Friday, July 30, 2010

The Fantasticks!

Come experience the timeless musical, The Fantasticks, in First Baptist Church's Black Box Theater August 12-15 and 19- 22!

See why the longest running musical on Broadway is so fantastic, and join in celebrating The Fantasticks' 50th Anniversary Year! With lyrics and music by University of Texas graduates, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, this production is not to be missed!

Tickets are FREE! But seating is LIMITED! So call 512-476-2625 now (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) to reserve your tickets or email today! Thurs-Sat performances at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm. 901 Trinity Street in Austin, Texas.

Starring Joe Penrod, Justin Langford, Carl Galante, David Hammond, Brooks Barr, Paul Webster Feinstein, Meghan Zern and Ann Pittman, you won't want to miss this funny and tender show directed by Cathy Jones with musical direction by Louise Kemp Avant.

Reserve your tickets today!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Women and Voting... an email I received

WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO VOTE... (an email I received)...

This is the story of our Mothers and Grandmothers who lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

(Lucy Burns)

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging
for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

(Dora Lewis)

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul)
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

The woman who wrote this email with these facts and pictures, went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's movie Iron Jawed Angels. She says, "It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder."

"It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'"

Conferring over ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at National Woman's Party headquarters, Jackson Place , Washington , D.C. Left to right: Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, Mrs. Abby Scott Baker, Anita Pollitzer, Alice Paul, Florence Boeckel, Mabel Vernon (standing, right).

She ends her email with, "Women need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women." A good reminder. And I think I'll check out the movie too...

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Lost My Dad's iPod

Today was amazing... except that I lost my father's iPod.

This unfortunate accident made the day remarkably unamazing.

It's so sad too, because the day had been so good! All of us (me, Mom, Dad, Gloria, Jim and the two dogs) piled into the Jeep and headed to the Garden of the Gods, this very strange red world of dust and rocks and burnt orange trees (UT would LOVE it). It was remarkably beautiful and rugged all at once.

The sky was clear and the island Molokai could easily be seen across the ocean.

We were having a blast. Taking pictures, ooh and ahhing at the rock formations and the multi-colored ground a mixure of reds and oranges and yellows and forrests green only on the top where the dust couldn't reach the treetops to paint them orange.

Bessy, one of Glo's dogs, got carsick and threw up all over her brother, Maverick. No biggie, we knew it was coming, that's why they were riding in the back trunk, on towels, but then Bessy leaned her head over into the back seat and threw up again all down Gloria and my mom's backs. It was awesome! So funny. We laughed for 10 minutes.

(please insert in your mind here the picture I took here of my mother's and Gloria's mortified faces immediately after the waterfall of puke which they would not allow me to post on the world wide web).

And while we had to drive only about 11 miles, it took almost an hour to get there because the roads are... well, rocks. Which made for a bumpy ride and infinitely more giggles.

And then it was before us... the beach. The beautiful beach with NO ONE on it. Where in the world Gloria kept asking rhetorically, can you be on a beautiful beach with no one around you.

So we piled out of the car like clowns at a circus and Jim headed to the water to rinse off the towels Bess had thrown up all over, and I realized it was missing.

I panicked. I checked the ground, I checked the bag, I checked the car, I checked my pockets.

No iPod. And my stomach sank to think of how it had been resting on my lap (after my dad gave it to me to listen to Patti LaPone sing Evita) and then to imagine it probably falling to the ground in my excitement to hop out of the car and take pictures documenting our joy.


The reality is, it's just an iPod. And my dad assured me that it was no big deal (though I can't imagine how disappointed he must be - we bought it for him at Christmas and he loves it and for his Birthday we bought him the cord to hook it up to play in his car and a dock so he can play it around the house). It's just an iPod. I mean, we're in Hawaii. On the remote island of Lana'i. I rarely see my family (I haven't seen either sister or my grandparents since Christmas, haven't seen Glo in probably 3 years and haven't ever met Jim) and here several of us are... together... in paradise. We can afford to be here because we can stay for free with out family and because Grandma always pitches in on the cost for tickets. :) We are so lucky.

But the other reality is that if one thing isn't gonna getcha, something else will. I haven't had a roommate (or supplemental income) since January. We had major financial cutbacks at my job, including of mine and others' salary. Last month it was four hundred and some dollars to fix the car. The month before that one of the pets got sick. Then the leg of my cheap-o Ikea bed broke and isn't fixable, so now I'm sleeping on a mattress on the floor until I decide if I can fork over the money for a new bed. And now, though my father will protest, I have to buy him a new iPod. UGH.

And the people here are SO RICH. A billionaire owns this island. It costs over $400 a night to stay one night at either resort here. Fifty percent off lunch for four (cause my aunt works for the island) is still almost fifty bucks. The golf carts have their own GPS systems and even their own ball cleaners on the carts. It's ridiculous.

And yet compared to some people in Austin, I am SO RICH. Or compared to the people I met in Chile I am SO RICH. They don't even have central heat for the love of God.

So while I'm trying to relax and enjoy myself, in losing this iPod, the stress has returned. I lost something that really gave my dad pleasure. I will lose a lot of money (to me) to replace it (money I had wanted to use to buy him a ticket to come see my play next month). I feel guilty about feeling guilty because it's just a little green box with headphones attached and my dad told me not to think twice about it. And in my head I'm balancing my checkbook and going round and round about distribution of wealth and justice and right and wrong which leads to more guilt for feeling envious and more anger at how unaware some people are...

And that's my vacation. And that's my life. Serenity now, God. Serenity now.

