Our series on the last week of Jesus’ life continued on March 3 with the Last Supper. I didn’t do much with the table since it was set for communion. The kids went to Sunday School that day (we do SS twice a month and the Upper Room twice a month) and they made chrysalises. They made tissue paper butterflies, which they put inside toilet paper tubes, wrapped them in purple tissue paper and tied them off on each end. They are currently hanging from the ceiling of our fellowship hall with the idea that the “new life” will emerge on Easter Sunday.
On March 10 we shared the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Here is the table:
The white candle I had burning the entire time. The three purple candles were lit at the beginning of the service, and each time Jesus returned to find the disciples sleeping, I extinguished one of the candles (I told the story from the chancel rather than the pulpit).
Since the story was about Jesus praying, I gave the kids some prayer-related items to do in the Upper Room: I gave them a page with instructions for praying in color (I call them ‘prayer doodles’), and a printout of this page on cardstock for them to make a prayer cube if they wished:
March 17 was a special day. I was away, recovering from the half marathon, and we had a completely elder-led service. We had a paperless order of worship, sermon, images on the projector, two guest musicians, luncheon afterwards, and the whole service was broadcast on Ustream. I eavesdropped from home and it was a wonderful sight to see.
March 24, Palm/Passion Sunday was heavy on the passion, since I told the entire story by heart—Mark 14 and 15. I kept the table simple: Black cloth spread flat, wooden cross in the middle, with a short white taper candle burning in front of it. We will extinguish several candles just like that one on Friday during the tenebrae service.
Now, Easter. None of this is formed yet, but I’m toying with a number of things:
First, I’m on the lookout for an Easter bulletin cover that doesn’t stink. So many bad fonts. So many cheesy Easter lilies. Luckily we have a color printer so I expect I’ll come up with my own image. I love this:
It’s so Johannine, eh? But a couple of friends said it was “creepy”. Whatever…
In terms of service: two years ago we started with a call to worship that wove in the song “He Lives In You” from The Lion King. While the song played, we stripped the black cloth from the table (leftover from Good Friday—the song starts tentatively which lends itself to a slow build), then gradually added elements: water for baptismal font, communion elements, candles etc.
Last year we did the call to worship from the fellowship hall, so that our Easter breakfast led immediately to the service. As the people flooded into the sanctuary, the choir sang a boisterous introit.
What to do to start the service this year? We seem to have more than our usual crop of people out of town, so I’m going with video images rather than something involving a lot of people. I’m thinking about the Ode to Joy flash mob—thanks Marci—you can google it if you want (though if you attend Tiny, don’t google it, be surprised!).
I will definitely be weaving this video (which has gone viral bigtime) into the sermon:
It is traditional for Tiny to have communion on Easter. I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I’m not sure how visitor friendly it is. Of course we welcome all to the table, but do visitors really feel welcomed if they’re not accustomed to the eucharist? In any case, I’m contemplating a slide show of evocative images as we come to receive the elements, perhaps while listening to David Wilcox’s song “Rise”:
Beloved, it is time for you to rise. Time for you to RISE UP..
With a sudden sense of wonder | Though the promise goes unspoken
As the joy comes to your eyes | When the joy comes to your eyes From the burden you’ve been under | For your soul was never broken
Beloved, it is time for you to rise, time for you to rise.
First of all: new author website! Woohoo! Thanks to the folks at Paraclete Web Design for their great work, prompt service, and good humor. There will be a number of kinks to work out in the days to come, but how fun to have some new digs!
He’s changed his position on kin selection as it relates to evolution, favoring group selection instead:
During the 1970s, I was one of the main proponents of kin selection theory. And at first the idea sounds very reasonable. So for example, if I favored you because you were my brother and therefore we share one half of our genes, then I could sacrifice a lot for you. I could give up my chance to have children in order to get you through college and have a big family. The problem is: If you think it through, kin selection doesn’t explain anything. Instead, I came to the conclusion that selection operates on multiple levels. On one hand, you have normal Darwinian selection going on all the time, where individuals compete with each other. In addition, however, these individuals now form groups. They are staying together, and consequently it is group versus group.
