Advent Week 2: Blessing one another on the journey

Journey-Mission-Road

Advent is here… and the journey has begun.

As we prepare our own hearts and homes for the mystery of Christmas, we are called to remember the Holy Family- Mary and Joseph alongside a donkey- who made the long journey to Bethlehem together. As we picture the Holy Family- Joseph leading the donkey, Mary sometimes riding and sometimes walking- we recognize the difficulty that comes when we make a long journey. And we, like the Holy Family, move forward in HOPE. Hope for all that is promised in the gift of the Christ child.

As I write this, I wonder:

– What do you hope for?

– What do your children hope for?

– What does the Christ child represent for you?

reaching outLast year, I was challenged by my colleague, Taylor Burton-Edwards, by his call for the church to turn towards each other during this time of Advent: This is a time when adults should turn their hearts to children and children should turn their hearts to adults. In response to Taylor’s words, I found myself asking:

How are we turning our hearts to children and how are we creating a space for and inviting children to turn their hearts towards us?

During this season of advent, we run around- buying gifts, preparing meals, hosting and attending parties, etc. Facebook is full of people sharing their anxiety and stress created by this season. It seems there is so much to do, so little time, and it all can be very overwhelming. It is indeed the season of giving- and yet, as I hear the question, “How are we turning our hearts towards children and inviting   children to turn their hearts to us,” I wonder:

  • When do we stop to look in the eyes of the person we are giving a gift to?
  • How often do we take time to pay attention and listen to the person sitting across from us at the dinner table or the one we find ourselves chatting with at a Christmas party?
  • What would it look like if we took the time to look into the eyes of another, to take their hands in ours, and to offer them a blessing saying: “God loves you and God is with you- I hope you know Christ’s love and feel Christ’s peace during this season of advent.”

A common Filipino tradition to show respect towards elders is called pagmamano. The word mano stems from the Spanish
meaning for hand and pagmamano is the act of either kissing an elder’s hand or raising their hand to touch your forehead.
This act is often done as a greeting or farewell to the elders of the house. By doing it, you are asking for their blessing as well as blessing them.

Advent is here… and the journey has begun. God is calling us to turn towards each other and to journey together towards Bethlehem. This week I want to invite you to take time to bless your children, your friends and family, members of your community, and strangers who you might meet during this advent season.

This can be done through acts of service, compassion, and justice. We live in a hurting world that is crying out for God’s beloved creation to stand up and do something. We are called to bring God’s light into this broken world. This season of getting ready provides a time for us and our families to work together, making a difference in the lives of others this advent season.

Turn towards each other, stop and take time to be present, give thanks, offer a blessing, and always remember and share how God blessed each of us through the birth of his precious son.

Wondering together

I wonder…

  •         Who you are thankful for?
  •         Who you want to bless?
  •         Who has blessed you?
  •         How you can make a difference in your community?
  •         How God is calling you to change the world around you?
  •         Who God is calling you to turn your heart towards?

Practical Application

Getting Ready for the Mystery of Christmas Together

  • Bless your children and those you love every day
    • This can be done in the morning, at bedtime, before they leave for school, or at any other point in the day.
    • This can be as simple or as long as you wish. Take time to look the child in his/her eyes, take their hands, and say something like: “God loves you and God is with you.”
    • You may choose to make the sign of a cross on their foreheads, or on their hand.
    • For more information on adding a Family Blessing to your family ritual check out: Rolf Garborg’s The Family Blessing (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990).
  • Reach out and bless your community:
    • Serve meals to the homeless
    • Deliver gifts to families who might not be able to afford presents this year.
    • Work with local organizations that are striving for justice and change in your community
    • Support organizations working for reconciliation- seeking to decrease violence, hate, and division.
    • Advocate for the right for all children to grow up in safe environments
    • Advocate for children to have access to quality meals, healthcare, and education.
  •  Participate in 2015 Advent Home Worship
  •  Participate in #PictureAdvent
  • Take time to light your advent candles every day saying a prayer for your family, your church, your community, and the world.

