Monday, December 18, 2017

When God is with US

It is the day after our children’s program. I am amazed how God has used such a simple project to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Let’s count the ways:

1.       God called a new leader in our congregation to head up this project. Samantha asked about doing a
program as we celebrated her confession of faith at our new membership service in August. She talked to kids and parents, set a weekly practice, and led practices. She didn’t just suggest we do something and expect someone else to do it. She stepped up and made it happen.
2.       God got kids excited about inviting people to worship. The 13 kids and families in the program invited over 100 people to come hear about Jesus’ birth.
3.       God got people here. Ten minutes before we were to start, one kid peeked out. “That’s a pretty small crowd,” she said. I assured her more were coming. By the grace of God, I was right! Around 60 people came to support these kids and here about Jesus’ birth.  
4.       God shook those nerves right out of us. The kids all remembered their lines and did a great job with their songs and motions.  It was a great play.
5.       One of our students was all ready for their line when the student too shy during practice whispered a request to do it. The first student let the second do it. That was some grace and kindness in action for sure.
6.       God provided food! We had just enough to invite folks downstairs to build relationships after the performance. Kids did the heavy lifting of connecting people who hadn’t met before.  One girl wanted to meet my parents. She told them she was my favorite! 

Thank you, God, for showing up and for the little blessings sprinkled throughout the night.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Weekend in Murfreesboro

             My kids asked what was happening in Charlottesville when violence erupted during white supremacists rallies earlier this year. I sat them down and told them as plainly as I could what happened. People had gathered and said they wanted all Jews to die, black people to die, and anyone with darker skin to die. Other people had come to say that wasn’t right, and the two groups had gotten into fights. My son looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said, “But WE are Jewish.” He is right. My husband’s family takes deep pride in their Jewish and Mexican ancestry, as they should. Like parents across our country, I understood the fear that my child has a target on their back.      

      When my colleague shared with us her deep concern that the same white supremacist groups that met in Charlottesville were coming to her community in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, another colleague and I decided to make a quick trip to stand with her in solidarity. She shared with us the concern many people had for her as a young white woman, and how she pointed out to them that young white women had a particularly important role in this protest. We hold the same power of being white, and hold privilege as their sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. consistently talked about how silence of privileged demographics such as mine is often taken as consent by racist groups. I felt it was important to stand up for the lives that felt threatened by the acts, the language, and even the very presence of white supremacists. I tell my kids to confront bullies at school when they are not the victim. This was no different.

We prayed over the community the night before the rallies. We used the good old buddy system to make sure everyone was together and safe. In a group of three, I found myself often saying, “Where is my person?” That phrase I think is symbolic of why I was there. I was there to say, “I am your person. I walk with you as you face violent people. I will not allow you to be left behind or take the risk alone. You are my person that I can go into danger because you are by my side. You are my person, not because of the color of your skin, your heritage, or your faith.  You are my person because you are a person and your life is precious.  Your life matters.”

The next morning we stood with counter protesters at the rally. We felt the wave of fear run through seasoned protesters when white supremacists were allowed to carry in metal and hard plastic shields that busted open heads in Charlottesville. A Jewish woman shouted Shabbat Shalom as they arrived, which is a greeting that roughly translates to Peace to you on the Sabbath. Across the street stood a group that had beaten her. And we stood together in solidarity, twice the crowd of those who had come together because of hate.
              It was because of this and the news that our group of roughly 400 people had swelled to 1,000 ready for their afternoon rally in Murfreesboro, that the white supremacists canceled their Murfreesboro rally all together. We drove into Murfreesboro to a street lined with signs and the chant “No hate! No Fear! Everyone is welcome here!” In that moment I was proud to be American.  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

You Make Beautiful Things

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust”

Those words sung by the band Gungor are some of the words I go to when it seems like God’s church is dead. When it is past dying and it seems like a pile of ashes. When I feel like we are beyond hope. They are the words that speak to God’s ability to resurrect the dead.

And God has been resurrecting the dead. He is solving problems. He is making new life.

One of those sprouts at our church is a new service on Wednesday nights. It is a time when new people are connecting in new ways to each other and to God. You can look at this service from all kinds of directions and see life.

Honestly, I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out. I keep waiting for people to give up on it and stop coming. I keep waiting for people to complain about making a meal to share. I keep waiting for them to stop inviting people without a church home to join us.

But it just keeps going. People keep inviting their friends and family.  New people keep attending. New attenders keep offering to help with the meal. Families keep getting more and more involved with the rest of the church.

