Lament

Divorce. Disease. Death. The uncomfortable truth is that our congregation, our communities, and our country is hurting. From more than just those three ‘d’ words, of course. But those are the ones I’ve encountered most in recent weeks and months. Too often, we feel the need to present ourselves as doing fine — even in church. Maybe especially in church. I know because I do it too. In my head, I know that our sanctuary should be just that: a place of refuge from the parts of our lives that expect us to be — need us to be, demand us to be — ‘ok’ all the time. I know I want our place in the world at 2700 75th Street to be a place where it is ok not to be ok. However, I also know just how hard it is to admit to ourselves and others that we’re not ok. For myriad reasons, internal and external, we want and need to appear tough, solid, stoic, strong, above it all.

Yet we follow God in the Way of Jesus. That means we follow a God who willingly became vulnerable and intimately entered the world. Baby Jesus? Vulnerable. Born to an unwed, teenage mother? Vulnerable. Part of a family that became refugees in a foreign country in order to flee violent authorities? Vulnerable. Lived in a country occupied and controlled by a foreign military power? Vulnerable. Openly protested his own people’s cultural practices that further oppressed the poor? Vulnerable.  Arrested, beaten, and executed on trumped up charges? Vulnerable.

But following God in the Way of Jesus means we follow a God who lived in an open, vulnerable manner that allowed others around him to be vulnerable as well — which often led to their healing. Isn’t that what we’re after too? Healing the hurt in our selves and in our sisters and brothers?

Our scriptures are full of people crying out to God for help, for healing, for wholeness. Let those authors provide your voice, if need be. Especially good for this are the psalms of personal lament such as Psalm 13, Psalm 35, and Psalm 86. Or try the psalms of communal lament such as Psalm 44, Psalm 74, or Psalm 80.

This Sunday, our prayer time will not feature a responsive litany. Instead we will engage in directed silence, lament, and celebration. To paraphrase biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, we will seek to be honest about the ways the world disorients us and how we might find a new orientation in the grace and love of God.

So whatever it is that makes you not ok today: your own struggles, or issues with which those close to you are dealing, or broader societal problems like systemic racism or violence such as (this week’s examples) Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, or desecration of sacred land in Standing Rock Reservation, or global challenges like getting education for all girls…bring it all so that in our honesty we may lay it at the altar.

Conversely, bring too all that helps you celebrate today: good news of a diagnosis, or a new job for a friend, or birth of a healthy baby, or relevant ministries helping someone out of poverty or homelessness, or globally the number people living in extreme poverty has dropped below 10% (down from 44% just 25 years ago)…bring all that to so that we can be reminded that “though the arc of the universe may be long, it bends toward justice.”

This Sunday let’s start a new trend together, let’s be honest about it when we’re not ok. And let’s make sure Woodridge UMC is a safe place to not be ok.

 

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’

Today is Nelson Mandela Day; it could hardly occur at a better time. What the world needs now is a whole lot of people praying for – and working for – peace. Those of us who claim the name of Jesus better be leading those efforts, if we want to live up to that name.

Israel orders ground offensive in Gaza; heavy shelling on border.”

Ukraine accuses Russia of shooting down passenger plane.

We pray for peace among neighbors.

Tens of thousands of migrant children enter U.S. unaccompanied.

“The United Methodist Council of Bishops Executive Committee, meeting in Chicago, July 16, 2014, calls on all United Methodists to pray, reflect on God’s Word, and engage in acts of compassion concerning the humanitarian crisis of thousands of unaccompanied children on the southern border of the United States.  There are also refugees and migrant people throughout the world for whom God and we have concern.

Jesus invited the children to come to him.  He called us to welcome strangers and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Let us be guided by Christ’s example.”

We pray for peace: shelter from violence and for violence to cease.

More than 50% of Woodridge’s school district 68 live under the federal poverty level.

We pray for peace from the violence of poverty.

As Pastor Danita said in her inaugural sermon at WUMC, we still have work to do.

Let us pray without ceasing for peace. Let us work without ceasing for justice.

Giving thanks that we serve the God of resurrection, one who is making all things new – including us and our too-often broken world.