Resources for Church leaders and Families to use this Advent Season:

 

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United with Paris: Praying and working for peace in our world

united with paris

As Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and numerous News Feeds around the world filled with the horrors of the Paris attacks, I felt my heart stop once again as I found myself saying: “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison… Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” I dropped to my knees in prayer grasping for words as I thought of the many victims, their families, a country who has been attacked and wounded, and those who would be driven to commit such a horrible act.

As I prayed, I heard the words written by Elie Wiesel  in Night:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”

Hearing Wiesel’s reflections on his experiences as a Jew in a Natzi prison camp, I am reminded that in the midst of what feels like chaos and evil, God is with us. God, the creator of love, peace, and justice, journeys with us through these horrific moments. God offers us the courage, strength, and grace we need to continue breathing, moving, and working for a different world.

As I prayed I began to wonder how do we as a faith community respond to such a crisis? How do we have conversations within our families and our congregations? How do we honor the anger and the outrage while praying for and seeking peace in a world where evil seems to run rampant?

As we join together in this hard and holy work my prayer is that the following resources will be a source of comfort and hope. May our prayers and conversations stir in us a desire for a different world. May we hear the call and feel equipped to respond to God’s presence in our lives-  offering love, mercy, and healing to a broken world. May we find strength in God and each other as we join together in the hard and holy work of reconciliation, justice, and peace.

responding to violence

Prayers

Prayer for protection and healing

Prayer for faithful witness and action

Intergenerational Prayer Stations

Responding to Violence

UMC: Responding to Violence

UMC: Supporting Children in a Violent World

UMC: Ways to keep the faith when the world seems wicked

A collection of tributes, condolences and reactions from Muslim scholars and leaders all over the world

Talking with Kids about news, tragedy, and violence

Helping children cope: Tips for talking about tragedy

Helping Children Cope With Tragedy Related Anxiety

How to Help Kids Feel Safe After Tragedy

How To Talk To Kids About Tragedies In The Media

Fred Rogers: Tragic Events

Coping with Disasters, Violence, and Tragedies

Christmas is coming… will you be ready?

As the shelves in stores quickly fill with Christmas decorations, kitchen gadgets, and toys galore, we are reminded that Christmas is coming. Although there is plenty of time before the Christmas season begins, our culture is sending the message to start getting ready NOW.

The Christian faith holds numerous stories about waiting, anticipation, and getting ready. Our ancestors had to wait a very long time for the coming of Christ. The Holy family, shepherds, and wise men went on a very long journey to find the Christ child. Our faith stories remind us that while it is hard to wait and to journey on long difficult roads, these times present us with an opportunity to pay attention to how God is moving in and through us and others as we travel towards Bethlehem and prepare to greet the promised child. This is what the season of Advent is all about- getting ready, waiting, anticipating, and looking forward to the birth of our Savior- Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.

As we wait, our culture provides us many opportunities to get swept up into the chaos of the season and the whirlwind of holiday preparation. Advertisements flood all media including TV, radio, internet, billboards, in-store advertising, and the list continues. If you Google “top toys Christmas 2014” your search results will include 290,000,000 websites you can surf as you try to navigate your Christmas list planning. Families are the audience to the constant streaming of marketing campaigns that encourage them to want, buy, and spend more. Children create lists for Santa and people ask the question: “What do you think you will get for Christmas?”

Shepherds journey

All the while, somewhere… in the distance… quietly playing we hear: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” We remember the journey of our ancestors, how they waited, prayed, struggled, cried, begged, and continued forward with hope. The drone of this familiar Advent hymn pulls us out of the media whirlwind and gives us an opportunity to take a deep breath as we picture Abraham, Sarah, Job, Isaiah, and many others all journeying to the places God called them. We take another breath and the winds of chaos begin to die down as we see the Holy family, the shepherds, and the wise men journeying to the manger. Our focus is brought back to the star that shines above the stable calling us to hear again the words that came to Joseph in a dream:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”

Journeying to Bethlehem

Our bodies respond slowly as we put one foot in front of the other and begin our journey towards the manger, holding hands with the children who come alongside us, bringing only the essentials that we can stand to carry on our backs. We move towards the star for we know that lying in that manger is the promised Child, God’s beloved son, who comes to set us free- free from chaos, free from the busyness of the season, free from the overwhelming stress brought on as we try to keep up with our culture. In that moment we are grounded once again in the Word, the Promise, and the Call- and we receive the peace that only God can give as we continue towards the manger preparing our hearts to welcome the child that waits for us. And we hear: “Christmas is coming- how are you and your household getting ready?