It's an iPod. A stupid little toy that makes music. It can be replaced. This experience never can. We three made it here on four planes safely, and all our luggage arrived on time, and no one's sick, and we're having a blast. I've even already finished writing my postcards. So I should memorize the moment, freeze it and own it (I stole that from a rap song), write down everything, take lots of pictures, and truth be told... dad and I can make our own music.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In the Past 7 Days

In the past seven days, I have spent...

59 hours in the air or in airports or traveling
48 hours in Santiago, Chile
44 hours in Austin, Texas
and 5 hours in Honolulu Hawaii

Or you could put it like this...

7 airplanes
1 missed plane
3 free beers
5 bitchy American Airline Stewardesses (oh my gosh, they are the meanest!)
5 security check points
5 movies on a plane (a miley cyrus movie, a chipmonk movie, Taxi with Queen Latifa, 500 Days of Summer and Old Dogs)
4 airplane meals (5 actually but i declined one cause you had to pay for it - gah!)
4 languages (English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Filipino)

In addition, to...

3 preached sermons
4 worship services attended (including the one in the airport chapel)
and 1/2 the Eucharist consumed (I got those Catholics by taking communion anonymously despite their preface of "those belonging to the holy Catholic church may partake..." but they got me by only offering the body. No blood (or wine) in airports i guess.)

But now, I'm on vacation. In Hawaii. On Lanai. So no more numbers, k?

Except maybe four happy people...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Ask...

A Recap of Chile in Don't Ask sentences...

Don't ask if i wore long underwear to bed and also fuzzy socks and a hat and gloves. Because you know I did.

Don't ask if Chile has central air/heat because you know it doesn't.

Don't ask if the apartment I stayed in had hot water, because as luck would have it, it didn't.

Don't ask if I showered. Just thank God I'm a pseudo-hippie.

Don't ask if I just HAD to wash my hair at some point, and stood (after dragging the heater into the small bathroom), naked in the bathtub and washed my hair under the faucet, sucking in my breath, as I felt brain freeze (like one you get from eating ice cream too fast) - brain freeze, from the outside in and all over my head.

Don't ask how much weight I gained since all they eat in Chile is sugar, tea and bread because you know there were no veggies or fruit offered the whole time I was there.

Don't ask if I flew on more airplanes (4) than actual days I spent in Chile (2).

Don't ask if the people there believe women can be ministers and pastors.


You may ask the following questions... Did the pastor accept you finally, after you preached your first sermon? Ask if he prayed for me and thanked God for me and even admitted to eating his own words as this female pastor who made such a sacrifice to come to Chile brought to them a word from God.

You may ask if the Holy Spirit communicated to the people even though I spoke in English and Raquel, my translator, spoke in Spanish. You may ask if as we spoke on top of one another, the people understood us anyway to the point that one woman came up afterwards and hadn't even realized I (the North American) hadn't been speaking Spanish.

You may ask if as the pastor (who doesn't believe woman should be pastors) prayed for me, if someone behind me put their hand on my shoulder and if in laying hands, he or she brought the Spirit of Peace upon me. You may ask if it called to mind every other time I've felt the Spirit of Peace come upon me through the hand of a compassionate soul.

You may ask if people came up to speak to me afterwards in fluent Spanish, chattering along as if I could understand even though I said, "no comprendo," over and over again. Likewise you may ask if some Chilean woman thought I was a youth that Raquel had brought in to preach and if she tried to hook me up with her teenage son. And you may ask if I unknowingly agreed to come preach at a youth conference for a church when the man was going on and on in Spanish despite my no comprendo smile and empty eyes.

You may ask if it was a blessing. You may ask if God went with me. And you may ask if I'd do it again.

And I would answer... "In a heartbeat."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chilean Children Minister's Conference Sermon 3

A year ago last May I was here in Chile on a mission trip.

After making connections with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in North America and meeting Raquel from UBACH, I and 11 students and one translator flew into Santiago and then on to Temuco to work at the Fundacion Para Amar, a home for girls who have been court-ordered removed from their homes for reasons of extreme poverty or abuse.

I planned this mission trip for my own students, college kids, most of whom had never before been overseas, because I wanted them to learn the importance of serving those who are less fortunate than they.

And also because I wanted them to experience another culture and another climate (and some of them were not too happy I brought them to Chile in the winter when it was cold!).

I brought them to Chile because I knew it would change the way they see the world and change the way they see God.

Indeed, after our work at the girls’ home, I overheard one of my students say to another student on the plane on the flight back to the United States, “My Major is Childhood Education, but after being with the girls in Temuco, I may add Social Work as a Minor.”

And lives were changed.

For the past year, we have written to the girls in Temuco and they too have written to us. With me on this trip I brought money that our translator wanted to have delivered to the home as a financial donation and I brought a gift for one of the girls that I became friends with. The background of my computer screen is the group picture we took of all my students and all the girls and the workers in the home. I have two framed pictures in my home of me with the girls. It breaks my heart that I do not have time on this short trip to fly down to Temuco and see my darling girls and the Tias who work with them again. I miss them so!

And it breaks my heart that such beautiful children of God could be abandoned or abused or neglected by their parents.

So for this final sermon today, I want to talk in part, about parenthood.

Ministering to children and youth is important, but it is equally important to minister to their parents. We must look at families wholistically.

Parenting is hard work!

Last week I had a Sunday School party at my home for a class of parents with young children. When I told them I was coming down here to spend time with you at this conference, they said, “Tell them raising children is hard and the parents need to be ministered to too!”