I’m no scientist, but the tribal thing makes sense. There are new studies out about how liberals and conservatives over-exaggerate the characteristics of the other.
And this phrase was new to me:
“Humans,” the saying goes, “have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology”.
She is sitting on the steps with the pastor who asks a question. She offers what seems like a perfectly sensible answer and the whole congregation laughs. In that moment one of two things happens, either a comedian is born or a child feels humiliated. When a comedian is born, he often uses the children’s time to practice his new-found vocation, generally with beginner comedian results. He may even compete with the pastor for the attention of the congregation – especially if mom or dad is the pastor. The results can embarrass everyone – except probably the young comedian. But if the child who drew laughter feels humiliated, she often decides the conversations on the steps are dangerous.
There is surely middle ground here between a fledgling comedian and abject humiliation. But laughing at children when they are being serious is a major issue with me. It’s fine to share delight with one another, regardless of age. But I felt disrespected as a child when I made an earnest comment and adults laughed. Some ideas in this article about how to handle this in worship.
During the Oscars, the Onion posted a vile tweet about child actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Bromleigh’s take on the incident is one of my favorites. She also has the best “About” page I think I’ve ever read in all my years of blogging.
This past weekend during book group at Tiny, we were discussing the Harry Potter series. I remarked that both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games portray institutions (such as government) as completely inept at best, and malevolent at worst. I wondered what it does to kids to receive such messages—that basic institutions are not worthy of our trust—at such a formative time in their lives. (I honestly don’t know; I mean, look at fairy tales!)
Many people piped up with variations on the idea that institutions should not be worthy of our trust, and certainly not blind trust (I agree with the latter). One person said “Kids needs to learn that they can trust their families, their friends. Not institutions.” Another brought up Watergate. I get that. But really, is it helpful and healthy to promote cynicism at such an early age?
I wish I’d had this article at the time:
In today’s society, we need to trust not only people, but institutions and systems. It’s not so much that I trusted the particular pilot who flew my plane this morning, but the airline that produces well-trained and well-rested pilots according to some schedule. And it’s not so much that I trusted the particular taxi driver, but instead the taxi licensing system and overall police system that produced him. Similarly, when I used an ATM this morning — another interesting exercise in trust — it’s less that I trusted that particular machine, bank, and service company — but instead that I trusted the national banking system to debit the proper amount from my bank account back home.
Can mission statements be pointless wastes of time? Yes, they can. But not necessarily. I’ll admit it, I love the idea. The author quotes the Covey family mission statement:
“The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society.”
I had a range of reactions on reading this. On the one hand, I found the whole thing a little corny. It seemed cumbersome, heavy-handed, and a tad humorless. On the other hand, I kinda loved the idea. I’m corny! I also thought Covey’s idea captured something inherently true: How can we ask our children to uphold our family’s values if we never articulate what those values are?
This calls to mind some of the discussion going on in the church about teaching kids the Christian faith. For decades, we have relied on Sunday School and mid-week programs to do the job. But it’s the parents’ job, first and foremost. (Especially since the trend now is for “regular” attendees to come only a few times a month—we just don’t have time and wherewithal to the do it all at church.)
Finally we voted on a single statement (taken from a remark I made when they were born): “May our first word be adventure and our last word love.” Finally we added a series of ten statements: “We are travelers not tourists;” “We don’t like dilemmas; we like solutions.”
Two from Brain Pickings, two from The Dish. This is a link to that amazing movie/slam poem about bullying that’s been making the rounds. But also check out this study:
Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.
Two from Brain Pickings this week! I guess this post is from a commencement speech Patchett did. I took note of it because I was recently back at Columbia Seminary for only the third time since graduating 10 years ago. It was a very deep, rich experience, to walk those halls and to emerge from the Harrington Center into the quad like I did some 13 years ago when I first visited the campus and thought, “I am home.”
