Source: About That Time My Child Very Nearly Lit the Church on Fire
My guest blog on Columbia Connections.
Source: About That Time My Child Very Nearly Lit the Church on Fire
My guest blog on Columbia Connections.
We had a crazy awesome holy parade this morning!
I create the Family Worship Guide every week to help facilitate inter-generational worship at Faith Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. You may use this content with attribution.
Family Worship Guide – Sunday, July 5, 2015
“A Holy Parade” – 2 Samuel 6
Parents, use this guide to help your young child remain engaged throughout the worship service.There are ways to explore and interact in the Family Worship Area at the front of the sanctuary. You may also use this guide in your pew.
We Gather in God’s Name – Worship Exploration
We Proclaim God’s Word
We Respond to God’s Word
We Go in God’s name
Make sure to check out the Update pictures from our Holy Parade!
Psalm 29 deals with God’s power with particularly strong imagery around floods. God “shatters the cedars of Lebanon… convulses the oaks…. strips the forests bare… shakes the wilderness…sits enthroned atop the flood waters…”
These images are meant to amaze us with God’s power, possibly to comfort us that even in our weakness God is mighty. But I can’t help but be reminded that Fear is the cousin of Awe.
All these images of floods are striking a raw spot for me right now. For the last week, my newsfeed has been filled with pictures of pounding flood waters in central Texas, cedars shattered and cypress trees ripped from their roots, oak trees stripped bare.
The human debris is just as staggering. Foundations lay empty – the homes that once graced their bedrock, gone. Just gone. Pictures and clothing and silverware litter the ground, snatched by the river then dropped as the current twisted and turned through the heart of Texas.
This particular area of central Texas is very dear to my heart. I spent 15 summers at John Knox Ranch, a summer camp near Wimberley, on the banks of the Blanco River – which is usually cool, clear and calm. It’s my favorite place to swim on Earth! Rob and I were married at John Knox Ranch and I swam in that river just hours before my wedding. The camp dining hall where we had our reception is about 100 yards up a gentle slope from the river. There were trees and a road separating the two so you couldn’t even see the river from the dining hall.
Once when I was a camp counselor, we saw the river rise to the edge of the field, about 50 yards away. And even then, we were told that it reached its 500 year flood plain. So it hadn’t been that high in 500 years!
Saturday night, I heard the dining hall was under 20 feet of water.
It’s unimaginable. This area of the Blanco isn’t bordered by canyon walls or cliffs or mountains. It’s rolling hills and wide river plains. I never thought if it as “flash flood” country. More like, “we’re watching the river rise” country. So a 40 foot wall of water was absolutely devastating.
I have friends whose homes were totally destroyed. I heard that one friend and her husband were rescued by a boat in the middle of the night while they were clinging to their second story window sill. Thank God that boat came before the house went.
Three families from my home town were vacationing together in a house on the Blanco River. The flood lifted their home from its stilts and swept them away. In a matter of minutes, all that tied them to this earth was gone. Just gone.
A father survived. The two mothers, a child, and two grandparents have been recovered. The rest – one father and two young children – are still missing.
In the face of this loss, this complete destruction, I have a tough time with the image of God sitting enthroned atop the flood waters.
It is not comforting and it certainly doesn’t fill me with awe. It is scary and horrible. It is a perversion of everything I expect from a loving God.
I know that God created the world and all that is in it – the grand cypress trees and the limestone cliffs, the grassy plains and the shady oaks, the cool clear water and the mighty torrent. But I simply can’t believe these floods were some sort of display of power – a show, meant to fill us with awe and fear.
This is always the fine line we walk with natural disasters:
If we believe that God is all powerful – and we do –
if we believe that God is sovereign over all the earth – and we do –
if we believe that God created the world and all that is in it – and we do –
then how can we say this is not of God?
How can we say that hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes and tornados and floods are not at best, part of some unknowable master plan or at worst, God’s judgment?
I do not believe that. I cannot believe that.
We proclaim that death has died, that light outshines darkness, that the lost will be found, and I will not equivocate and say, “Oh, but these losses, this death, that’s part of God’s plan. God needed another angel in heaven.”