This question guides each of us, no matter our age, through the Advent and Christmastide season. There are many ways to get ready and many tools that help us on this journey.

  1. Pay attention: Invite families to pay attention to how they give and receive Christ’s love during the Advent season. Then encourage all members of the family to write, draw, or create something for each family member to give on Christmas Day that shares how that person showed them Christ’s love during the Advent season. Families might want to create a special time to share these gifts and affirmations, concluding with a family prayer: “Thank-you God for our family, thank-you for all these good gifts that help us know you better. Bless and protect our family this Christmas season and throughout the New Year.”
  2. Take Time and Wait: Advent is about waiting. It is hard to wait. Encourage families to talk about and share what makes waiting hard. Invite them to think together on things they can do during this time of getting to stay focused on God, sharing God’s love, and feeling the peace that only God can give.
  3. Do Holy Work:
    1. Wonder: Invite families to wonder together during the Advent season. When a person points to an item and says I “Want” that- use this as an opportunity to ask: “I wonder why you want that?” “I wonder what you would do with it?” “I wonder if this was the only gift you ever received if you would want this item or something else?” Encourage children to create a list of their wants and then as you get closer wonder with them about which items they truly “want,” “need,” or would like to give to someone else.
    2. Worship together: Encourage families to worship together at least once a week. After the service invite them to reflect together as they share their favorite parts, their least favorite parts, and one moment they want to remember.
    3. Serve together: Invite your congregations and families to share God’s light by serving together.
      1. Organize an all church Advent project that invites all persons to help other people. Ideas include: adopting a family and inviting persons in the congregation to give items for a Christmas meal or wrapped gifts to go under the family’s tree. Invite families to shop together, have children help with the shopping list as families decide what to give another family in need. Children can help wrap gifts and make ornaments for shut-ins, a local retirement center, friends, neighbors, and family.
      2. Encourage families to participate in a family Advent Invite children to help brainstorm ideas and ways to share the light of Christ with others.
      3. Practice a 1:1 giving discipline: As children start to create their own lists encourage them to write next to every item what they “want” an item they want to “give” or a person they want to “share God’s love with.” Encourage all family members to give/donate one item for every gift received.
    4. Bless Each Other: Take time this advent season to bless each other. Invite families to write notes, letters, and/or make cards telling their family members hoe they feel- reminding their family members that they are a blessing, a gift from God.

A special note about Language: So often the language surrounding children throughout the Christmas season is about receiving. Children create lists for Santa. People ask: “What do you want for Christmas?” When the gifts are opened the follow-up question becomes: “What did you get for Christmas?” This Advent, encourage your congregations and families to change their language to be about giving and sharing Christ’s love with others. Ask: “How are you getting ready for Christmas?” “Who do you want to share God’s love with?” “How will you share God’s love with others?”

May God bless you, your families, and your congregation this Advent Season.

Resources for Church leaders and Families to use this Advent Season:

Continuing the Celebration: Christmas Isn’t Over Yet

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. (Matthew 2:1&2)

kings with star

Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have come and gone, we are still in the season of Christmas. Whether you think of it as Christmastide, the twelve days of Christmas, or Christmas Time, we have several more days of celebration in front of us.

The liturgical season of Christmas lasts two weeks. We have two weeks to celebrate and give thanks for the gift of the Christ Child. These two weeks include epiphany (The celebration of the Magi coming to Bethlehem) and Transfiguration Sunday (The Celebration of Christ’s Baptism).

During this season of Christmas- I wonder:

“How are you celebrating and giving thanks in your homes and church communities?”