So her remarks about going back to the pivotal spaces in our lives resonated with me:
Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours — long hallways and unforeseen stairwells — eventually puts you in the place you are now. Every choice lays down a trail of bread crumbs, so that when you look behind you there appears to be a very clear path that points straight to the place where you now stand. But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight — there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?
What now, indeed? May whatever it is be wonderful for you all.
Here at Tiny, our focus in worship this Lent has been the last week of Jesus’ life. Using Borg and Crossan’s book, we’ve been look at the stories leading up to the crucifixion. The sermon series is called Journey to the Cross.
The ‘journey’ bit ties into another initiative here at Tiny, the Journey to Jerusalem. We are encouraging folks in our church to walk, run, bike, etc., then submit their mileage each week. We’re trying to make it to Jerusalem before Easter!
So far so good. We set a modest goal of 100 miles a week, which when multiplied by 10, will hopefully get us there. But the initiative has been so popular we are using a factor of 5 instead… and we may still make it to Jerusalem and back. Check it out:
Just a small way we’re trying to encourage health and wholeness here at the church.
And yes… as the map indicates, we walk on water here.
I’m also making an effort to change up the look of worship each week, primarily on the communion table, but also through the kids’ activities in the Upper Room. Of course I haven’t thought to take pictures—sorry, I’ll do better!—but I’ll describe what I’ve done in case others want to adapt:
The first week, we looked at Jesus’ “cursing” of the fig tree (Peter’s word, not Jesus’, which I talk about in the sermon). For that Sunday, I had a black piece of fabric laying flat on the table with a vase with several nice branchy twigs sticking out of it, sort of on the left, with the communion elements towards the right. I had a long piece of purple fabric that I snaked around the table, with one side wrapping around the vase, then curved around the communion chalice/plate and hanging off the front. (By the way, you need to experiment with levels when you do focal point stuff. You can use books and things underneath the cloth to create some variations in height.)
We invited the kids to do this simple activity (sans leaves) in the Upper Room, which was meant to represent the withered fig tree:
The kids took these home to have on their dinner tables during Lent.
This past weekend was the anointing of Jesus. I used a different multi-colored cloth for the table and put a large glass bottle (actually a decanter) on the table, along with a copy of the St. John’s Bible (which I talked about in the sermon), propped open to the gospel of Mark. I also included this figure I got on a trip to Mexico during seminary:
We’re fortunate at Tiny that we’re, well, tiny, so people can see what’s on the table pretty well. Also, folks came forward during the prayers of the people and we did an anointing with oil, so they could see the table elements even better.
For the kids in the Upper Room, I gave them a bit of nard (the oil mentioned in the story), which is smelly stuff. They were invited to make cards for each person in the church service, using construction paper, markers, stickers, etc. I asked them to put a little smear of nard on each paper so people would have the scent as a reminder of this story of extravagant love.
The children did a wonderful job of this, and stood with me at the door following the service, handing them out. Most of the notes were small, but Caroline did do an oversized one for Robert and me:
Everyone knows that cell-phones work because of radio waves. Sure it’s complicated and, in general, few of us really get it. But we all know that cellphones work because the natural world is built in simultaneously subtle and complicated ways.
What is remarkable about the fundamentalist perspective, however, is an unwillingness to see spiritual life in the same light. Instead of seeing subtlety and complication that require a lifetime of intense dedicated effort — a genuine personal investigation of the world — to understand, everything is reduced to magic-marker outlines with unwavering, absolute answers….
While writing on science and religion, however, I have met lots of really amazing folks who are quite serious about their spiritual lives. They have come from a diversity of faith backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and more. Some of these people were highly educated, some where not. What struck an atheist like me about these folks was their dedication to the investigation.
Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world…
So what, then, are we to do? One possibility, of course, is simply to give up; to acknowledge women’s destinies as something different from men’s and stop complaining about it. This, however, hardly seems fair, either to the generations who fought so hard for women’s freedoms, or to those who have not yet had the opportunity to give these freedoms a try. A second possibility, trumpeted most recently in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her examination of why women still can’t have it all, is to keep fighting the proverbial fights—for better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home. These are all important goals. Yet they will never be sufficient to address the underlying issues.