In a staff meeting at my church the other day, we were reading the Bible and the subject of infertility came up.

We began talking about married couples in our church who have struggled with issues of infertility and the names just kept coming.

Issues of infertility or miscarriages among couples is a secret pain that many couples bear alone because it is rarely addressed or ministered to in the United States.

And yet issues of infertility affect over 6 million people in the United States and I can’t imagine the number of people worldwide.

The loss of motherhood is a deep seeded grief among many women that we as ministers and servants of the Gospel must be sensitive to. It is often a hidden pain that does not need to be suffered alone. Rather, we need to help our parents by creating an environment where it is safe to talk about their stories of infertility. And in doing so, we need to connect people so that in community they can feel love and not have to grieve alone.

In addition to infertility, the challenge of parenting of a new infant brings its own complications and fears as parents’ lives change and they learn to live with a different schedule and to act in a different role. There is a new financial strain on young families as well and they must learn to manage their money differently.

As children get older, it becomes even more challenging as parents make decisions regarding technology for their children and cell phones and facebook and internet use and movies that are appropriate to see.

Just last week I read an article in the paper on “sexting” where children in some cases are harassed and in other cases willingly participate in texting sexually explicit phrases and pictures to one another. The article discussed the role of the schools in disciplining children for after-hour cell phone use and the sexual bullying of young girls that often results.

But I would ask, what is the role of the church? How can we help parents teach and protect their children?

And when those children become teenagers, and they begin experimenting with drugs and sex, how can we help parents grieve their children’s loss of innocence and support them in educating their children on the dangers of certain behavior and the potential consequences of their actions?

I’m embarrassed to tell you the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The Center for Disease control says that one-third of girls in the US get pregnant before the age of 20. states that there are "750,000 teen pregnancies annually. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 81 percent are to unmarried teens."

According to an article written in 2007 about teen pregnancy in Chile, the global rate of teen pregnancy is projected that out of 1000 female teenagers 53 will become pregnant, and the rate for Latin America and the Caribbean at 76 out of every 1,000 girls.

We must teach our teens to respect their bodies, practice safe sex and engage in healthy age-appropriate relationships, and we must help our parents to instill these values in their children. And for those teens who do get pregnant, we must help them and their parents make wise decisions about keeping the baby or adoption options, and above all we must provide support for the young girl and the boy who may now be parents themselves.

And finally, even with older parents, they still need the church. How can we help parents who are experiencing what we call in the U.S. “empty nest syndrome?” When two people have spent 18 years functioning in one capacity as parent to a child and all of the sudden the child is out of the house and off at school, how do we help parents transition into the next phase of their lives?

Ministering to children and youth is not just about the kids, it’s about the parents too. Creating a vision of ministering to children changes the way we do programming entirely and it even changes the way we think as a church.

I was speaking to a man yesterday whose church is in the reconstruction phase after the earthquake destroyed their building. And he said he realized that the church has not purchased anything yet for the children. To him and his church I would say, it’s not too late!

And part of why it’s not too late is because ministering to children, youth and their families is first of all a mindset, a shift in vision, a re-focusing of our theology. If the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these, then it is time that we begin teaching them, so that they may in turn teach us.

You may feel overwhelmed by what you have heard at this conference. There are resources and testimonies of what people are doing in other churches. So I would say to you, start small. If you have Sunday school for children, that’s a good place to begin. Now move forward. Make sure you are teaching the Bible to children in a way they can understand that matches their brain development stages. When that is strong, add something else. Maybe provide worksheets for children to work on during the worship service. Or maybe add a special point in your service designed just for children where you sing a song they like or maybe your pastor gives a short children’s sermon. Baby steps. (Pun intended).

But before you worry about programming you must make sure that we have an attitude change. We must value children and youth as members of our spiritual community. We must recognize that Christ valued children. He wanted them near him, he wanted to teach them and he wanted to heal them.

So too must our ministries be wholistic. A child who is hungry and hasn’t had breakfast or lunch cannot hear from his teacher at school how to practice division in mathematics. Similarly, a child in poverty who is hungry and hasn’t eaten all day cannot hear about God’s love. We must meet the children’s needs both spiritually, physically and emotionally.

We need an attitude change. We must recognize that children have many things to teach us about God and if they are given the tools to think about God and re-imagine the biblical stories, then indeed they will teach us about God.

When I was at the Fundacion Para Amar in Temuco last year, the first night we were there the director of the home asked the girls if they would like to say anything to the North Americans who came to visit before we said grace and began our evening meal. Predictably, the 18 year old in the group, offered a gracious welcome to us. She’s been at the home over 14 years and while she is old enough to leave the home, she chooses to stay and live there while she goes to college. Her name is Karen and she wants to be a teacher. Awesome. We nodded our appreciations to her and smiled and began to sit down to eat with another voice piped up. A seven-year-old girl Maria, raised her hand and said she would like to say something. And as her words were being translated from Spanish into English, I realized that this small child was welcoming us, twelve adults from the United States whom she didn’t even yet know, into her home and to her table. Amazing.

Several days later we visited a large private school in Temuco started by missionaries from the United States a hundred years ago. The students there, kindergarteners through seniors in high school, wore uniforms and spoke of going to college to study to be doctors and teachers and directors and engineers. The difference in financial advantage and privilege between the private school and the children’s home was overwhelming. “Next time you come to Chile,” the director of the school told us when she found out where we had come to serve, “you should come work with us.”