Take time each day to recognize the season, to give thanks for the Christ child, and to celebrate all that Christ’s birth means to you and your family. Read the stories again and wonder together as you ponder how Christ’s presence shapes your life, your family, and your church community.

Wondering together

I wonder…

  •         What your favorite part of Christmas is?
  •         What the hardest part of Christmas is?
  •         What you want to give thanks for this Christmas?
  •         Who showed you Christ’s light this Christmas?
  •         How you can share Christ’s light with others this Christmas?

Practical Application

Giving Thanks and Celebrating Christmas Together

  • Nativity
    • Keep your Nativity out in the home/at church.
    • Move the Magi/Wisemen closer to the stable everyday, having them arrive on Epiphany (January 6th)
  • Read and Re-enact the story
  • Create Christmastide traditions:
    • Host an Epiphany Dinner
    • Make a King’s Cake together, eat and celebrate on Epiphany
    • Chalk your door for Epiphany
      • An epiphany tradition that involves marking your door with chalk and asking God’s blessing upon the house and all who live and visit your home throughout the coming year. It also serves as a reminder that the home should be a place of hospitality where Christ’s love is felt and shared.
      • Checkout Pinterest for an explanation of this epiphany tradition: http://www.pinterest.com/teustacegbod/christmastide-and-epiphany/
      • Sample Liturgy: (Involve all persons in this liturgy- assign the numbered readers to each family member)
        • Reader 1: Peace be to this house.
        • All: And to all who live here.
        • Reader 2: Lord, bless this house, this family, and all who might visit us this year.
        • Reader 3: May this home be a place of peace, love, and health.
        • Reader 4: May all who live here seek to follow you.
        • Reader 5: May we be welcoming to all who visit, sharing your love with others.
        • Reader 1: God, we thank-you for the epiphany star that guided the wiseman
        • Reader 2: We pray that we might follow your light as we go into the world to share your love with others.
        • Reader 3: Be with us in our work and play
        • Reader 4: Help us discover you in all we do.
        • Reader 5: This we ask in your Holy Name…
        • All: For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen.Then, use the chalk to bless the house with the sign of the cross.After the blessing,
          the initials of the Magi
          (traditional names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar)
          are written with chalk over the main door way of the house, like this:
          20 + C + M + B + 15
  • Light the Christ Candle together: Find time each day to gather as a family, light the Christ Candle from your advent wreath, and say an epiphany prayer together. Take time to pray for your family, your church, your community, and the world:

Lord Jesus, Thank-you for your light. Your light guided the magi to Bethlehem. We pray your light will guide us too.This Christmastide help us as we work to follow you in all that we do, sharing your light with everyone we meet. Amen.

Wondering Together

questions1

I wonder is a good word (anonymous, age 8).

 Over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of journeying with different families as they wrestle with their questions about God. Two of these questions include:

  • Why would God ask Abraham to kill…isn’t that wrong, why would God even ask?”
  • How do I explain the Trinity to my 5 year old?”

As I struggled with how I might respond to these questions, I remembered what children have taught me: Active Wondering and Active Listening are essential steps in faith inquiry, discovery, and growth. These two tools create a space that honors the questions and provides an opportunity for persons to find meaning and value as they seek understanding.

In my PhD dissertation research project, Experiencing God Together, I worked with 28 amazing children who showed me the importance of wondering and listening in our faith journey process. As one eight- year old boy declared, “Wonder is a good word.” Through active wondering and listening we create a space that:

  • Invites all of God’s children to share their stories
  • Affirms every person’s experience of the Holy
  • Supports persons as they wonder, discover, claim, and respond to these experiences of and with God.

It is no wonder Jesus was surrounded by priests, scribes, Pharisees, disciples, and many others who were constantly asking him questions. Questions are an essential part of our learning and living process. When we pay attention to Jesus’ responses we hear how Jesus did not provide straightforward, easy answers, but instead Jesus stopped and honored the process of wondering with his reflections that often came in the form of parables. Jesus’ wisdom provides us with significant insight as we continue the spiritual discipline of asking tough questions, wondering and listening together, and seeking new understanding as an intentional faith community.

