07 Apr

A beloved child so far away

God is not a pragmatist. I am a pragmatist. So when God spurs me on to something which seems to lack sensibility or practicality, I have learned to pay attention. Faithfulness often requires me to choose the seemingly ridiculous.

Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem God’s Grandeur says of the world that it is “charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” I have often borrowed this idea of “shook foil” to describe those occasions when people, places or circumstances, and God’s Spirit seem to come together in a more-than-coincidental kind of way.

Coming into alignment with God’s work often becomes clear when internal stirrings are paralleled by external confirmation of some kind. Now I’m not talking about walking up to someone and saying, “I think God wants me to [fill in the blank]. Do you think I should?” Rather, I am speaking of a kind of quiet attentiveness in which one remains watchful for unprompted confirmation.

Some will say that judging seeming coincidences as having cosmic significance is rather subjective. I suppose that is why it’s called faith. Read More

24 Mar

More than we might ask for

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

flickr gullevek

flickr gullevek

Ephesians 3:20 is often trotted out like an "abundance formula," in other words: we ask and God gives us more than we asked for. It is as if one asks God for $5 (with the secret, fingers-crossed) hope that God might give you $500.

I think a better interpretation focuses on the accomplishment beyond, perhaps in spite of, what we think is possible.

What if God's mighty power stands ready to accomplish something for which we did not ask or imagine? Read More

27 Feb

Life of a Pastor: Are You Some Kind of Clown?

clown postcard flickr postaletrice

Flickr postaletrice

“How you doin’? Need a coupon?” the old fellow asked me as we waited in line at Harbor Freight.

He introduced himself as Theodore Benedict Pinafore; maybe that wasn’t it exactly, but it was equally grandiose and most certainly began with Theodore.

“Well, salutations!” I replied.

“That’s not my real name,” Not-Theodore explained. “I used to be a clown.”

Theodore—we’ll call him for simplicity’s sake—wore a brown leather bomber jacket with a lamb’s wool collar, a fur-lined bomber hat, and I could see just inside the jacket a crazy-quilt, button-front shirt.

“One time a lady asked me what my real name was,” Theodore said, “and I told her Dennis the Menace. She didn’t ask any more questions after that.” Read More

18 Oct

Children and Bullying: The Social Economy and Third-Way Choices

Child's shoes on a sidewalk

"crocscircles," photo by celinet, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

There’s nothing like spending an entire year of your childhood perched on the edge of a sidewalk to put the damper on the boundless enthusiasm of youth.

This particular sidewalk, right outside the hall door from my third-grade classroom and at the edge of school property, represented for me the boundary between the forces of order and the forces of chaos.

I was a victim of bullying.

Now, Carl—not his real name, but the name I’ll use for him—Carl was my bully and stood out in my mind as a Neanderthal. He stood a full head-and-a-half above our third-grade peers, thick-framed with untamed, long hair. Carl, for reasons he never shared, picked me for his target that year. I lived only two blocks away from the school, but Carl would catch me after about a block, day-after-day, to knock me down and shake the contents of my backpack out on the ground.  It's not like I gave Carl a run for his money.  I was a scrawny, asthmatic kid.  It got to the point where I would anticipate Carl’s arrival and throw myself down and empty my backpack myself to save him the trouble. Read More

17 Jun

Ten Ways to Include Kids in Worship

ten ways to include kids in worshipI always thought it was cool as a child to get to leave the "boring" adult worship for children's church. We had fruit punch and snacks and got to move around and hear Bible stories presented with flannel-graph visuals! Let's face it, sitting through a stereotypical Protestant worship service can seem to a child like an eternity in timeout. Maybe the singing is enjoyable, but then you have to listen to an adult talk about the Bible to other adults for a whole twenty minutes (if you're lucky)! And yet, there was always for me an air of mystery surrounding the rituals of worship. Growing up in a baptist tradition only people (mostly adults, rarely youngsters) who had been baptized upon confession of faith could take communion. Baptism was also the gateway to membership, and only members got to vote on congregational matters. After aging-out of children's church I began staying in "big church"; tasked with a set of minimum expectations: sit still, be quiet, bow your head with your eyes closed during prayer. I continued to be fascinated by questions of how and why we did things, yet felt more often than not that I was somehow a lesser observer.

Young people are suffering from an increasing scarcity of adult relationships and it is having a detrimental impact on their development. Finding ways to incorporate children into worship as part of an intergenerational whole is important. That incorporation, however, must be more meaningful than simply enforcing minimum expectations.