“No,” I thought, no. Next time I come, I will go back to the home of the girls whose families don’t want them, who have a much lower chance of breaking free of the chain of poverty and abuse and teen pregnancy. I will go back to where little Maria, despite all her misfortune knew the love of God and neighbor well enough to speak before forty people and solemnly and earnestly welcome them to her humble home.

The people who worked at the children’s home knew that they needed to do two things, take care of the neglected children – feed them, clothe them and give them shelter, and they also needed to tell them about God’s love.

We must do the same thing. We must teach our children and youth about God’s love and in turn be taught by them!

In Luke 10:25-37 we read the story of the Good Samaritan and I’m guessing that most of you are familiar with that story. We know that it was an enemy of the Jews who ended up helping the beaten man lying on the side of the road. And we translate that into our modern cultures. For us it the United States perhaps it is an Iraqi who came to the aid of the beaten American man. Or perhaps it is a Muslim who came to help the beaten Christian lying in the road.

But what if it doesn’t have to be an enemy who comes to our aid. What if it is anyone we consider an “outsider.” We have lots of good ways of making people out to be different, to be other, to be apart from us, to be an outsider.

So what if the person who came to help the Jewish man lying on the side of the road was a child?

Jesus is always asking us to re-evaluate the way we understand God’s love and mercy. Jesus is always asking us to re-draw the lines around our circles so that they are big enough to include a Samaritan, big enough to include children. Jesus asks the disciples and the Pharisees and the people crowded around him to change the way they think about life and culture and God time and time again.

Be transformed, Paul says, by the renewing of your minds. Paul merely writes what Jesus already asks of us. And just when we think we’ve got this whole church things down, he asks us to rethink it again.

And today God’s asking you to rethink your theology about children, youth and their parents. It has been a wonderful weekend. You’ve heard many things and I have too thanks to Raquel. And now it is time for you to return to your churches and you have the choice… You have the choice to challenge them to re-think what they have always thought about ministering to children, youth and their families or you have the choice to leave what you’ve heard here in the seminary at Santiago.

The choice is yours. Choose wisely. Choose children.

Chilean Children Minister's Conference Sermon 2

In a book called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kendra Creasy Dean, she describes the primary God-images that kids have as either a “cosmic therapist” or a “divine butler.”

“The therapist serves as the one who helps you feel good about yourself; the school guidance counselor image comes to mind here when working with teenagers. The divine butler is somebody who comes when called upon but otherwise stays away. Those images were identified in the study as being dominant among teenagers… it's a very acculturated and self-serving view of religious faith,” Dean says, and I agree.

So if this is the view of God that our teenagers have today, what do we need to do to remedy this faulty assumption?

We need to tell them some more stories.

We need to tell them the story of Jonah whose self-righteousness was not in line with God’s vision for the world. But addicted to his pride and his determination to keep God’s forgiveness to his own people, Jonah tried to run away from God (as if we could run away from God). But no matter where Jonah (or us for that matter), no matter where we run, God is always with us, even if we get ourselves into so much trouble that we’re stuck inside the belly of a great fish.

We need to tell teenagers that God’s love is for everyone, even their enemies, even them, and that God has the ability to help them move from the belly of a fish to the sands of a far away kingdom. We need to tell them that Jonah finally swallowed his pride (only after being swallowed by a fish!) and told God’s story of forgiveness and love to the Ninavites. And that even the Ninevites, Jonah’s enemy were able to become people of God, people of love.

We need to tell them the story of Amos. We need to tell our teenagers that, just like the Israelites, they are called to serve one another. If all they do is eat empanadas and text on their telephones and draw in their diaries, then God is not satisfied. They too, as teenagers, are called to love their neighbors, and if they leave their neighbors hungry and sad and in need, then they are not being who they need to be.

We need to tell them how Amos warned the people that if they didn’t allow their hearts to be softened toward their neighbors, if they didn’t share their food and share their clothing and share their love, God would give them over to oppression. And we must tell them how the Babylonians came in and conquered Israel and God let that happen because the Israelites were so focused on themselves. And while probably no country is going to come in and conquer Chile, the unhealthy things that we do have the same ability to make us slaves. We become slaves to our egos and slaves to our jobs, and slaves to schoolwork, and slaves to fashion and slaves to alcohol and slaves to exercising and slaves to sports teams and slaves to anything in our lives that we pay so much attention to that we forget to share our wealth with the people around us.

We must tell our youth the story of Amos and the story of a God who will not always save us from our own destruction for our actions have natural consequences, but a God calls us to serve the poor and the needy.

We must tell our youth the story of the Woman at the Well.

We must tell them how when Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her even though his culture taught him that he should never talk to a woman or a poor person or a Samaritan because people like that were beneath him. We must tell them how Jesus broke down barriers: he broke social barriers, and religious barriers and economic barriers and racial barriers to meet this woman where she was. We must tell them how Jesus loved the woman at the well just as she was, knowing that she had already had five husbands, and knowing that she had a bad reputation. We must tell them how he shared with her a living water that could make her clean and wash away her sin and give her the strength to tell God’s story to the people all around her. Even people who normally condemned her.

We must tell them how we too, after an encounter with Jesus, the living God, can be forgiven, can speak truth to our neighbors, can change our ways. We must tell them that like Jesus, we too can break down superficial barriers of social status and race, religion, age, gender and anything else that keeps us apart so that we can live in harmony side by side as one people under God.

We must tell our teenagers that God is a God of surprises. Wonderful Surprises. God is not Old Man Christmas (Viejo Pascuero) or a butler we call on when we need something.

God is a God who surprises us by loving the outcast, by empowering the weak, and by saving our enemies. And God is a God who asks us to live similarly.

