Thursday, January 12, 2017

Intergenerational Mission Reflections..3 Years Later

It has been three and a half years with four Christmases since I last was on a mission in the Navajoland diocese.  Over five summers I led an intergenerational mission trip to Oljeto, Utah/Arizona where we offered VBS at St. Mary's in the Moonlight.  It wasn't something I set out to do as much as it was part of my profile while at the Cathedral in Albuquerque.  Blessedly I had friends and colleagues who had led this adventure before, although from a different congregation.

I haven't thought about it a whole lot, while at the same time the many weeks there hover in my memories and sometimes in my sermons.  I miss the long drives for a milkshake and the simplicity of the ministry (ok.. it is complicated to coordinate, but the on the ground part was beautifully freeform).  While trips like these are full of possible political and missional arguments, the mission was what it was and I believe it was primarily a blessing. We fed folks many sandwiches; we became closer in heart and fidelity; we had beautiful conversations and grew in mysterious ways.

This video is my powerpoint from a workshop I gave in 2011, sort of in the middle of the years of when I led this mission trip.  I did go back and manipulate the photos of the Navajo children to make them less recognizable.  I also added a couple of photos of participants from later years.   Most of the photos are from the sight-seeing part of the trips, which I promise is not all we did.  In the years following that presentation I did push a heftier literacy zone in our VBS work.  The slides are both big picture about intergenerational mission and specific to our Navajoland setting.

A couple of specifics about this Intergenerational Mission:
  • Our home congregation was within driving distance (6 hours if you kept at it).  We rented vehicles large enough to transport children around the reservation, so we had plenty of room for our team.  
  • 6-12th grade youth were invited to come on the mission trip without their families; so to college-age friends and of course adults. However, most youth were there with either a relative or godparent.  
  • The intergenerational-ity wasn't just among congregants.  At different points, my Mother and two God daughters were on the trip, and others brought nephews and their parents.  Our smallest crew was about 12 people, our largest was 21; the age span was certainly anywhere from 4 to 80(?).  
  • Most of the time everyone stayed in the house at the church, which at the time was set up a bit like a hostel.  A few summers we also had participants staying at the Gouldings campground a few miles away.  
What made it work was space, time and prayer. 
  • The property at this mission site is both fenced and large.  There was more than enough room to run around and get space, while the house was just big enough to fit everyone comfortably.
  • I do not believe there is a single icebreaker or initiative game or study that can teach Christian community like actually living into it.  Cooking and getting ready for each day; making each day's mission work; playing games and errand 'adventures.'  Each year was the time for me when a large church lived like a family.  We can overdo that complicated image, but in its ideal it is transformative.
  • Daily prayer time and check in made an important difference.  Who are we and what do we of proclamation, work of feeding and care.  Gathering and telling our story.   
Looking back the greatest challenge came in the sticking points of generations; and those of related life experiences.  Adults who were not commonly around children only had their memories of childhood in another era to judge the behavior of our youngest participants. We talked about it and grew into it, but it was a challenge.  If I were to be in a mission like this again I would spend a bit of time on generational differences.  I love the book 'Sticking Points' for digging in on assumptions and expectations within intergenerational work settings (like the church).   

I am not sure what else folks would want to know about how-to-do family/intergenerational ministry.  However, I would be glad to lend a consultative ear!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

WHOA: The Holy Pretzel Sing-A-Long Epiphany Pageant

'You really should write this up', says the kind mentor.  Which is an invitation to share more than just the text.  The weight of this project is certainly in the texts, however I suppose the same texts could be offered and not strike a chord.  Yet it is in the text that this post must begin.  

The text below requires a guide.  The plain text is my offering, spoken by myself.  The italic texts are hymn verses, this being a sing-a-long experience.  Hymns from the Episcopal supplemental hymnal, Wonder Love and Praise, are noted with a W; those from the 1982 Hymnal are noted with an H.  The information about each piece is in the link.  As for the underlined text, these are biblical readings from the lessons for Epiphany.  These are spoken by others, yet without our normal liturgical end caps.  The entire pageant fills the liturgy of the word from the opening prayer through the call to peace.  To learn more just keep reading past the text of the pageant.  Videos of bits and pieces are at the bottom!


When you look up at the night sky, do you know that ages of time are pouring down on us in waves of ancient light? Then as now, the night sky calls to us with the hum of things known and unknown, enchanting realities and so much still to be discovered.  The heavens are a reflection of us, all the mysteries of our hearts and the enormousness of our possibilities.

 As newborn stars were stirred to song when all things came to be.  As Miriam and Moses sang when Israel was set free, so music bursts unbidden forth when God-filled hearts rejoice, to waken awe and gratitude and give mute faith a voice.   W788 v1. 

