Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Even Nice People Should Take Their Kids to Church

Recently a parishioner introduced me to a friend of hers, and later said something like this: "They are really great people. I keep inviting them to come to our church...but I have noticed that really nice people sometimes think they don't need to go to church." We had a good yet somewhat discouraging chuckle together.

If your only reason for going to church (or participating in any faith community) is about being a better person or being a nicer person, I would agree that you don't need to go to church for that. How many times have you heard someone say, "that 'non-christian' is more Christian than some actual Christians I know."

But - news flash - you don't go to church to become a nicer person, though hopefully a faith community will be a place of challenge and growth for its members. You also don't raise your children in the church to make them into nice people - they are going to learn that from you in a 24/7 master class on being in the world, and a few hours at church a week cannot outweigh the influence that you have on them.

There are meaningful reasons to participate as a family in a community of faith that go far beyond creating good people. As the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child." The church is about the only village that many of us have left.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tough Texts – Jesus and the Little Children

Mark 9:34-37 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Mark 10:13-16 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

One of my all time favorite moments in teaching teenagers Confirmation Class came the week that they were assigned to read the entire Gospel of Mark in preparation for an intense discussion about the Jesus of the Gospels. The very first comment came from one of the girls: "How come no one ever told me that Jesus was so mean?" This comment was ripe for a variety of discussions and led to a very good day in class, but the first thing I said to her was, "I'm sorry."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Praying in Color - the best thing I ever learned at church

One of my favorite things about my Presbyterian tradition is the vocabulary. Not the endless parade of PC(USA) acronyms or technical terms (shall ordinarily and if the way be clear). No, I love the way that my tradition connects with language and the written/spoken prayer; the way our hymns are full of 10 cent words; and the ways that we prioritize the word rightly preached. For example, as a child my favorite verse of my favorite hymn was:
Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

I also am a huge fan of liturgy. I love the ways that theological concepts, biblical images and poetry can be woven together seamlessly, and the fact that reading these kinds of beautiful things out loud in worship is what I get paid to do.

Yet as I have struggled in my adult prayer life, I find that the thing which trips me up most often is finding the correct words to say when I am engaged in personal prayer. I believe that this primarily stems from an earnest belief that God is not waiting for me to come up with the perfect turn of phrase in order to understand what it is I am praying for. God does not need me to march through a laundry list of the ill or grieving so that God might know where to focus attention that day.

Kierkegaard wrote, "Prayer does not change God, it changes the one who prays." I recently have found myself asking the question - if I want to be engaged in an extended time of prayer and words in this private moment seem to not be enough, what can I use more effectively to focus my specific and personal prayers without letting my mind wander, while at the same time allowing myself to actually be changed by the act of prayer? Ironically, I can't name any other time that my prayers have been more clearly answered than when a good friend and colleague passed on to me Sybil McBeth's book Praying in Color.