A Prayer for Farmers

 

Garlic harvest from June 2019, A Place on Earth CSA farm in Turners Station, KY.

God of all Creation,
we give you thanks for those who cultivate the earth,
for those who wake before dawn and labor in the fields,
for those who care for livestock,
for those who plant and tend with care.
We pray they know they are appreciated beyond measure.

Too often, we overlook the gift of farmers
as we grow ever more distant from the processes
that bring food to our tables.
We pray that we see and know
those who do the planting, tending, and harvesting.
They are a community of sowers
on whom our survival and flourishing depend.

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A Prayer for Veterans Day

In the United States, we are approaching Veterans Day – a day set aside to remember and honor those who have served in the military. But more than simply saying “thank you,” it also offers the opportunity to turn our attention to the stories and lives of our veterans. Hold them in prayer and listen to their stories, truly seeing the child of God in your midst. They are your neighbors and are sitting in your pews. Maybe ask them to share their story with you, for it is in sharing the story that community exists, God is present, and healing may be possible.

The author (center), in her capacity as Chaplain.

God of all that was and is and is to come,

You, who bear witness to our creation and usher us home at our final moments,

we ask that you turn our ears to the cries of those we often do not hear,
to open our eyes to the stories in our midst,
to hear the stories of those called,
to hear the stories of those who answer the call.

Open our ears to the story of the seventeen-year-old

who yearns to serve in a world with honor,
who seeks an escape from the drug-riddled streets he calls home…
only to be sent to a place where the streets are riddled
with a different kind of violence, replacing one form of hate with another.

Give us the eyes to see the single mother,

yearning for a better life for her son,
who is called into harm’s way,
her son sent away to his grandparents yet once again,
in hopes that she is able to provide a better life for him,
who has more of a relationship with her son over phone video
than she does in real life,
only to hear cries of judgment for being a “bad mother.”

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Dear Clergy: A Letter for November

My dear, weary, fierce colleagues in ministry,

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? None of us knew going in to 2020 what would come; none of us expected to spend the majority of the year figuring out how to minister to and with people we couldn’t be within an arm’s reach of. And yet, here we are.

photo taken by the author at a clergy retreat in 2019

Let’s recap, shall we? We ended Lent during stay-at-home orders and celebrated Easter in parking lots and dining room tables. We canceled VBS, camps, and mission trips. We figured out cameras and live streaming and answered questions we never even knew we needed to ask. We learned Zoom and taught it to our congregations. Then taught it again. Then trouble-shot it. We switched platforms, software, hardware, and techniques, using skills that we never learned in seminary. We planned sermon series to speak to our trauma and danger; we found new ways to distribute food and serve our communities. We have planned and started over and planned some more; we have figured out how to administer communion in ways that are theologically and physically sound; we have presided over weddings and funerals over cameras and screens. We have held relationships together that are strained because of a contentious election; we have risked and weighed when, how, and how much to speak prophetically. We provided care over phone calls and texts instead of hospital beds and coffee tables. We have cried and prayed, wondered and doubted… all while trying to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our congregations healthy.

Whew. That list isn’t even exhaustive.

And yet. AND YET. Every step of the way, pastors made it happen. Surrounded and upheld by the Spirit, we served God’s beloved. You served God’s beloved.

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A World Communion Story and Liturgy for Strange Times

A Story before the Meal

Communion at Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, MD.

I was not excited about my first in-person communion service during the pandemic. I felt like the virus was just taking away one more thing. It had taken from my life in big ways, like the deaths of people that I loved, and in smaller ways, like canceling first-year milestone celebrations for our long-awaited child. At that first in-person service, we were finally together, but the feast of abundance I usually loved to celebrate was not possible in these strange times.

As we partake of the one loaf, we who are many are one body, I recited. But we weren’t partaking of the one loaf. Instead, we were holding individually wrapped wafer-and-juice combo packs. And we were separated by masks and chalk marks six feet apart, seemingly so far from ever being one body. How could this be communion?