God doesn’t need anything. Need is a human experience and God is the provider, the comforter, the protector. God is the savior, not the one from whom we must be saved. Always. Because – more than anything else – God is love.
And that LOVE is mightier than raging river and deeper than a roiling chasm. It pierces the night like a bolt of lightning illumining the cloud filled skies. It rumbles over the face of the earth shaking the ground with its message – a message not of fear, but of love–“Fear not, my beloved children. I am here.”
When I think of those families tossed about the rising water, the darkness of the night, the power of the current, I cannot bear to imagine it. But I also can’t stop from thinking about it, about all of them – mothers and fathers, grandparents, little children so close in age to my own… terrified and alone.
It is absolutely horrifying, and it is also completely impossible. Because God is love. And love does not leave when the water rises. Love doesn’t disappear when it seems all is lost. Perfect love casts out all fear and even death cannot stop the living.
So how do we reconcile our tragedy with God’s love?
We have faith, and we don’t turn away from the unimaginable – and this is where our images of the Triune God become really powerful, because those beloved children of God were not alone in the flood waters. And wherever they are now – in heaven or on earth – they are not alone. None of us are. Ever.
When we face our fear and follow God into that dark and stormy night, we see the light of Christ beaming through the inky blackness and his grace, so amazing and warm, radiating from their fragile, beautiful bodies. We see the breath of the Holy Spirit entering their lungs and her powerful current flowing all around them. We see God the Father encircling them with his mighty arms keeping the fear at bay, and God the Mother gathering them under her wings, holding them close, and whispering in their ears, “fear not my beloved child. I am here.”
And so they were born, of water and the Spirit, into the dwelling place of peace.
May it be so for us all.
This piece is a sermon preached 3/31/15 at Faith Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, NC.
My post from Hope4CE, a website to exchange and promote new ides for church and Christian education.
At Faith Presbyterian (https://www.facebook.com/faithpresgso), we embrace our traditional worship style and space while making our service accessible and engaging for all. Children and their families are welcome at the front of the sanctuary with activities geared toward their age level. Our family worship guide follows the pattern of the service and offers extra enrichment ideas and activities for children and active learners of all ages.The outline of a traditional worship service centered around The Word is beautiful and quite freeing when we remember that The Word is The Living Word of God – incarnate in Christ, written in scripture, and enacted in the world.
For Lent, we are using a themed sermon series inspired by Rev. Whitney Wilkinson following the “Landscape of Lent.” Each week, we add a new visual element to represent some aspect of the scripture – ashes, wilderness, wind, water, mud, cave, palms, bread –…
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I took your curly headed, rainbow-glitter sandaled, stuffed animal toting self to worship on Sunday. We sat in the first pew because that’s where you wanted to sit, and it helps keep you close to the action. You come to church almost every Sunday, but you very rarely come to worship. Your Mommy and Daddy are both pastors, and so we are usually busy. We can’t be there to sit with you and sing with you and pray with you and answer your questions, so you’ve been staying in the nursery with your little brother, but that’s going to change.
You know a lot of important things about church: you know that it’s fun and has lots of friends – some younger than you and some older, some much older; you know that you are loved by all your church friends; you know it’s a place to learn about God; you know it has a great playground, beautiful flowers, and a wonderful garden full of food; you know that it is safe; you know that it’s your church, but it’s also my church and other people’s church and God’s church, so we call it our church.
But you don’t know a lot about our traditional worship, because you aren’t there. I’m going to change that. Here are 5 reasons why:
5) Because of the music. Where else can a child – or anyone for that matter – hear piano and choral music – classical and contemporary – performed excellently not for the glory of self but for the glory of God? Music offered as an act of worship lifts your soul and brings you into the presence of God. You love the music. You love it so much that you want to sit in the front of the sanctuary so you can be as close as possible to the musicians, so you can watch and worship with rapt attention.
4) Because of the singing. You aren’t sure about the singing. You did not want to stand, and so we sat with the hymnal and I tried to sing loud so you could hear my voice. I worry that you are timid about singing, and church is a great place to find your voice. When the sanctuary is full of song – the piano playing, the many voices of the gathered congregation lifted in praise – you can make a joyful noise as part of the whole. You don’t have to worry what others will think. You don’t have to worry if you are singing the right melody or the right words, you can just sing.