We all have questions that drive us into a quest for understanding. It is the questions that lead us into a deeper relationship with the Holy. One question I will never forget- asked of me by a four year old boy- “How do I know I believe in God?” My response, “You know I wonder about that too… maybe we can learn together.”

I am praying for fruitful conversations, new discoveries, and strengthened relationships. Blessings on you and your ministry.

Wondering together

  • I wonder what questions children have asked you?
  • I wonder how you responded to these questions?
  • I wonder what you learned about God in these experiences?
  • I wonder what you wonder about?

Practical Application

How to actively wonder with children and other people in your faith community

  1. Honor the question: (You might choose to say)
    1. That is a really big question
    2. That is a really important question
    3. Note: If you do not have time to engage in a wondering session immediately after the question is asked you might choose to say: “That is a really important question. I need some time to think about it and I wonder if we can wonder together about this…[insert another time/day].” Remember- this is important work- make sure you keep your wondering date and help the child know that you are not just dismissing their question.
  1. Affirm the value of the question (You might choose to say)
    1. This is a big question. I think other people probably wrestle with it too.
    2. You know, I wonder about that too.
    3. That is such a big question many people have wrestled/struggled to understand/answer that question
  1. Remember that there is not always a simple “right” answer

Note: Take time to wonder with the child leaving the conversation open- try to avoid giving concrete answers immediately.

  1. Recognize children have often thought about the question before asking it (You might choose to say)
    1. I wonder what you think?
    2. I wonder what you know?
    3. I wonder how others have answered the question?
    4. I wonder how you might answer the question?
    5. Note: This will help you understand what is behind the child’s question and what thinking he/she has already done.
  1. Research
    1. Ask: I wonder if there’s anything we can read/look up/listen to/watch that might help us with this question
    2. As you research together ask:
      1. I wonder how this helps us answer the question?
      2. I wonder if there is other information that we need?
      3. I wonder where you want to look next?
    3. Note: This “active wondering” process honors the child and creates a space for you to wrestle with the faith together. Sometimes there are not easy answers and we have to work together to form our own understanding.
  1. Conclude this time together by saying
    1. Thank-you you for wondering with me
    2. I now see…(insert your own ah-hahs here)
    3. I wonder what you discovered
    4. I wonder if there are any steps we are missing?
  1. Affirm and Summarize
    1. Note: You can conclude with something that affirms the wondering process or summarizes what you discussed/learned/discovered.
    2. Ex: Thank-you for wondering with me. I love how wonder helps us think together as we grow in our faith and learn more about God, each other, and the world around us.

Table Moments: Experiencing God when we gather together

cropped-set-dinner-table1.jpeg

Magic happens when we bring the generations together. It is not neat and tidy; rather it is chaotic and messy

(Martineau, Faith Formation Across Generations, 2).

As an aunt and godmother to six beloved children, some of my favorite moments with them are spent around the table talking, praying, laughing, and catching up with one another. Since I live in a different state, the opportunities to sit at the table with these precious children are few with much time in between visits. Therefore, the moments when I do find myself sitting around the table with their families are extremely valuable and life giving. It is in these rare moments that I experience the gift that God gives through the breaking of the bread and the sharing of a community meal.

Gathered around the table, we share stories, laugh, cry, and reconnect as we break bread together. I often find myself holding one of my godchildren, leaning over to grab the fork that fell on the floor, while trying to explain something I am working on to my brother-in-law, sister, or friend. In these moments we vie for each other’s attention and an opportunity to share what we are thinking and feeling.

Of course there are moments when someone decides they do not want to eat the broccoli on their plate so it gets thrown to the floor in disgust, another remembers there’s food still in the oven and jumps up to save the dish, the baby screams out of hunger and frustration, and someone realizes we forgot napkins and jumps up to get them. It is during these times that my sister looks at me and says, “Welcome to the craziness!” I always reply, “I love it!” I ponder how this chaos makes me feel alive, brings me joy, and creates a deep and overwhelming sense of gratitude and give thanks to God for my family and friends. It is in these moments that I squeeze the child I am holding a little tighter and I thank God for the gift of life, love, and relationships that sustain us through the chaos of life.