 Before the beginning began, the holy Trinity was.  This eternal dance of God, Christ and Holy Spirit is the rhythm of all that is.    In God is light and life and the darkness cannot extinguish the bold song of this light. 

Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.   Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you.   Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance.  Lift up your eyes and look all around:  they are all gathered; they have come to you.  Your sons will come from far away, and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.  Then you will see and be radiant; your heart will tremble and open wide, because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;  Isaiah 60 1-5a

The nature of darkness is not always a generous one, it can bring us rest, but it can also lead to desperation and panic.  We experience light breaking through the darkness, but what would it mean for darkness to hear the light?  Does such a hope arise from the one who was born for us, the very image and likeness of God’s graceful pattern?  

In psalms that raise the singer’s sense to universal truths, in prophet’s dark-toned oracle or hymn of three brave youths; the song of faith and praise endured through those God called to be a chosen people bearing light for all the world to see.  w788 v2

Perhaps you have heard this sacred story, of how in the fullness of time the love of God, the word of God was born.  The startling days when somehow, God became one with you and me, in a brave new way.   Angels came to Joseph, and to Mary, and hummed in their hearts, be not afraid.  The one who laid the earth’s foundation, he is coming to lead us into his reign.

Let the king bring justice to people who are poor; let him save the children of those who are needy, but let him crush oppressors!   Let the king lives as long as the sun, as long as the moon, generation to generation.   Let him fall like rain upon fresh-cut grass, like showers that water the earth.  Let the righteous flourish throughout their lives, and let peace prosper until the moon is no more.   Psalm 72.4-7

This holy family was on the road when Jesus was born, chased to Bethlehem by the anxieties of empire.  Joseph and Mary had traveled to be counted and taxed just like many many others, and found not a room to spare.  So it was that the king who will bring justice to the people, the prince who will live as long as the sun, was born in a lowly stable. 

Displaced peasants in an unusual family, they must have been weary but it does not say they were frightened.  They must have been hassled but it does not say they were afraid. Somehow it did happen that lowly shepherds were stirred to meet this holy family and greet this newborn Prince of Peace. 

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet. Peace within us, peace over us let all around us be peace.    W 791 v1

The text doesn’t tell us that the shepherds brought their sheep.  The scriptures do not list the animals who shared that stable.  Which is just fine because, well, that part about what creatures were there is really about us, we who live two millennia later and all the people in between. We who have jobs like shepherds that are demanding and smelly and messy and then get heaped with criticism.  We who are precious sheep with our warm wool and who follow the herd, and we who are difficult to motivate or move around.  We who are nervous and generous chickens, or maybe a donkey who carries an immense load.  It is so much more about us that there could have been a cranky rabbit, or even a dancing bear.  The story we are invited into isn’t so much a pastoral fable, it is much more an image of a peaceable kingdom.

Put peace into each other’s hands and like a treasure hold it.  Protect it like a candle flame with tenderness enfold it.   W790 v1

Regardless of artists desire to bring the Magi to the stable, we can only imagine what happened next.  Joseph’s family was from the city of Bethlehem.  If you heard your cousin was in town with a newborn, what would you do?  Scripture tells us that they found themselves in a house, in a home.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph were given the treasures of shelter, food and water.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.  No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.  H79 v3

 Months, weeks, some scholars might even say years, anyways, some amount of time passed before there were worldly visitors.  We call them wise ones, prophets, sages, maybe they were minor kings.  We know not how many wise ones, we know not their status or education or even hometowns.  Did their observations occur independently or together?  Did they just meet by chance on the road? Whoever they were, wherever they came from they knew by a glimmer in the heavens and the writings of prophets that the new King was to be born. 

Sages, leave your contemplations; brighter visions beam afar; seek the great Desire of nations ye have seen his natal star; come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.  H93 v3

When seeking the new ruler, you might start at the palace.  So these sages went to visit Herod the King.  A man for whom history offers few kind words.  A man who was clearly afraid, always afraid and frequently terrible.  He met this inquisitive band with leading questions, and our wise friends knew something was wrong. 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”   When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born.  They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.”    When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.                               Matthew 2.1-11

So bring him incense, gold and myrrh,  Come, peasant, king, to own him; the King of kings salvation brings,  let loving hearts enthrone him.  This, this is Christ the King,   whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud,  the babe, the son of Mary.  H115

Epiphany could be translated as ‘whoa’!  Have you ever been startled by finding exactly what you were looking for, but it not being anything like what you planned to find?  Being quite wise, these sage friends, they listened to their hearts and their dreams of WHOA, and after having found the family of Jesus, and offering their gifts, the wise ones went home by another way. 