3) Because of the prayers. We pray before meals and before bed, sweet memorized prayers that are so important in childhood, but you need to know there are many ways to pray. You need to hear prayers that use some words you understand and some words you don’t. You need to hear prayers from me and also your dear friends and mentors leading worship. You also need to hear the prayers we all say together, even if you can’t read along yet, because they speak the truth about us and about God. You know that God is good and loving and forgiving. You know that sometimes you make a mistake and then you are forgiven. These truths are not new to you, but you need to know that they are true to everyone. We praise God together. We confess together. We receive forgiveness together. Because we all need it.
2) Because you want to be there, and you are wanted there. I’m not going to keep you out because it’s inconvenient anymore. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me” and I’m not going to stand in the way of Jesus. But also, the other people in worship want you there. As we walked up the center aisle to that front pew, I watched their faces light up. They were excited to share this experience with you! When you come to worship, you bring your whole self – just like everyone else brings their whole self. You bring innocence, curiosity, and joy. You bring restlessness, shyness, boldness, happiness and sadness. Who you are is important to who we are. You make our worship more complete.
1) Because it’s not about you, it’s about God. So much of our lives revolve around you – from the moment you wake until you go to sleep at night, your life is full of people focused on you, caring for you, teaching you, playing with you. You are the center of your world, and that’s developmentally appropriate. But as you grow into a wider understanding of who you are in the world, I want you to find your center in God. You are old enough to feel the pull of the Divine, to reorient your focus – if just for a moment – to the Perfect Love which casts out all fear. You don’t have to understand the Holy Mystery – in fact, you will never understand it – but you can experience it.
So my darling, we are going to go to worship, and once your little brother gets a little older he is coming too. Get excited!
All my love,
This post is edited from the original post on http://www.covenantpcusa.org/blog in May 2014 after I began bringing my daughter to worship. We are at a new church now http://www.faithpresgso.org She worships with us every week and stays through the entire service. It is a little crazy, but ridiculously wonderful.
We’ve been in Greensboro for about a month now and I’ve met many of you. Maybe you’ve read my resume, seen my Facebook profile, or perused my faith statement, but I think it’s time for me to introduce myself.
Here are the basic facts: born in Texas, twin sister, little brother, big extended family almost all of whom live in Texas; college at Texas A&M; moved to California to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer for the PCUSA for two years; met and married my husband in Hollywood; went to Seminary at Columbia in Atlanta; took my first call in Columbus, Ohio as an associate pastor for youth and families; two kids: Gracie is 3 and Jake is 16 months.
Got it? You know me now, right?
Okay, more… I love to read even though I rarely have time. Literature is lovely but I’m particularly fond of young adult fiction – fast paced, emotional, plot-driven, finish it in one night kind of books. I love rivers and hills and hiking and canoeing – yet another thing that falls to the wayside in the midst of life. I probably need to work on keeping these things in my life. I should spend less time watching TV or checking my Facebook feed, and more time doing things I truly love.
I love my kids. They do NOT fall to the wayside. In fact, they are one of the reasons I don’t read or hike very much! They are insanely exhausting but an immeasurable blessing – loving, creative, wise, high-energy, joy-inducing, crazy-making blessing!
I have a bit of a bed bug phobia. I’ve never had them, and I plan to do everything I can to keep it that way.
I love my husband. He is the most generous, most fun, most compassionate man, and he’s an incredible pastor.
So, NOW you know me, right?
Probably not. Many of us spend a lifetime getting to know ourselves, so how could we be known by another in just a few short sentences? We are our stories and our life experiences. We are what and who we love. We are our failures, our life choices, our tragedies. But, we are so much more.
We are who we are in the silence, when the heart whispers and the mind remembers, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jer. 1:5). There is a piece of divine mystery in all of us – a few wisps of holy wind from the moment God first breathed life into clay, a reflection of divine image upon each face, the sacred imprint of grace pressed into the heart.