Here are Ten Ways to Include Kids in Worship...

Read More

05 Jun

Avoiding Sunday School Racism

Avoiding Sunday School Racism

Mr Yuk Poison StickerEtched into my memory from childhood is the "Mr. Yuk" sticker. Mr. Yuk was a smiley face gone nauseous. Sickly green with wincing eyes, frowning with tongue-extended, Mr. Yuk portrayed disgust and imminent vomiting. Created by the Pittsburgh Poison Center of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Mr. Yuk's face--accompanied by a poison control telephone hotline number--was to be applied to containers of poisonous household substances in order to ward off children. The power of the symbol is such that to this day I cannot see that color without thinking "poison" and "Mr. Yuk."

Symbols are potent tools for teaching because of the way they densely package information and because of their ability to persist independent of the teacher. Symbols are particularly effective in teaching children when they mirror back the face of humanity to the child. Children are hard-wired to respond to faces and body shapes. It is from other people, after all, that children receive nourishment and comfort.

The caution then, in using symbols to teach children, is that we ought to think critically about the symbols we choose because of their power and persistence.

Read More

02 May

Glad surrender: Loaning your child to the Lord

Scream and Shout

“After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”
1 Samuel 1:22

To whom can we entrust our children and their future, but to God alone? If we are then to lend them to God daily, should we not dress them appropriately? Can we put "priestly garments" on our children understanding that as they are growing in faith they too can be agents of God?

Listen to the mp3 download:
Glad Surrender:
Loaning your child to the Lord

Mennonite Church of Normal
Sermon: Sunday, December 30, 2012
1 Samuel 2:18-20 and Luke 2:41-52.

 

01 Mar

Life of a Pastor: My virtual omnipresence is greatly exaggerated

Virtually me"I have never known a pastor to be on Facebook so much," she said, more inquiring than describing.

It was like that moment in the Wizard of Oz where the wizard says, "Don't look at the man behind the purple curtain...oh, hey there." I'm not sure that she believed my answer at first when I told her that I am on Facebook surprisingly little each day.

In the virtual world it is more possible now than in the past to have a nearly constant social media presence without actually being viscerally present at the computer or on a mobile device thanks to apps that allow for the scheduling of posts.

My current set-up is a bit convoluted, but it works for me... Read More

15 Jan

Review: The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher

Sacred MealThe Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher, part of The Ancient Practices Series (Thomas Nelson, 2009) edited by Phyllis Tickle, is a memoir about the author's experiences of communion. The Sacred Meal is an invitation to join the author in breaking bread and has a surprising Anabaptist ring to it.

When asked by series editor Phyllis Tickle to write this volume on communion, Nora Gallagher did not know that communion was considered a "practice," but not having been successful at other religious practices, the idea intrigued her. "A practice," she comes to say, "is not about finding exactly the right set of rules that will make you "good," but is instead meant to establish a habit of connection to a world that is both tenuous and surprising, outside of time and in it."

Sacred Meal set me to studying the theological differences between Episcopalian (the tradition from within which Gallagher writes) and Catholic understandings of the Eucharist, something which I had not engaged in prior.  What piqued my curiosity was that some of the ideas expressed by Gallagher seemed to resonate with Anabaptist understandings of the Lord's Supper. Read More

20 Dec

Understanding How Children Develop Empathy – NYTimes.com

One of my daughters is exceptionally empathic--to the point of severe personal distress--toward people and animals alike. Little brother's skinned-knee, even a dead bird, can evoke such pathos as to bring a halt to family life. While it may inconvenience Mom and Dad at times, her empathy could empower a life of helping others. How might we nurture this gift and teach her the trait of self-differentiation? This article offers some insights...

"The capacity to notice the distress of others, and to be moved by it, can be a critical component of what is called prosocial behavior, actions that benefit others: individuals, groups or society as a whole. Psychologists, neurobiologists and even economists are increasingly interested in the overarching question of how and why we become our better selves.

How do children develop prosocial behavior, and is there in fact any way to encourage it? If you do, will you eventually get altruistic adults, the sort who buy shoes for a homeless man on a freezing night, or rush to lift a commuter pushed onto the subway tracks as the train nears?"

[full article at NYTimes.com: Understanding How Children Develop Empathy]

Follow pediatrician and writer Perri Klass on Twitter and read more of her posts on NYTimes.com.