Category Archives: Ministry Reflections

Grandma, Blessing, and My Children

One of my earliest memories of spirituality practiced comes from my Grandma Mary.  Before my family would leave for a trip she would bless my brother and I in Spanish.

When she said the blessing she would first trace a small cross on my forehead, my mouth, and then give me the sign of the cross that Catholics normal do to themselves; forehead, chest and each shoulder. I would then have to kiss the hand that she was blessing me with. I remember my parents blessing me as well as my aunts and uncles.

So, here’s the blessing.

Por la Senal de la Santa Cruz de nuestro enimigos libranos Senor, Dios nuestro. En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y  del Spiritu Santu.

Here it is in English

By the sign of the holy cross deliver us from our enemies Lord, our God. In the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Blessing is a tradition that I have done with my children.

When I put my children to bed I trace the cross on their forehead and say, “Remember that you are beloved child of God.”  I then ask my children to bless me.  My youngest usually traces two crosses on my forehead and says says, “You are a beloved daddy of God.” My old traces one cross and says, “I love you daddy.”  These are blessings I carry with me to bed.

Andy Root writes about prayer, “Prayer forces us to see others as persons; it unleashes the metal claw of individualism to see personhood.” I would say that this goes for blessing as well.

Blessing forces me to see my children not as objects but as subjects. It forces me to recognize their personhood.  During the day when have I sinned against my children, I must apologize to them before I can bless them. I must acknowledge that I acted out of line. I have to acknowledge that the sacred space between us has been violated. I have to acknowledge it and restore it before I bless them.  And, then, we are able to share that sacred space again in a blessing.

Even if you are not spiritual or religious, it might be a good idea to bless your children. Tell them that they matter each night, not only to you, but to the divine, and the universe.

 

 

 

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Shared Humanity-Different Faiths

Last month the congregation I serve hosted a lecture series on different faith traditions. It was our contention that with the current political climate and with people not knowing much about different faith traditions, it would be good to hear about them.  So we invited spiritual leaders and/or academics in that religious tradition to come and lecture for a while and take questions.  We hosted 5 traditions: Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran.

This event was a huge success!  We had from 60-100 people attend each event with half of those people being from the wider community.




 

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Cuts, Band Aides, and Rehearsing Pain

A couple of days ago my oldest son cut his back while playing outside.  It seemed deep enough to warrant the cut being cleaned out and a band aide.  Now, my son doesn’t deal too well with the thought of pain.  He freaks out if he knows pain might be coming.  He asked if it would hurt when I cleaned it. I told him that it was only water but that it might hurt a little.  He started to freak out and kept on saying, “This is going to hurt. This is going to hurt.”  This seemed like an opportune time for some wisdom.  I said to him, “Don’t feel the pain before it happens. Maybe instead of telling yourself how much this is going to hurt, you should tell yourself that you can do this.”  He started repeating, “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”  After we had finished he told me that it didn’t hurt at all.  Funny how that goes. He built up the pain in his head for no reason.

How many times do we feel the pain before it happens?

It’s not just physical pain, but emotional pain as well.  Have you ever just kept on telling yourself something bad is going to happen in a relationship? Have you ever preemptively pushed someone away because you believed they were going to hurt you? Or, pushed someone away because you believed you were going to hurt them? Have you ever avoided potential conflict because you rehearsed how bad it could go?  Have you ever not enjoyed a moment because you didn’t want to be disappointed later? Are you always waiting for the other shoe to drop?

I believe this is a way of feeling pain before it happens.

Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, writes, ““We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.”

So, while I try to pass wisdom to my children, I have to remember to listen myself.

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I am unable to sing some hymns.

Yesterday we sung Amazing Grace during communion. I’ve sung that song hundreds of times: weddings, funerals, church services, and in my own head. And Today I was reminded of something that I wish was not true.

There are some hymns I am unable sing.

It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I am physically unable to. I get choked up, tears well up in my eyes, my voice goes silent. I can’t sing the hymns. They resonate too deeply in my soul. They speak too much for me and my experiences of joy, pain, and hope.

