music which is glorious but, in these times, culturally marginal.
And, frankly, there's plenty about the intellectual heritage which, while revolutionary in its time, is not so helpful in today's mission context. I'm thinking specifically about the individualism that was the Enlightenment come home to roost in the church, the "I can believe in Jesus without any mediator" element of Luther's revolution which, heard through today's ears, sounds to many people like Jesus-and-me. Why bother with the church at all? We can't celebrate the "Lutheran team" if we're no kind of community in the first place.
At ECLC, Reformation is now the day we celebrate confirmation. For me these 9th graders are a lovely witness to the fact that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, many people do survive being raised in the church. They are also a helpful reminder to me that, even after three years of instruction, they have learned much more from what they've seen the church DO than from what they hear it (or me) SAY.
So what do we say about these things on this day? That the ongoing existence of the church, reformed and still oh-so-stuck-in-the-mud, is one sure sign that the Holy Spirit does manage to work through us human beings, saints and sinners all.