These “table moments” are a microcosm of life. God is the creator who brings order out of chaos. It is in and through the “craziness” that God creates- calling us forth to participate in the work of the Kingdom. We are called to the table. We bring our individual voices, opinions, stories, feelings, and gifts. Sometimes this chaos drains us and other times it brings us joy. Yet, in and through it all, when we pay attention we can experience God’s creative presence. God creates us to be in relationship, equips each of us (no matter our age) for this life together, empowers and sustains us as we work together, and moves in and through our time together. It is in these moments that God moves- transforming individuals, families, communities, and the world.

Wondering together

  • I wonder when your family gathers together?
  • I wonder where your family gathers together?
  • I wonder what you feel when your family is gathered together?
  • I wonder how you experience God during these table moments?
  • I wonder how you can create intentional time to gather as a family?

Practical Application

How to make the most out of your “Table Moments”

  1. Meal Blessing Placemats
    1. Choose a “family meal blessing” (this can be spoken or sung)
      1. Be present at our table lord
      2. A collection of inter-faith table graces
      3. You might want to write your own
    2. Create place mats with your family’s “Grace before meals” (if you choose to have a grace after meals you can put this on the place mats too)
    3. Say/Sing the grace together before meals
  1. Light a Candle (this can be with a real flame or a battery operated device)
    1. Place a candle in the middle of your family dinner table
    2. Light the candle before the meal (family members might want to take turns)
    3. Create a liturgy that you can say every time you light the candle, reminding your family that God is with you during the meal. Example:
      1. Leader: The Lord be with you
      2. Family: And also with you
      3. Leader: We light this candle as a reminder that God is with us as we gather together.
      4. Family: We see the candle and remember- God loves us and is with us.
      5. All: Amen
  2. “I wonder” cards: Place a box of I wonder questions on your kitchen table, give everyone a chance to answer the question during the meal.
    1.  Example Resource: Little Box of Big Questions 
    2. Example Questions:
      1. I wonder what your favorite Bible story is?
      2. I wonder what your favorite color is?
      3. I wonder what your favorite place is?
      4. I wonder who your best friends are?
  3. Practice the Daily Examine/Share highs and lows from the day. 
    1. Example Resource: Sleeping with Bread, Holding onto what gives you life
    2. Example Questions:
      1. I wonder when you felt close to God today?
      2. I wonder when you felt happy today?
      3. I wonder when you felt alone today?
      4. I wonder when you felt sad today
      5. I wonder if anything made you feel better?
      6. I wonder if you made someone feel better?
      7. I wonder what the best part of your day was?
      8. I wonder what the hardest part of your day was?
      9. (For early meals): I wonder what you are looking forward to doing today?
      10. I wonder how you experienced God today?
      11. I wonder how you shared God’s love with others?

Family Faith Formation Resources

library

  • Garth, Maureen. Starbright: Meditations for Children. New York, NY: Harpercollins, 1991.
  • Garth, Maureen. Moonbeam: A Book of Meditations for Children. New York, NY: Harpercollins, 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1863711425
  • Gilliam, Lynn ed. Pockets Magazine. Nashville: Upper Room Ministries.            http://pockets.upperroom.org/
  • Garborg, Rolf. The Family Blessing. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990.
  • Garland, Diana R. Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide. Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1999.
  • Linn, Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis. Sleeping with Bread: Holding on to what give you life.   Mahweh: Paulist Press, 1995.
  • MacBeth, Sybil. Praying in Color. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007.
  • MacBeth, Sybil. Praying in Color: Kids Edition. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007.
  • Persky, Margaret. Living in God’s Time: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Children Through    the Christian Year. Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 1999.
  • Wigger, J. Together We Pray: A Prayer Book for Families. Danvers, MA, 2005.
  • Wigger, J. The Power of God at Home: Nurturing Our Children in Love and Grace. San       Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2003.
  • Yust, Karen-Marie. Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual      Lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2004.