A good point/counterpoint on the efficacy of children’s sermons in worship. Most forward-thinking pastors I know have already done away with them or would dearly like to. I get the impulse. But I still do them. I try to avoid interactive questions that set kids up to be entertaining*. My approach is to tell the biblical story so that they’re ready to go upstairs to the Upper Room for the remainder of worship, or to Sunday School, where they engage the story they just read. It’s a way of setting up the rest of the morning’s experience for them.
What a treasure trove of wisdom. I’ve watched a few of the shorter ones, and others I’ve seen before, but I might make it a goal to watch the others during my time away for CREDO. I leave in a week and will spend a few days with my BFF before it starts. Squee.
Here’s a specific vid I liked, about the importance of constraints in fostering creativity:
I’ve had two different people recently ask me to help them think about the process of writing a book. One of their concerns is how to get it done with everything else going on in life. I’ve tried to explain how that busyness can benefit them. Assuming you have enough motivation to start, of course–if you’re lukewarm about doing it, the rest of life will conspire against you. But if you just have to write that book, you will find a way. And the limitations will help you. At the end of the process you will have an imperfect thing on paper, rather than a perfect thing in your brain and nowhere else.
*My favorite children’s sermon story: I was talking about Jesus’ parable of the yeast and I’d brought some yeast from home. I showed it to the kids and said, “What is yeast used to make?” One of them piped up, “BEER!”
Ashley-Anne is a gifted pastor, writer and co-author of Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman. She writes with a great combination of compassion and sass, particularly from her experience as a hospital chaplain. This post is a list of what not to say to someone who has lost a child:
“God needed another angel.” (I don’t even know what that means) Many people who have lost loved ones experience feeling the spirit of said loved one after their death, either at a family gathering, in nature, or in hearing a favorite song. Some even refer to those feelings as feeling like they have an angel with them, which is beautiful and comforting for them. However, again, none of us can speak to what God needs, and if God does in fact need more angels, I’m confident God can make that happen apart from the death of children.
Aaron was a highlight at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and his blog is eclectic and fun. This is an excerpt from Wallace’s famous speech “This Is Water,” which he gave at Kenyon College in 2005.
…In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
Aaron has more at his blog, or read the whole speech here.
Regardless of Kreider’s own personal financial situation (which I know nothing of), the pleasantly open schedule that he advocates is almost never possible without a healthy stack of family money or generous institutional grant.
I resent the implicit assumption of Kreider’s piece that anyone—from a soybean farmer to a New York blogger—could disappear for a retreat or fizzy drink in the middle of the day if only we wanted to escape our silly self-imposed bonds badly enough. Most of us need a stable income (hello, student loans), and moreover, the ongoing nature of assignments in many jobs means that as much as we might like to dedicate only morning hours to “the work,” we do, in fact, need to be connected for much of the day.
I linked to this article already this week, but here it is again—a fascinating profile of six people at varying income levels. Says a self-made billionaire:
“Politically I’m on the enemy list. I’ve lived my whole life doing what I thought was right, and now I’m an enemy of the state.”
…But the reality is that rarely are enemies of the state treated so well. Except for a brief stint in the late ’80s and early ’90s, their tax rate is at an eighty-year low. In the 1940s and 1950s, the top tax bracket paid more than 80 percent. It was 70 percent when Reagan took offlce, 40 percent under Clinton, and now, under Obama, it’s 35 percent. But the very, very rich don’t pay even that. By taking full advantage of an investor-friendly tax code, which takes a much smaller bite out of capital gains and dividends than it does for salaried income, the 400 richest Americans pay, on average, 18 percent tax.
Pictures of people leaning at impossible angles with trees:
In addition to being amusing and visually arresting, there is something about these photos that inspires me. How much of the good stuff in life involves leaning into the newness, the fear, the possible? Then there’s this: to achieve these crazy angles, these people must have had to fall. Are there times when we need to actually fall, to “fail,” in order for something great to happen?