God is a God who surprises us by showing up in very ordinary places: in a bush, in a fish, at a well, in a dream, at a dinner table, but when God appears, it is always an extraordinary experience.

God is a God of mystery whose name is I Am What I Am. No one can understand God’s ways except to say that God’s way is mysterious love.

God is called Lady Wisdom who existed when the world was first called into being and who still blows over creation wherever She wants to blow.

God is called the Word, the Logos, the Truth, the Christ, the Messiah who existed as God incarnate even before there was incarnation.

God is a God who can’t be named, let alone named something as trivial as “therapist” or “butler.”

These are the things we must teach our youth so that they do not learn a false view of God. So that who they worship, or rather don’t bother worshipping, is not a false idol of deism or a self-help book or a self-serving God called the ego.

“It's the church's responsibility to embody vibrant missional communities of faith that are able to tell their story as well as ‘be’ their story in the world,” writes Deborah Arca Mooney after reading Dean’s book, Almost Christian. And she’s right. It’s our responsibility as ministers and volunteers for youth to counter the story our culture is telling them. It is our responsibility to tell teenagers the truth about God.

Now, ministering to children another story. ☺

Besides the fact that they pull each other’s hair and bite and throw their food and spill their drinks, and forget to use the bathroom and rip holes in their clothing and stink up a room and break their arms and get into fights and throw temper tantrums, and besides the fact that they have a lung capacity comparable to an elephant… ☺

Besides all that, it’s difficult to take a book that is between 1,900 and 2,800 years old and translate it for children.

After all, we wouldn’t take literary works by Plato or Andres Bello and give them to an eight year old to read.

So how do we tell God’s story to children?

Children’s bedrooms and books are filled with images of Noah’s arc and the animals entering two by two and pictures of doves and rainbows. But how do we tell the story of Noah and the fuzzy animals with integrity? How do we tell the story of a God who gets angry and kills everyone except one family, drowning the world under two months of rain only to regret doing so 40 days later? How can we maintain integrity with regard to the biblical text of what actually happened while at the same time communicate carefully with a small child?

Do we skip the Noah story and move on to a nicer one?

How about the story of Jesus, a very nice man whom lots of people loved but whom lots of other people hated and then had publicly executed though they could find no fault in him?

It’s tricky.

How do we tell the often-gruesome stories in the Bible to children? How do we tell the story of Goliath and prevent our kids from throwing rocks at one another on the playground?

There must be a balance. There must be a balance between teaching what the Bible literally says and communicating a story to a child who cannot yet think theoretically or abstractly or on higher cognitive levels.

Often times it may be more challenging to write a children’s sermon than it is to write a sermon for adults!

But it is a good exercise, even for those of us who don’t minister directly with children, because it helps us get to the heart of the story.

Let’s start with the 10 commandments. How do we teach the Ten Commandments to children without getting into complicated discussions about adultery and murder? How can we help children find ways of understanding the real message of the 10 commandments in language that is relevant to them?

I learned the following 10 Commandments from the kids at my church this past year.
1. There is only 1 God (hold up one finger)
2. Only worship God (bend two fingers as a bow)
3. Don’t use God’s name in a bad way (three fingers to lips)
4. Sunday is a special day (chapel with fingers)
5. Respect Mom and Dad (high five)
6. Don’t hurt others (poke one hand with one finger)
7. Keep your marriage promises (2 for parents and 5 for family)
8. Don’t steal (5 fingers on one hand 4 on the other, bump it to 4 & 4)
9. Tell the truth (I have 10 fingers! Tell the truth, you only have 9.)
10. Be content (hold hands out, palms up in open prayer pose)

Using new language for this Exodus text and thinking about it in a new way makes a lot of sense for a kid, and when we put hand motions with it, it helps them remember even more easily. And in this special way, they not only begin to understand the heart of the text as opposed to saying, “thou shalt not covet or worship heathen idols…” but they’re memorizing scripture too!

Every year at my church the 10 and 11 year old students lead on Sunday morning in worship. And when I say lead, I mean lead. They do everything! They plan the service, pick the songs to sing, their choirs perform, they deliver the welcome, read scripture, pray and even preach! The children preach!

This year they talked about the story of David and Goliath. They talked about giant things in their own lives that they are afraid of – big problems they weren’t sure they could overcome – bullies, peer pressure, being sad about a parents divorce, things like that.

Only instead of using stones to kill Goliath like David did, we now have better methods of overcoming giant things. We have the Sermon on the Mount and the Fruit of the Spirit.

So each child who helped in worship that day found a smooth stone either in their driveway or on the playground and they each chose a fruit of the Spirit that they would use to overcome that problem in their lives. And they wrote that fruit… forgiveness, patience, self-control… on their smooth stone with a permanent marker to remind themselves of the tools they have to fight the giants in their lives.

I think as adults our congregation learned as much from that lesson as the kids did who were presenting it! Children and Youth have a fresh way of seeing life that as adults we need to learn from.

Often we get so weighed down by schedules and bills to pay and children to pick up and food to prepare that we forget to see life through the eyes of a child. We forget to find the balance.

Even with scripture, we become preoccupied with details of a text, or whether the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God, or whether or not we are Baptist or Presbyterian or Catholic, and we forget to live life abundantly. We forget to read scripture through the eyes of a child.

Children are not naïve nor do they see the text through colored glasses, children know, perhaps just as well as adults that the world is a scary and painful place. But when the basic principles of the Biblical stories are applied to their lives, principles like the tenth commandment: be content, or principles like the eighth fruit of the Spirit: be gentle, then life can be enjoyed and can be lived abundantly!