And it keeps getting better because now we know what we are doing. We have gotten better lighting candles, praying, finding bible verses, and singing. We have found a way to worship together that is authentic. Kids act like kids and everyone is given grace to grow in their faith. We take communion together and learn together what it means to follow Jesus.   

November 1, we will celebrate a whole year of Wednesday Worship. It’s going to be a special service of reflection and joy mingled together. We hope you will join us. Come see how we have grown, and find your own place among us.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Because They are Loved

I don't often get a chance to verbally reflect with my leaders after KICK. Usually, we are busy getting registration forms for new kids, cleaning up, and supervising the kids staying for Wednesday Worship. Yesterday, my husband came to help, so after Wednesday Worship and spaghetti, I got a chance to talk to somebody about it.

KICK is an afterschool program that meets every other week at LaFontaine UMC. Since 2014 the program, more than a decade old, has grown from 12 students to 43 students per meeting. The program offers an afterschool snack, Bible lesson, craft, active game, and singing. One of the sources of our growth has been a much higher retention rate of students. Kids try it once and keep coming back. They invite their friends. If we can get one kid in a classroom excited, it often isn’t long before we have a quarter of that class coming.

The part that Nick and I reflected on is how not-big-church the program is. I mean, we don’t have top notch equipment and often have to yell over 40 kids in a cement room. We don’t use a kit for curriculum. I write the lessons, the craft person finds the craft on Pinterest, and the games rarely have props. The songs are the same ones I was singing 30 years ago, and probably my mother was singing when she was a child. They are led acapella, usually after I have lost my voice due to the lack of sound equipment downstairs.

I would not use the term “cool” for our crew of adult volunteers. A couple grandparents, a couple moms, and a couple of single adults with chronic diseases. No one would look at any of us and be like, “I bet they were really popular when they were in high school.” None of us are particularly gifted when it comes to working with kids. We aren’t people who are professionally trained to work with kids like teachers or daycare workers. We are just a bunch of nerds who think it’s important to share Jesus with the next generation. That is it.

The kind term we use these days for a program like KICK is that it is “grassroots.” It doesn’t have any of the glitz of well-polished productions. It’s not perfect. No one would use it for a marketing program. So…how in the world are we growing? Why do kids keep coming back? Why do they invite their friends? I asked Nick this question, after reflecting on all of the glitches of the afternoon. 

He said, “They keep coming because they are loved.” 

I think he’s right. The kids don’t come to KICK because it is the kind of program that Christianity Today would run an article about. They come to experience the love of God. They don’t love the leaders because we are cool. They love us because we love them. They love us because we care about them so much that we show up to love them despite being amateurs. They don’t care that we meet in an old basement, on antique chairs, and sing acapella. They hear their stories in the Bible. Not just stories about miracles and heroes, but stories about people who were forgotten. They learn about being kind, being seen, and being loved.

That is what makes KICK a success.They keep coming because they are loved.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Paradox of Kids

If you happened to catch Facebook Live Prayer last night, I’m sure you saw the paradox.

My kids were driving me crazy. They read prayers in funny voices. They made unrelated comments. They made the sound and video quality low. They played with the camera and made faces. They threw what I think was a sock across the room at me. They made me the “hot mess mom” in a time when I really wanted to just be a “pastor mom.” I was at my wits end.

Then in the middle of that train wreck, they ask important questions about prejudice and racism. Lately adults have been fighting about these issues. White people, of which I am one, seem to be putting their fingers in their ears when they are not pointing the finger back at the people of color who are pointing out inequality and injustice.

But not kids. They ask the right questions. They are curious. They don’t mind when you point out the evidence that something is wrong. Lydia made the same statement as many white adults have, “but you aren’t prejudice,” but she said it without being defensive. When I pointed out that I don’t have local friends who are black, she stated the obvious response, that is because there aren’t many people of color in our town and community. Then she let me ask the question that gets to the root of our problem in Indiana and the United States as a whole. Why are there no people of color in our community?

It is because of our history of racism. It is because of systematic prejudice, where people are not safe because of the color of their skin. It is because they were not free to have a house in certain communities. It is because houses and land are left as inheritances, so they are trapped in the history of racism and prejudice that is no longer legal.

So here is the paradox. The kids make everything more chaotic, but also much more meaningful at the same time. So, despite my declaration after the camera was off that we will never do that again, we probably will. Because I know they will ask the hard questions and bring up the white elephants.

This is why we need to make room for them in our congregations. Not so we feel young again. Not as a sign of our growth and future. We need them to say the truth without any political agenda, no matter how ugly it is. We need children because Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to them. If we want to understand it better and be a part of it as well, we need the chaos and honesty of children in the room. That means they can’t just be seen and not heard. Because what they say is often the truth we need to hear most.