That Sunday, half of us couldn’t open the cellophane to get to the wafer. The next time we had communion, we used juice boxes and rolls crammed into snack-size plastic baggies three days before worship and made jokes about juice boxes at the Last Supper. But even in the imperfection of the symbolism, this meal nourished us. It nourished me.

I acknowledged: It is right to give our thanks and praise. “So what are you thankful for?” I asked right in the middle of the liturgy. As we prepared to take our meal, I asked where people saw the Spirit poured out in these strange times. I was thankful to see faces distant and masked but still full of warmth. I saw the Spirit poured out as we lifted up in prayer those who work in hospitals, those who protest for justice, and those who work in education. Even in the strangeness and disappointment I felt as I approached the table, I also felt lifted out of my isolation, if for a moment. I felt directed toward the day not when we feast at the heavenly banquet but when we could feast together without barriers of masks and cellophane.

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The Book of Ruth: A Reflection on the Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A note of thanks to the late Justice Ginsburg, written on the sidewalk near the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC on Saturday, September 19.

It’s midnight. At some point my sleepless child drifted off. I did for a while, but it didn’t last. I felt drawn to read the Bible. Of course, I turned to the book of Ruth. Where else, on this night, when we have lost RBG?

Ruth is an odd story in many ways. The whole plot centers around weird antiquated marriage customs. There are some scandalous sexy bits that don’t translate well into English.

It’s an odd story in the Bible, because it centers on the love and steadfast commitment that two women have for each other. There are only two books named for women. Very few Biblical narratives pass the Bechdel test.[1]

And it opens with the phrase, “In the time of the Judges…” which may mean very little to you. Judges is not a book taught much in Sunday school or preached much from the pulpit. It’s a depressing book about a terrible time in Israel’s history. There was a void in leadership, and the people “did as they pleased.” The nation was in shambles, constantly getting invaded and ransacked. The book of Judges reflects an extremely violent, gory, and chaotic era.

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A Trauma Informed Pandemic Ministry

Drawing close in the distance

When I modified the passing of the peace for worship on March 8, others in our county-seat town in Northwest Ohio didn’t seem concerned about the virus yet. I received some funny looks but mostly laughs, and the congregation went along with it. On the way out the door one of our oldest members came up to me and thanked me for changing the way we passed the peace. She explained that she too had been worrying about the virus since she was in the vulnerable population. I shared with her that I understood where she was coming from. I am immunocompromised and take immunosuppressant medications, so I too, am in the vulnerable population. This virus was on my radar, and I was prepared to do whatever I could to keep my people and myself safe. When our administrative council met later that same week in March and made the decision to worship via videos, a switch flipped inside me, and I became not only a pastor, wife, and follower of Jesus, but also a crisis manager.

In the early days of the pandemic I was running on pure adrenaline, waking up every day at 4:30am because I couldn’t sleep. I was filled with ideas about how to reach out and offer Christ to my people through the ingenuity of the internet. The Holy Spirit was working on overdrive in my life and I was pouring out peace, love, and mercy to my people in the name of Jesus. I was constantly texting to check on someone or calling to make sure one of our shut-ins was doing ok. I wanted to share God’s grace and love to try to help people get through this with their mental health intact. All my leftover energy was spent making sure our online Easter worship service was “special and meaningful.” The online service was beautiful and turned out so well. Then on Easter Monday, something in me clicked again. I was exhausted. I think for the first two months of the pandemic I had been so focused on making sure that others were ok that I had forgotten to care for myself.

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Praying while Frayed

“even when we are at the end of our rope…” -Rev. Elizabeth Grasham

Let’s pray together:

We try to have a good attitude about it, God,
but sometimes we just run out of juice for that.

We’ve got no more energy to pivot,
to try things a new way,
to have patience.
It all boils out.

Sometimes we stop talking, and sometimes we talk too much.
Sometimes we yell, and sometimes we cry.

Sometimes we dread the future,
and sometimes we find ourselves nostalgic about the past.

But we give thanks, God,
that we can show up to you on Sunday mornings
even when we are at the end of our rope

It turns out that when we show up, you give us more.
It turns out you’re the one we hold onto.

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I’m not praying for you.

I’m not praying for you.

“I am not praying for you,” poem copied in walnut ink.