It is our responsibility to model a life lived abundantly.

It is our responsibility to teach children to choose to live their lives under God’s principles of Love.

It’s our responsibility as ministers and volunteers for youth and children to counter the story our culture is telling them. It is our responsibility to tell them the truth about God.

And the truth is that God is so far beyond their imaginations and our imaginations, that we would do well to take off our shoes and never put them back on.

For this is holy ground that we are walking on. And it’s a wholly different story we have to tell…

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chilean Children Minister's Conference Sermon 1

I. Children and the Church

In May, I attended a preaching conference where we spent most of the day listening to different sermons or lectures. It was a fantastic experience for me. One particular sermon struck me, and I think what it said bears relevance to you as well.

The preacher, Thomas Long, opened his Bible and turned to Luke. He read us the passage from Luke 2 where Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple for purification purposes eight days after his birth.

As you may remember, Both Simeon and Anna were there in the Temple that day awaiting a Messiah that they were sure would come at some point in their lifetimes. Simeon and Anna were old. They had probably had many expectations in their lives but there was still one more left to be fulfilled: seeing the Messiah.

And so when Mary and Joseph arrived at the Temple that day with the baby Jesus, Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the child before he died, was waiting. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God for the revelation the world was about to receive, and he warned Jesus’ parents about the hardships that would come.

In addition, there was a prophet there at the Temple, a woman named Anna who stayed in the Temple day and night. And when Prophetess Anna saw the child, she too began to praise God and preach to those in the Temple that the One who would redeem Israel had come.

After reading the passage, the preacher, Dr. Long, looked at us and said, “That’s all we know about Simeon and Anna. They never appear in the story again.”

And then Dr. Long said, “The Gospel Writer Luke gathers a table of the elderly, but after Luke chapter two, we never see the old people again. Simeon and Anna are gone. They hand the gospel over to 20 year olds.”

And that, in part, is why you are all here today. You are here because you are teaching, molding, mentoring and encouraging the people to whom we Christians in our thirties, our fifties, our seventies and beyond must hand over the Gospel of Christ.

It’s a scary thought.

But it is an important concept.

Dr. Long continued by saying that he used to think that the hardest part of life was standing up for his faith – but standing up for your faith just means you have to believe you’re right. Rather, he said, to lean into your faith and let go, that means believing in God. Leaning into your faith and letting go means believing in a God who owns the future!

The future of Christianity, the future of God’s Kingdom here on earth, lies with the children and youth with whom you and I currently work.

So we need to have a greater emphasis in our churches to share God’s love with children and youth and also their parents – the people who are their primary caregivers and role models.

If our children do not hear about God’s wide mercy, about Christ’s vast compassion, about the Holy Spirit’s comfort from us, then to whom or to what will they turn to find mercy, compassion, and comfort?

In the U.S., as I’m sure is the case here in Chile, more and more children, not just teenagers, but children, are turning to alcohol and drugs to both define themselves and to seek solace from a difficult world. Using drugs helps them make a statement to their peers about who they are and drugs help them escape the pain they feel.

But what if instead they defined themselves as Children of the Living God? What if instead they sought solace in the “peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding?”

If you minister to children, youth and their families, then your role in God’s church is critical!

Indeed, your role in society is critical!

I’m sure you have heard of the new communication program on the Internet called Skype. To use Skype, you need a computer with a camera on it and access to the Internet. And once you have these two things, you can speak – practically in person – to any person who also has those same two things.

Skype is free and works like a telephone except when you call the person on your computer, you can see (thanks to the camera on your computer and your computer screen) the other person! It’s like watching a video of someone except it’s not a video, it’s live and you’re communicating with him or her in person!

While I downloaded Skype several years ago so I could talk to my boyfriend at the time who lived in Morocco, the rest of my family has only recently discovered Skype. But since they have, now I can see and speak with my parents in Kansas City, Missouri, my sister in Chicago, Illinois, and my aunt in Honolulu, Hawaii even though I live in Austin, Texas!

My grandparents also downloaded Skype (with the help of my sister) onto their computer. So one day, my aunt who lives in Hawaii took her computer over to my great-aunt’s house and hooked it up. That day my aunt and great-aunt skyped from Hawaii my grandparents in Missouri. And when my grandpa sat down in front of the computer and saw his sister for the first time in over eight years, he began to cry.

“I never thought I’d see my sister again,” he told my grandma, and together, the four of them talked on Skype for over an hour.

Families are important. They are, in most cases, the most important relationships we will ever have.

And as church leaders, we have the opportunity to help families learn about God. We have the awesome responsibility to tell them the biblical stories of families just like theirs – flawed and broken – who were loved by God anyway. We have the opportunity to help families learn what it takes to maintain healthy relationships. We have the chance to minister to parents who in turn can take better care of their children. We have the honor of molding the future as children and youth look to us for guidance and support.

In the musical theater production called Into the Woods written by Stephen Sondheim, at the end of the play, the main character sings a song called “Children Will Listen” in which she sings…

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.

Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful before you say,
"Listen to me."
Children will listen.

“Let the little children come to me!” Jesus said when his disciples pushed the children out of the circle of conversation, out of the circle of healing.

We do the same thing though, don’t we? “Run and play, Mommy’s busy.” “You’re too young to understand.” “Sit down and shut up.”

We too, push children out of our way and out of our church services and out of our lives when we deny them the opportunity to worship God and experience God through community.

In Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and in the Gospels in the New Testament, God tells us about the greatest commandment: we are to love God and love our neighbor… and that includes children.

