writing, reflecting, and hoping for a transformed world

Yesterday, I had a first as a pastor – a small family-only graveside funeral without hugs or even handshakes.

It was already a wet and chilly day, so maintaining our physical distance made it feel a little chillier.

The funeral home placed COVID-19 pamphlets on every chair, spaced out evenly in the viewing area.

We fiddled with our smartphones as we waited in silence.

Touch is important in a time of grief. Sure, it’s not the only way to grieve or always appropriate, but there is something about being together as human beings, drawing close to the presence of God and the comforting connection in each other. We are frail creatures. Life can be short. Funerals help us remember that we are not so different from each other.

In those sacred gatherings, when we can be thankful for life, when we consider the complexity of our relationships, when we confront pain and regret, when we are reminded that the people we love (or struggle to love) will not be with us always, we need, often, a little touch.

So, it was difficult as a pastor to offer comforting words and to be present in a time of grief and yet not be able to take the hand of a family member and pass on a little connective warmth on such a chilly day.

Maybe it was difficult because I need that touch as much as others might need it too.

I write a lot.

But I often feel very sensitive about posting those things on the web.

I suppose this is something I need to talk to my therapist about, but seriously, I've written academic papers, religious service material, and lots of reflections. But then, when it is time to share it with the world, I feel very reluctant. Judged or something.

It's a problem. Maybe not as big as other people's problems, but why do I not dare to risk putting my work out there?

Stay tuned.

This #prayer was used at a funeral in 2010, but it could be adapted for other uses.

Almighty God,

Source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Speak to our hearts as we gather this morning to remember, to laugh, and to weep.

May we hear Your word for our lives spoken clearly.

May we be encouraged by the presence of friends and family.

May we know the touch of your grace.

Fill us with the joy and peace that comes from your presence.

We trust in You and Your will, In the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, we pray, Amen.

I wrote this #song in Dallas for a worship service. I'm not sure if I ever performed or led it in worship, though I did record a demo somewhere. Chord chart available on request.

welcome welcome to the table of God

if any one shouldn’t be invited that any one would probably be me But God’s invitation is spread far and wide cause God’s love is deeper than the sea

come on and join this family we all look weird and a little strange but when God sees us, God sees beauty cuz God’s love doesn’t change

here at God’s banquet table we eat the bread, we drink the cup Christ gathers us in for this feast the Holy Spirit sends us out to be transformed to change the world to love, to love, to love, love to be love.

This is a #calltoworship from a recent Celebration Sunday, reminding our church on its 60th anniversary that God was still creating and giving us reason to worship.

One: In the beginning… Many: God created the heavens and the earth One: In the beginning… Men: God created plants, animals, and life. One: In the beginning… Women: God created human beings, young and old. One: In the beginning… Youth & Children: God created families, churches, music, art, and laughter! One: I wonder, is God done creating? Many: No! God is still creating! God still gives life! So let us worship God together!

This is a #calltoworship appropriate for current events along the border as well Elijah's visit to the widow and her son in 1 Kings.

One: Holy God, You are our Mother All: Making a feast out of a little Weeping alongside us Refusing to abandon us One: Holy God, You are a Truth-teller All: Challenging us to keep marching Letting us know when it is time to let go Encouraging us to share the load One: We worship You and offer You praise! All: Praise and honor to You!

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:

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!

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