Responding to evil with a hope and a prayer

How often this week have you heard someone say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of ______”? Boston, Iraq, Texas, Iran, Illinois…there’s no shortage of people dealing with violence, disaster, pain, and tragedy. There never is.

Has the “thoughts and prayers” sentiment gone the way of “how are you”? Tossed off with little intent; a perfunctory response to bad news? I know I’m guilty of that sometimes.

I aim to change that today. Now.

Here then is an actual prayer for actual people in actual need from The UMC‘s fantastic General Board of Discipleship. As the best prayers often are, this is meant to be said in community.

We come together hoping for healing and rest.

Healing can be hard when the world seems harsh and cruel.

We come seeking peace after the blast, even among the shrapnel of images imbedded in our collective minds.

Peace can be hard when the world roars in chaos and pain.

We come to a God who knows what it is to have nails in flesh and bone. We come to a God who knows our pain.

We come to you, O God, because you know how to change death into life and chaos into beauty. Anoint this hour with your peace as we worship in your name.

Sometimes the evil in the world isn’t as noisy and news-worthy as a bomb. Sometimes it is persistent, pervasive, assumed to simply be part of the way the world is. But no one should be hungry. We can and should and must act to end hunger. Bread for the World can help us do that. So next week, April 28, we will again take up an Offering of Letters asking President Obama and our Senators (Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin) to protect programs that help hungry and poor people.

More from Bread: How is this year’s Offering of Letters different than in the past? The 2013 Offering of Letters includes signing a petition to the president as well as writing letters to Congress. Now is the time for a bold, unified plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad. If you haven’t done so already, take a moment now and sign the petition. You can also download copies of the petition and invite friends to sign it and mail it to us.

Join us at Woodridge UMC on April 28 to learn more, to sign the petition, and to write letters.

Finding Buerstetta-er?

 

Two months. It’s been two months since my last post here. In times like this my blog title makes me look like an idiot. I wish I could blame the void on a planned hiatus. While summer has been crazy busy, and I did spend a good portion of July curating a private blog for Woodridge UMC‘s youth summer mission trip, the truth is I had plenty to say and even have a few drafts sitting around, but never quite managed to finish and post them. That changes today. New month = new habits. But I need a slump-buster. No, not that kind. This kind:

I’m taking Sean’s advice by going to the archives to revisit my all-time most popular post (Hey, go big or go home, right?): Back to school prayer. Sure, ours and all the kids around me have already started school. I figure it can’t be a bad thing to still reflect on this time of year – and to pray about it. Here’s my version of hoping “the simple rhythm of typing will get me from page one to page two.”

This time of year there are two easily-observable, near-universal truths: 1) children and youth grumble, moan and complain about the way-too-quickly-arrived end of summer and its boon companion, the how-can-it-possibly-be-time-to-go-back-it-seems-like-we-just-got-out start of a new school year. 2) Parents standing behind those children and youth attempting to be sympathetic, but having that attempt betrayed by the thank-all-that-is-holy-school-starts-again-because-it-is-way-past-time-for-our-kids-to-get-out-of-the-house look in their eyes.

Just as “rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” like it or loath it, the beginning of a new school year is upon us. It can be neither slowed nor hastened, no matter our effort of will. I’m excited to have WUMC once again bursting with the happy, loud noises of young people gathered to find a friend and be a friend; gathered to know Jesus better and help others do the same; gathered to worship God; gathered to love kindly, seek justice and walk humbly with God.

I say let’s once again embrace this new beginning. Here is a prayer to help us do so. You can read the whole thing by yourself, or even better, give each reader in the family a part.

All: Be with us, God!

One: It’s a new school year, Lord. I’ve changed a lot since last year, but I know I still have ways to grow. I’m looking forward to a fresh start.

All: I pray for my old friends.

One: Help them to see that although I’ve changed some things about myself, I still want their friendship and that I am still me.

All: I pray for new friends.

One: Give me courage to reach out to someone new this year, Lord. Help me to be a friend for someone who needs a friend.

All: I pray for my teachers.

One: I pray that they will have open minds about me, regardless of my reputation – good or bad; regardless of what my brothers or sisters or friends may have done – good or bad. I pray that I will have an open mind about my teachers, regardless of what I’ve heard about them – good or bad.