This child-of-God-self has very little to do with where we are from or what we do for a living; she does not dress-up in game day colors; she does not care about letters: PhD, CPA, ΚΑΘ or even Rev. She makes herself known in keeping silence, in speaking truth, in giving mercy, in loving – beyond reason or will.
The beauty of a church community is that if we stay true to our calling – to love God and love others – we will get to do all of these things together. We will meet each other in hospital rooms and in homes, in food pantries and garden plots, in candlelit sorrow, in sunlit truth. And every Sunday morning, I’ll show up with my true child-of-God-self to worship. I hope you will too!
grace and peace, Karen
I’ve been putting off writing a “good bye letter” for almost 2 months now. I’ve managed to write the letter telling you I’m leaving, and I preached a final sermon. We’ve hugged and talked and shared coffee. We had the most amazing party last Sunday and I felt so loved and so happy, but also really sad.
As we were driving to church, Gracie and I were talking about how much she was “weewee (really) going to miss everybody.” I told her I felt sad about leaving too and she said, “You mean you don’t want to leave our home either?”
“Well, no, I don’t want to leave,” I confessed, and then moved quickly to, “but I know that we’re going to make new friends and…”
“I KNOW!” She protested, “I KNOW that. But… I’m sad.”
That’s the thing about sorrow – it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t mean we aren’t hopeful or excited. But sadness just hangs out beneath the surface. And every so often, we are engulfed. And that’s okay. Sometimes, we just need to cry and grieve our losses.
At the moment, I’m grieving the loss of this worshipping community – for myself, but particularly for my children. I love the way Gracie dances to the music at Gathering, the way she skips down the halls to find her friends, the joy on her face when I tell her we’re going to church. “My church?” she asks. “Our church,” I reply. I love the way Jake lunges toward Leslie, and Jenny, and Katie, and Amy, and Emma, and Ali, and everyone else who loves him so dearly.
I know they will make new friends and experience God’s love in a new community, but… I’m sad. We love all of you, and we’re leaving, and that breaks my heart.
It’s a sanctuary – a place for tears and singing and stories and games, a place for solitude and community. It’s a place where you can be really, really sad and also incredibly happy at the same time. You don’t have to choose. I don’t have to choose.
Dear Darling Girl,
We’re getting ready to move, and so our lives are a little bit crazy right now. I wish I could communicate everything that is going on – how I’m anxious and excited, heartbroken and hopeful –but it’s hard to find the right words for a young child. I believe your heart knows. Still, I like words and it helps me process my thoughts and feelings on paper. When we speak, it will sound different, but the meaning will be the same.
We’re in the sorting and packing stage of moving. Garage sales, donation runs, packing boxes, and trash bags are the name of the game. And it’s made me realize that we have A LOT of stuff. We’re not hoarders, but it’s easier to keep something than to make a decision about its worth. So, we’ve let things pile up.
This is not your fault. You are three. In your world, everything is a potential treasure! I love that about you. But, it’s my job to help you keep it in perspective. You can’t keep everything.
It might be easier for me to get rid of your stuff once you’ve gone to bed – and believe me, that is happening! But we’re going to go through some of it together, because I want you to learn what to keep and what to toss:
1. Have you used it in the last year? This one is deceptively difficult. Some things – like vacuums and pool floaties – are very useful and should be saved. Other things – like children’s clothes and toothbrushes – are very useful, but should not be saved. Will you use it in the next year? It’s easy to imagine a potential use for just about everything – used popsicles sticks become potential craft supplies and ripped jeans become “painting clothes.” Resist! You really only need one set of work clothes and only professional Pintrest bloggers can make those used popsicles sticks look like this.
2. Did you or someone you love make it? We have some quilts made by your great grandma that I hope to keep for a very long time. Not only are they useful and beautiful, every stitch is full of her love and care. Keep those quilts! When you feel sad or scared or excited about making an awesome blanket fort, wrap yourself in her love. That’s an easy decision.
