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. Continue reading

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? Continue reading

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.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.