Let the little children come to me, Jesus said. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

What if, when Jesus said that, he wasn’t making a metaphor about us having innocent faith, a faith that believes whole-heartedly?

What if, when Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to children, he meant it? What if, as Dr. Long suggests, the Gospel will be carried on through young people?

What if it’s time for us to get out of the way, and let them tell it?!

Chile Part Dos

I have no idea what day it is today, but on Wednesday, at 4:15pm, I kissed my dog and two cats good-bye and headed to the airport where I checked my suitcase and received for boarding passes that would take me to Dallas and then to Santiago, Chile.

One year later.

You may remember that in May of 2009, I boarded with 10 students and one translator to head to Temuco, Chile to work at the Fundacion Para Amar, a girls' home in Southern Chile.

One year later and I am preaching at a conference for children and youth workers in Santiago.

But first, I have to get through Dallas. And just as we missed our flight on the way home from Chile one year ago, so I missed my flight from Dallas to Santiago. Or rather, it missed me, and everyone else scheduled to board. So in a line long enough to hold a plane-ful of passengers, I finally got to the desk to discover the flight had been postponed until tomorrow morning.

"But I'm supposed to preach in Santiago tomorrow night!" I exclaimed hoping to win some sympathy points.

This is only after, upon seeing me, the startled woman behind the counter asked, "How old are you?!"
"Oh, oh, well, you look young. Sorry."
"No problem, you just confused me with an adolescent, but that's fine. I'll take it as a compliment if you can get me to Santiago faster than tomorrow night."

Alright, I didn't say that, but I thought it.

However, the woman didn't buy the minister card I played either. Sorry, she said. There was another flight we could have sent you on but it's already gone.


"Here's a hotel voucher and a voucher for dinner and breakfast, alcohol not included."

Well, what good is that gonna do me?

"No thank you," I replied. "Can I just get some extra miles or something?"

Of course, she wasn't authorized to give me that so I took the hotel vouchers and went to sit down.

There was no way I was going to sit by myself in a hotel room all night when I was in Dallas. So I called Cat and Josie. No answer from either. Oh God. Maybe I was going to sit in a hotel room in Dallas by myself. So I texted them, "call me ASAP." Surely that would work. It did. Cat returned my call.

"Hold on, let me put on some clothes, I'll come get you."

So Cat and I reunited in Dallas, ate some cheese sticks and salad (a little bit of comfort food, a little bit of good for you food) and went to her house. She just bought it a few months ago and it was great. Very spacious with tall ceilings. And I got to see Bridget for the first time in like 6 years! I used to dog-sit Bridget when we all lived in Waco when Cat was teaching school and I had to walk Bridget during my lunch hour. Sometimes I would take Olivia with me, the girl I often babysat. Good times. Then Cat and I watched a little bit of the House marathon on TV and both went to bed.

Less than five hours later, the alarm went off, I showered, re-put back on yesterdays clothes (no they would not give me my luggage back at the airport) and headed back to DFW.

We were supposed to leave at 8am. But at 8:10 the pilot came on and said there were mechanical difficulties. That figures. But we did finally take off and I arrived in Santiago only forty-five minutes after I thought I would (or rather 11 hours and 45 min after I thought I would) and Raquel was there to pick me up.

She's the President of UBACH, the Chilean Baptist organization. She arranged the children minister's conference and of course she had arranged my original trip to Chile the year before. So it was good to see her again.

We went straight to the seminary where the conference was held and after changing clothes in a bathroom and brushing my hair, we went into worship and 20 minutes later I was preaching and she was translating.

What a night.

And of course, after I finished preaching and we were gathering our things Raquel said, "I liked your sermon a lot but tomorrow it will have to be much longer."

Yikes! I'm not used to preaching for 40 minutes!

Afterwards, we went to dinner with her son and his girlfriend (I hadn't eaten since lunch on the plane) and that food was delicious. Some sort of pasta dish. And of course a pisco sour.

This morning I slept in, much later than I intended. But it's freezing here and I think subconsciously my body didn't want to come out from under the covers. I worked a little more on sermons two and three and then Raquel arrived and we went to another session of the conference.

Most of that consisted of me looking at people pretending to understand what they were saying, and Raquel occasionally translating. Lunch was good. Some sort of meat-free soup (yea!) which I had two bowls of and also a pasta alfredo dish with ham that was easy to eat around. And then some sort of raspberry yogurt pudding thing for dessert. That was all good considering all I'd been left for breakfast was hot tea and oreos... what?

So now it's the afternoon. I've finished the sermons and need to get them printed. Raquel is working on her computer in the little apartment I'm staying in at the seminary and when she's done we'll return to the conference.

Not much time for sightseeing, but hopefully on Saturday after my morning sermon is done.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Galatians 5 Sermon: On Freedom

Beresheth Experiential Worship: Tonight's Sermon. Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Oh Galatians, you are a tricky, tricky text.

We read you and we want to run out into the streets dancing naked, chinking our beer mugs together with one another over and over again, toasting and singing of freedom while we kiss the people around us as our love overflows from our hearts and often from our loins and we revel in our freedom in Christ.

Or maybe that’s just what the Irish do when facing freedom from the British.

I’m not sure.

It happens, upon occasion, that Christians (often teenagers or maybe seminary students) speak of freedom in Christ as they get obliterated on Bud Light or their parents old bottle of vodka that they found in the back of the glass cabinet, stowed away for that special occasion that never came.

