+ nathanjhill.com +

writing, reflecting, and hoping for a transformed world

Paul gets tired of her shouting – and maybe in a bout of frustration – he calls the demon out of her. And suddenly, the girl is freed. She is freed in such a way that she no longer has value to her bosses, to her slave-masters, who cannot control or rake profits from her. Suddenly, she is not a product to exploit but a fully human being, a full child of God, who cannot be manipulated or abused or used. I am always amazed at the way the New Testament stories remind us that liberation was not really good news for those on top with all the power – but for women, children, low wage laborers, those who were exploited, those who were seen as a means to an end. Salvation was a pathway to freedom in all aspects of life.

Read it over at the UCC website: http://www.uccmd.org/blog.cfm

One day, I'm having exciting conversations about the future, planning, dreaming, listening, and exploring future possibilities.

The next day, I'm planning funerals, shepherding people in their grief, and finding ways to honor lives.

This is really sacred work, but the bounce back and forth can be dizzying and disorienting to say the least. And most days, I go home pretty tired.

I coach soccer twice a week with a bunch of awesome kids from my neighborhoods. It's incredibly life-giving, even if my youngsters struggle to put their skills together in the weekend matches. Coaching is not a skill I'm particularly good at, but I've grown over the past few years. My love for the sport has grown too.

Here are a few things that soccer can help people in leadership and ministry think about.

Total Football was an innovative approach to the game that trained players to be ready to play in any position on the field. If a defender found himself up the field, they were ready to play like a winger or striker, slotting in a goal or playing in a cross. Many small churches are forced to run Total Football approaches to their ministry. People wear different hats. If someone is away from worship, you may get tasked at the last minute to help worship unfold. Rather than make this a stopgap, why not make it a feature and build a church culture that encourages everyone to step in and be ready to fill-in to keep the mission moving forward? It's a cool thought, right?

Positive works better than negative. In this current season, the players on my team have struggled in their Saturday matches, and at moments, I've felt like expressing my frustration with them. But they are kids. They know they are struggling and aren't always sure what to do with those emotions. Instead, I continue to make every effort to encourage them. Cheer them on. Tell them they are stars and are capable of incredible things. Because, actually, that's the truth. These kids are awesome. I think many struggling churches have heard a ton of negative – statistics, declining numbers, funerals, financial issues. Can we (pastors and leaders) find ways to encourage our churches and point to the positives, even if they are little things?

We need teams. Like most sports, soccer is a team sport, and it's the most beautiful when players link together, passing and communicating and making something awesome happen. When I have players who are great at scoring and dominating, I always encourage them to take the next step and figure out a way to help their teammates score. It's hard – but when it happens, it makes my day as a coach. I find as a pastor that I am still falling into the trap of going at it alone instead of relying and trusting my team. Sometimes, it hurts them when I make decisions and move forward out of my eagerness to get things done. I have to figure out how to bring them and help others get the successes, because when it happens, it really is the beautiful game.

It's global. I love soccer because it is truly international. Most of the kids in my team are from communities of color, many from immigrant families. It is a privilege and honor to work with these kids and learn from them. Some of their parents show such passion and skill – it's fun to include them in practice and pick up things that I don't know. In church life, especially when we are clouded by dominant cultural narratives in North America, we lose out, time and time again, on other stories, ways of being church, and bits of wisdom that can offer us new insights to the challenges we face. How might churches, whatever your background, take time to listen to what others in your neighborhoods are dealing with? How can we remind ourselves that church is a whole lot bigger than our little building or part of town?

Note: I wrote this simple #calltoworship for Youth Sunday in the Easter season.

One: Do not let anyone look down upon you - Many: Because you are young, because you don't have it all together, because you are beginning again somewhere in life One: But set an example for all believers - Many: Speak the truth, love courageously, offer compassion, and be faithful. One: Christ is risen! Many: Christ is risen indeed!

Note: This #litany is intended to be paired with for those who have been silenced. The black tape is, again, optional, and the language is flexible. It does mirror each other, so that we enter into lament and then exit into action.

(Before each stanza, reader removes black tape before speaking.) Reader Five: God, you created Creation and called it good. Enable us to move from silence into action to care for this Earth. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

(Before each stanza, reader removes black tape before speaking.) Reader Four: God, you created humanity and called us good. Challenge us to love each other and see the face of God in the eyes of a stranger, no matter who they are and how you created them. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

(Before each stanza, reader removes black tape before speaking.) Reader Three: God, you give abundantly – enough food for the world to eat and be filled. You give us enough, so transform the way we live that we may share this abundance so that no one is poor or without. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

(Before each stanza, reader removes black tape before speaking.) Reader Two: God, you come that we might have peace for neighborhoods and for nations. Through love and service, may we mend broken relationships and bend down to bless even those who intend us harm. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

(Before each stanza, reader removes black tape before speaking.) Reader One: God, you promise that the deepest night gives way to morning. You gather our tears and our hearts into your care and bless us. Renew us in the hope of resurrection and rest in You. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

Clergy: You have heard the good word. Even on this day of silence, God is not silent. God suffers alongside us, and God even now births a New Creation. Let us go to the tomb in expectation for what God is doing in and through us.

Note: This is a short and simple #calltoworship for the new year.

One: This is a day of new beginnings. Some of us seek the quiet darkness of midnight. Some of us seek the warm light of dawn. Many: Wherever we seek, God’s love illuminates us. One: Some of us look to this new year in frustration. Some of us look to this season with hope. Many: Whatever we look for, God’s love illuminates us. One: Let us walk together Many: And find God lighting our way!

Note: I wrote this #litany for a Holy Saturday vigil before Easter. Feel free to edit it, adjusting language and adding stanzas as your context asks. We did not do the dramatic black tape bit, but it's a creative visual thought – though it could be uncomfortable in some contexts and with some readers.

Clergy: In the stillness of this day, we open our hearts to You and to those who suffer. We enter into this time of prayer for those who have been silenced to be centered in our prayers and lament. Many: Hear our prayers, God of Justice.

Reader One: For grieving families who have lost loved ones, who are afraid to show their pain and tears, who feel alone and estranged, who lack hope in days and years to come. Many: Hear the suffering of those silenced, O God. (After each stanza, reader places black tape over their mouth symbolically.)

Reader Two: For nations and communities ripped apart by war and violence, who witness neighbor turning against neighbor, who cannot return to their homes, who are afraid of retaliation and persecution. Many: Hear the suffering of those silenced, O God. (After each stanza, reader places black tape over their mouth symbolically.)

Reader Three: For those human beings who are made poor, who experience hunger and need, who have been turned away from opportunities and resources, who have been told they do not deserve generosity. Many: Hear the suffering of those silenced, O God. (After each stanza, reader places black tape over their mouth symbolically.)

Reader Four: For those of all ages who have been judged and discriminated against, for who they are and who they love, for being different or not meeting society’s definitions of perfection, for living unafraid into who God created them to be. Many: Hear the suffering of those silenced, O God. (After each stanza, reader places black tape over their mouth symbolically.)

Reader Five: For our groaning, sick Creation, for the destruction wrought by pollution and rising temperatures, for the poisoning of communities, rivers, and landscapes, for the lack of respect given to this earth that feeds and sustains life. Many: Hear the suffering of those silenced, O God. (After each stanza, reader places black tape over their mouth symbolically.)

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