Your own artwork – at this point – is a bit more difficult. While it is all truly beautiful, it is also legion – stacks upon stacks, rows upon rows, more marching through the door every day. We need more questions…
6. Is it very special? Some things are special because they were made with love or woven with sweet memories. Some things are special because they remind us of meaningful stories. Some things are just special. It’s hard to describe this kind of special – but as Calvin said of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist (yes, your Presbyterian pastor mommy is quoting Calvin) “I rather experience it than understand it.” (Institutes 4.17.32)
You have a whole collection of rocks that are very special. Some were collected in our back yard, at the church, along a park path, but each one cried out to you, “Pick me up! I may be brown or rough or sparkly or smooth and I am special!” At your request, I use a black marker to write where you found each rock on its often uneven face, and you keep them in a pink plastic box. Why are they special? Only you know.
Now it’s time to go through your treasure box, but don’t worry. You don’t have to do it alone. We are going to do it together – this holy work of sorting and evaluating, story-telling and remembering, saving and sacrificing stuff – and we are going to remember that we belong to God and not to our possessions. God is the Story-teller, the Rememberer, and the Savior our lives.
A few days ago, my three year old girl climbed a tree all by herself. She was filled with wonder and joy and pride, and so was I!
We were having a picnic lunch on our first day off in a long time. She insisted we bring a picnic blanket and even though her father and I pushed for the relative ease and comfort of the shaded picnic tables, she wanted to lay out the blanket under a tree.
She was right. It was the perfect spot. Underneath a low hanging canopy of leaves, we spread our blanket amidst the clover. The playground was just steps away and we spent some time on the slides and ladders. We also took a little walk to the pond nearby, but we spent the most time underneath that small, almost bush-like tree with its web of spindly but sturdy branches. It was shady and relatively cool, there was yummy food, and we were together.
Towards the end of our time at the park, we returned to our spot to pack up our stuff, and our little girl started to study the tree.
“Mommy, I want to climb that tree. Can you help me?”
I took notice of the tree and realized it was the perfect tree for a three year old to climb, and that she really didn’t need my help. She was big enough, strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to do it on her own. And I told her that.
For almost half an hour, long after we had packed up our blanket, she climbed up and down and around that tree. She swung from its branches and dropped to the ground. She even spent some time “teaching ” me how to climb a tree. It was fabulous! And it got me thinking about what makes a good climbing tree:
Low hanging branches (or, “a way in”) – You’ve got to have a way to get started: low branches to grab and pull up, knobs or crooks to step-on. A ladder might be useful, or a boost from a friend, but I would say that’s for more advanced climbers. If a three year old can’t do it alone, it’s probably too high. Without a way in or on, a tree isn’t really climbable, and you are left feeling wistful and frustrated.
High branches (or, “a way up”) – Once you’re on the tree, you need somewhere to go and in a tree somewhere is almost always up. Sometimes the way up isn’t clear and requires some trial and error. Sometimes you can see it but the branches might be higher than you’d like or farther apart or more spindly than you’d prefer. Often, it takes some courage to keep going, but a good climbing tree gives you a chance to be brave.
Somewhere to sit (or “a place to rest”) – Climbing is hard work. You need a comfortable crook to settle in and rest to take stock of how far you’ve come, to survey the ground beneath your feet and the branches left to climb. You need to be able to dream, read, pray.
A view (or “perspective”) – Whether it’s from your resting spot or a perch high atop the canopy, a climbing tree should provide you with something wonderful to see. It might be a vista full of more trees to climb – mountains or rivers or playscapes yet to be enjoyed. It might be a new view of the people you love or the places you have been, now seen from above with a little more distance and (maybe) a little more grace. You might even find a canopy of leaves to observe up close: the way the veins in the leaves mirror the branches of the tree; the slight variations in color, texture, and structure of each leaf, each branch. Perhaps you’ll see a carefully constructed birds nest just above your head or an ant winding its way along the branch.
A good climbing tree can teach us something about God, about ourselves, and about the world not just from the new perspective it gives, but also from the act of climbing – moving up and down, in and around God’s wondrous creation!
But if you are three, a good climbing tree is just plain fun! It helps you learn that you are strong and brave and smart. It cradles you in its branches not too far above the ground, but far enough to be exciting. It gives you lots of ways to explore your newfound independence and skill so that when you see another tree that’s just right for climbing, you’ll be ready.