I’m not praying for you.

I’m not praying for you.
As if your tears don’t carry the weight of your hurt,
and God is somewhere else
waiting to be paged by the righteous.
As if the mother alone in her room-
partner gone and babies asleep-
crashed into the mattress and eyes closed before she offers her thanks
is ungrateful.
As if the someone in the mass grave is any less loved
than the one with the power who put them there.

I am not praying for you.
As if my words are more connected, holier, or more well-received.
As if the right sentence- a seance of spirits or those who have “the gift”-
will unlock salvation.
Like those who have spent time in the book, in the books- wrote them.
Or the posture matters.
You will not find that heavier words
Sink in faster.

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Finding Voice: A Review of The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

“Yeah, I guess I’ve never gotten into Sue Monk Kidd’s books because nobody gets murdered in them,” my friend explained when I was talking with her about The Book of Longings. “Well,” I responded, “spoiler alert: someone does get murdered in this one. Jesus.”

Reading Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel alongside non-canonical scripture

The Book of Longings is Kidd’s long-awaited new novel. I heard about it on NPR and listened to other clergy talk about it excitedly. I was not interested, but between the extra reading I was doing to survive the pandemic and my desire to always be on the lookout for church-related summer reading book club books, I picked it up. Though I’m not a big murder mystery reader, my friend’s desire for something fast paced and exciting was exactly why I was not interested in the book. Frankly, Jesus fiction is boring. As a pastor and creative writer, I have tried to weave together my work subject matter and my love for fiction and it never works. Jesus in my work and others I’ve read is always too nice. A serene, ethereal bore with a great smile. I even thought Christopher Moore’s Jesus in Lamb is a little bland, and Moore did not care about offending Christians!

Kidd does better than most in writing Jesus, perhaps because of her desire to focus on Jesus’ humanity. Kidd’s Jesus is sensual, thoughtful, frustrated, empathetic. Though she doesn’t depict sex scenes, Jesus makes love to his wife. We see scenes where he gets angry, where he questions, where he works long hard days. However, Kidd still writes him as a little too much of a good guy like in other Jesus fiction: he looms charismatically for his wife in parts of the story where it would seem more real for there to be a rift, like when he leaves her to follow John the Immerser. Toward the end of the book, his wife’s devotion to him seems to make less sense to me, as though Kidd was unconsciously relying on us to just think of Jesus as always wonderful instead of showing us what of him was so lodged in his wife’s heart even when they were separated.

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A Review of Speaking Truth: Women Raising Their Voices in Prayer

In early March, a copy of Speaking Truth arrived at my house, and I was excited to read it. I was busy pastoring during Lent and making plans for Easter, excited for this celebratory season in the life of the church, so this collection of prayers and reflections seemed perfect.

Speaking Truth: Women Raising their Voices in Prayer was published by Abingdon Press in February 2020.

And then, a few days later, everything changed. COVID-19 quickly rewrote all our daily patterns and our expectations.

As I write this, we’ve been living in this pandemic for over three months; though stores and restaurants have reopened, cases in my community are spiking, so worship remains virtual and my family remains at home.

Three months is a long time… and yet, I can’t really remember what life was like before; this season has been an entire lifetime and a breath, both at once.

If you’re like me, you started quarantine back in March with a big stack of books and, in the midst of dread and fear and anxiety, harbored a small sliver of joy that you would finally have time to get to them.

ALL THE TIME! I thought. THERE WILL BE SO MUCH FREE TIME!!!

Then, if you’re like me, it was much harder to take advantage of that time than I anticipated. After several weeks of quarantine, the stack of books still sat on my side table, staring at me. I opened a couple early on and had a hard time focusing, reading a few sentences until I found my mind wandering to how to upload the next worship video or making a mental checklist of the parishioners I needed to call.

That was my experience with every book I tried to read… until I got to Speaking Truth.

What a breath of fresh air.

This book, published by Abingdon Press, is a follow-up to We Pray With Her, a collection of prayers written by women who sent daily prayers to Secretary Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign in 2016. Speaking Truth took that premise and expanded it, including more voices — particularly of women of color and queer clergy.

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