All: I pray for strength.

One: I’m excited about what this year will bring, but I’m also nervous. What if I fail to meet expectations? What if a friend fights with me? What if no one sits with me at lunch? What if I don’t make the team? What if…?

All: Lord, we know that you are faithful!

One: You promise to walk with me and all your children. I want to be as faithful to you, to me, to others as you are faithful to me.

All: Through the strong name of the Trinity, we pray. Amen.

In the midst of all new beginnings, may the Peace of Christ be with us all!

[Note: prayer adapted from Worship Feast: 100 Readings, Rituals, Prayers and Guided Meditations, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2005.]

 

“We will work with each other, we will work side by side”

“I’m praying for you.”

I must admit that far too often when I say those words to people experiencing pain, loss, grief, despair, they sound trite. Even though I mean it. Even though I’m actually praying for the person and the situation, I don’t know how to say those words without sounding rote and insincere. Even though I mean it.

And but so anyway (with apologies to Fred Clark), today is the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has a long history of good work in Haiti, work that continues today. By most accounts, there is a ton of work still to do there. I’m proud to be affiliated with a denomination that is still there, working side by side with the Haitian people. I’m proud to be affiliated with a denomination doing its best to live in the way of Jesus: loving God by loving neighbors.

This video seems like a good way to remember victims, honor all the people still rebuilding, and inspire support:

 

That title comes from “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”, which was my favorite Sunday School song growing up. It remains a favorite today because it so succinctly names the purpose of my faith.

Even though it may sound trite… Haiti, I’m still praying for you.

Back-to-School Prayer

Here in my neck of the woods, this is back-to-school week. Many of our kids started today, some start tomorrow, some even started on Monday. (Starting in new year on a Monday? That seems especially cruel.) So in spite of the 90 degree heat, I’m thinking about fall…

This time of year there are two easily-observable, near-universal truths: 1) children and youth grumble, moan and complain about the way-too-quickly-arrived end of summer and its boon companion, the how-can-it-possibly-be-time-to-go-back-it-seems-like-we-just-got-out start of a new school year. 2) Parents standing behind those children and youth attempting to be sympathetic, but having that attempt betrayed by the thank-all-that-is-holy-school-starts-again-because-it-is-way-past-time-for-our-kids-to-get-out-of-the-house look in their eyes.

Just as “rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” like it or loath it, the beginning of a new school year is nearly upon us. It can be neither slowed nor hastened, no matter our effort of will. My two cents? I can’t wait! It’s been way too long since I’ve seen way too many of our people and I’m anxious to have WUMC once again bursting with the happy, loud noises of young peopled gathered to find a friend and be a friend; gathered to know Jesus better and help others do the same; gathered to worship God; gathered to love kindly, seek justice and walk humbly with God!

I say let’s once again embrace this new beginning! Here is a prayer to help us do so. You can read the whole thing by yourself, or even better, give each reader in the family a part!

All: Be with us, God!

One: It’s a new school year, Lord. I’ve changed a lot since last year, but I know I still have ways to grow. I’m looking forward to a fresh start.

All: I pray for my old friends.

One: Help them to see that although I’ve changed some things about myself, I still want their friendship and that I am still me.

All: I pray for new friends.

One: Give me courage to reach out to someone new this year, Lord. Help me to be a friend for someone who needs a friend.

All: I pray for my teachers.

One: I pray that they will have open minds about me, regardless of my reputation – good or bad; regardless of what my brothers or sisters or friends may have done – good or bad. I pray that I will have an open mind about my teachers, regardless of what I’ve heard about them – good or bad.

All: I pray for strength.

One: I’m excited about what this year will bring, but I’m also nervous. What if I fail to meet expectations? What if a friend fights with me? What if no one sits with me at lunch? What if I don’t make the team? What if…?

All: Lord, we know that you are faithful!

One: You promise to walk with me and all your children. I want to be as faithful to you, to me, to others as you are faithful to me.

All: Through Christ our Lord, we pray, Amen.

In the midst of all new beginnings, may the Peace of Christ be with us all!

[Note: prayer adapted from Worship Feast: 100 Readings, Rituals, Prayers and Guided Meditations, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2005.]