So, I thought I’d share verses from two hymns that get me every time.

1. Amazing Grace

“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.”

2. When Peace Like a River

“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Do you have any songs you are unable to sing?

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C.P.E., Starbucks, and the need for control

While interning as a hospice chaplain (C.P.E.), one of the requirements for ordination, I also worked at Starbucks to earn a little money. This made for some interesting days and nights. Often I would go straight from the bed of a dying person to having to handle customers that were less than ideal.

One day I was visiting a younger man who was dying of cancer. He was declining in health and was scared. He thought an emergency room could help him, but through conversations with his doctor and nurses, I learned that only medication could be adjusted, nothing could in fact be done. I had to tell him that the reason for his decline was because he was dying. It was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with someone. When I left his room I went straight to Starbucks to start my shift.

Most people that came into my store were great people. I developed relationships with some of them. It was especially great to get to know the parents, kids, grandparents, that all came into the same store.

When I had left my young cancer patient I went to work making coffee. There was a man who came in and was particularly agitated because we did not have vanilla powder at the bar. As usual, I would apologize, explained that we had some on order, and that it should be here the next time he came in. This, however, was not good enough for him. Well, considering the day I had, I had no sympathy left in me. It soon did not become about the vanilla powder at all, but about having power over another. I remained professional but unwilling to cower. He ended up calling the regional manager about this “incident.” I had nothing to fear because I did nothing wrong.

It’s interesting how having to sit with people who are dying and then hearing people complain about vanilla powder puts life into perspective. Both my cancer patient and my customer both wanted to have control over their lives. And both had no control whatsoever.

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I Kicked Jesus Out Of Church

So, I kicked Jesus out of church a few Sundays ago. He was in the form of a woman begging at the door of the church. We don’t often get beggars in the front of our church. He was also in the form of the 4 year-old child next to the woman. Jesus spoke with what I think was a Russian accent and was probably in her 30s. Jesus held a sign that asked for food, money, or a job.

I felt uncomfortable because the congregation shouldn’t be bothered by this woman on a Sunday morning. Didn’t she know that we support all kinds of ministries that help people like her? Didn’t she know that we help the Contra Costa Food Bank? I told her that she couldn’t beg in front of this church. When she said she was hungry I told her to come to worship and come back later during our coffee hour. I then remembered that we have a bin full of food for the food bank. I told her to wait and I would get some food for her. But, I think that I scared Jesus off, because when I came back with food and she was gone. I felt horrible. Jesus, please forgive me for kicking you out of church. I hope you come back.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me. –Matthew 25:40

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Worship Music And Knowing Your Audience

The first time I ventured out of a Roman Catholic church was when I decided to go to a large baptist church right outside of my house.  I remember that the high school age kids had their own worship service aside from the adults.  There were probably 100 kids in the service. I’ll never forget what happened when the pastor took the stage and said, “Let’s begin with prayer.” I, being a Catholic, knew that when you prayed you stood. So, when the pastor invited us to pray I stood up and bowed my head. It took me a second to realize that I, in fact, was the only person standing. Everyone else had their head bowed and eyes closed. I don’t think they saw me, thank God!

I was reminded of this misstep in worship this week during the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit. It seems to me that most of the kids don’t understand contemporary worship because their churches don’t really do it. So, it becomes a semi awkward rock concert.

There was this point during some of the singing that one of the leaders was prompting the kids to just sing praises to Jesus.  She began impromptu singing. I recognized this from my days as an Evangelical.  I remember being led in this during my time in San Diego. Everyone would just start singing a song that welled up in their hearts. I would bet that most of the kids have never experienced this before. So, when she was prompting them, no one did anything.

I don’t want to judge the merits of doing worship that way. I have obviously cast my lot elsewhere.  I do think that it was out of place and made me feel a little awkward. I wonder if there is a way for the music leaders at the gathering to better understand their audience?

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