“Freedom in Christ” kids say as they head off to college to really live the life they always wanted but never had, oppressed for 18 years in their parents loving homes: sex, beer, frat parties, bad mouthing professors and skipping class. Don’t hold me back, I’ve got freedom in Christ!

I’m exaggerating of course. Most of the college kids I know have more sense than to screw a bunch of people, get an STD and flunk out of school.

Still, you know the sentiment I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. Our God is a forgiving God and temptation towards the ways of this world are, well, tempting, and it’s not like its easy to be good and model humility and live simply all the time.

Gossiping is fun
Vulgarity is funny
Pride is a right
Gluttony is cultural
Judging others is easy
Hating them is even easier

I actually know very few Christians superficial enough to actually adhere to the mantra, “if we know we’re going to be forgiven anyway then why not…?” It’s infantile reasoning that makes God out to be a bi-partisan forgiver, roped into a covenant of forgiveness that She can’t get out of.

Rather, the more mature Christian response to God’s abundant forgiveness and the freedom we receive in Christ often concerns questions of balance. If everything God made is good, and if alcohol is good, and if it is only our abuse of alcohol that wreaks havoc on the world, then how do we maintain a healthy balance of delighting in the goodness of God’s beer made by the Monks in Belgium while keeping ourselves and others healthy and safe? If sex is a spiritual intimacy given to us by God, how do we participate in something that is good and fun, and keep ourselves in check that we are not using others or objectifying the people around us? If our land guarantees everyone certain inalienable rights, how does that affect the way we vote?

Ugh. I hate this sermon. I hate talking about things like alcohol and sex and cursing and all the other token things that the church has confiscated to judge the world and even it’s own Christians. I hate talking about the law and freedom because the church has corrupted these issues, using them as a litmus test for whether or not people are actually Christians. The church in the last thirty years has begun to use what we do or don’t do as an abacus to calculate who’s “in” and who’s “out.” I hate the legalism of it. I hate the fundamentalism of it. I just hate it. And such methodologies is why the world hates the church.

And rightfully so.

“You whitewashed tombs!,” Jesus screamed at the pharisees. How dare you judge a woman for getting an abortion and yet you don’t adopt children, you don’t foster parent, you don’t sponsor kids through international agencies, nor do you volunteer in orphanages overseas. You don’t vote for universal healthcare for children, and you don’t write your representatives advocating better education standards and textbooks in our schools. Shame on you, you whitewashed tombs! You appear so pious and righteous and clean and noble on the outside, but on the inside you are dead and rotting because nothing has changed!

We adopt superficial standards for how we should behave as Christians and fail to allow ourselves to really be changed by Christ… which takes time!

Almost all the great (and terrible) theologians would say sanctification takes time. But when we submit ourselves to Christ’s way that asks us to be resurrected daily to new life, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to love our God by loving our neighbor, then the fruit of the Spirit - the repercussions of allowing the Holy Spirit of God to teach us, begin to inform the decisions we make, the lives we lead and communities we serve. And that fruit is as apparent to the people around us as the big red apples growing in an orchard of trees.

Who cares if we smoke, or drink, or have sex before we’re married, or dance, or play cards, or work on Sunday, or vote Democrat, or fill in the blank…?

Wanna know if you’re free to drink as a follower of Christ? Well, does drinking give birth to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or, wanna know if you should cut back on drinking? Use the same criteria. Wanna know if it’s “okay” to vote democrat or vote republican as a faithful Christian? Well, do the platforms for the issues promote love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Wanna know if you should date a certain person? Well, does that person inspire you to live life more abundantly in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Jesus speaks often of the Kingdom of God which, I believe, He asks us to help usher in here and now. God lives in us right here and right now making us residents of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Creating the kingdom means creating a world birthed out of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And if that language is too flowery for you, let me put it another way.

There’s no “kingdom of God” in objectifying others, so no matter what our sexual inclinations, we must make sure above all that respect, love, kindness and faithfulness guide our love lives. There’s no “kingdom of God” in oppressing the people around us - immigrants or citizens, aliens or residents - so make sure acceptance and peace and generosity define our hospitality. There’s no “kingdom of God” in spending every Saturday trying to remember what happened the night before while our day is sacrificed to the toilet and a bottle of Gatorade, so let us take care that self-awareness, joy, and self-control define how much is too much. There’s no “kingdom of God” in buying and buying and buying more and more things and gadgets and toys so that our families suffer from our overindulgence. Rather, our communities should benefit from our generosity and self-control.

If you’re coping or compensating or creating an exaggerated world to replace the one you actually live in then you can be sure you’re not living in freedom. Freedom isn’t a tangled web of lies that forces us to remember who we’ve told what to and worry if the truth will come out. That’s too complicated to be freedom. Freedom isn’t taking advantage of everyone around you because, by God, it’s your right to be happy and successful and in charge of your life and your future. Freedom isn’t infringing on the rights of others so you can enjoy your own. Freedom isn’t hiding, or worse yet, forging who you are because you are afraid the world won’t accept you. Freedom isn’t hurting yourself and everyone else along the way because you’ve got parents who will always bail you out or a God who will always be with you.

I don’t care how much alcohol you drink or how much sex you have or if you vote Republican (well, maybe I do care just a little). But what I really care about is what Jesus Christ advocated: that your inside matches your outside, that the love and mercy God shows you you will show yourself and others, that the freedom you intellectualize is the freedom you feel. All the rest will fall into place when freedom reigns.

We must allow our fruit to demonstrate our freedom and we must free ourselves to live fully and abundantly in the Spirit.

And who knows, maybe in the process of freeing ourselves, we’ll free God too…