In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.   H529 v1

Much of Jesus early life isn’t recorded, yet we know this family fled from Herod’s terror.  Wherever the Holy Family were, there were no royal guards to protect them.  Any child fleeing conflict, every person who crosses our threshold, is just as he was.  Precious and vulnerable.   Every day has the melody of Epiphany, to move our bodies and warm our cold hearts.  So too every day has the harmonies of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and Easter.  You cannot look at our wreaths and not at the same time look at the stations of the cross.  We who are well-educated sages, professors, or even minor royalty of our own domains, we need to tell this story one more time before the memories of the season fade and while the songs of the season no longer overwhelm us.  After the wrappings have been recycled we are called to move out from the crèche and into a demanding world that isn’t always cute and cuddly. 

You who are tough mothers and loyal partners and feisty children and generous neighbors, our duty began when we saw a star and felt a flutter that made us say WHOA.  The movement is to welcome the stranger, to seek wisdom and be open to WHOA.  The journey is to build bridges of trust and dare to try something holy and new. WHOA.  In him we are the treasures, we are wise ones and angels and families that Christ calls; we are the wise ones called to dare greatly and follow the star into his eternal reign.   WHOA!

Put Christ into each other’s hands, he is love’s deepest measure; In love make peace, give peace a chance and share it like a treasure.  W790 v5


The cast is intergenerational with many ages participating; of particular importance are that Joseph is played by the father of the baby girl who is playing Jesus.  Actually, her whole family was in the cast: Mom was the Angel Gabriel and brother a shepherd.  Second, we move around the sanctuary as it is offered.  I began alone and gathered a crowd as we went.  No one has lines to memorize, they can act it up if they want, or just wear a costume and follow along.  The true stars of this pageant are the Wise Ones, and they spend the first half of the pageant wandering around the sanctuary looking for this newborn King.  My daydream is that we would have the oldest who are able and the youngest in the cadre; but I have more reasonable expectations than that.  As it is the cast includes new folks and teens who don't really recall another congregation and at least one angel who grew up here.  Who tells the holy story?  We all do.  

Which is part of why it is a sing-a-long pageant.  This congregation is musically inclined, and the clearest way to invite all ages to participate in more than eyes and ears is to give them a part.  In this pageant/homily it is the songs.  Some of the verses are seasonal, most however, are not.  There is a vast amount of Epiphanal theology in our hymnary.  One could fill a whole day with just hymn texts and make a whole Epiphany homily:  we are celebrating Jesus' royalty, or the awe of wonder that the incarnation demands, or the treasures of hope, or the surrounding reality of lives in violent times.  Music is one of the places we fuss the most because it leaves such an impression on our faith.  Faith isnt just emotional or rational; so too is music and singing.  When we sing together for a moment we are all bound to each other and the hopes and fears of the folks who wrote songs and then those who raised those hymns up and published them.  Singing is certainly language, but it is almost in a category all its own, beyond verbal and nonverbal communication.  

Alice Parker told Krista Tippett in an On Being episode that song is the most elemental level of human communication beginning with the hums of parent to infant.  She says that singing "it’s the great international, inter-everything language because it’s dealing with our inner emotional life. It’s as if singing is the language of the emotions. And it’s our intuitive life as opposed to our rational life."  The Christmas stories are strange and mysterious and full of contradictions, and it may be that only music and singing brings us into an acceptable encounter with this messiness.  

There are ways in which this whole holy pretzel intergenerational sing along design is a physical enactment of what happens in the liturgical and homiletic interaction all the time.  The heart of the sharing of readings is multiple voices coming from multiple places; being a community is just this.  The Epiphanal gospel was read from the gold-tone book, but it came to the traveling crew with the wise ones and their gifts.  It was read with the whole cast gathered around.  This is actually what we are trying to do with our Gospel processions, but some of our pagentry can run right over the nonverbal inspiration.  

Anyways, whether it is the liturgical parts or the preaching parts, this event looks like we are: some folks take a while to join the flow, others are wandering on the edges.  Some folks jump in with their whole bodies, trying on the costume you suggest; others sit and take it all in.  This approach makes this truth more evident, and also perhaps more acceptable.  There we are: all our different responses in the same space seeking the divine.  Once again, Ms. Parker says it brilliantly this way. "Wherever they are, if you get them on a song, you can establish a kind of group feeling that is really — well, it’s exemplified at its most marvelous after a perfectly wonderful concert when the last note is sound, and you get that silence in the room, which is a silence of completion, which is opposite from an anticipatory silence. But it just means that everyone — it’s as if all of our inner ions have been scheduled to be moving in the same direction at the same time."

In many ways this pageant style is an expression of the way my mind works.  Songs mix with texts and move around.  This is the third incarnation of this style of Epiphany pageant; it grew out of my creative response to the assets of this community.  It changes a little bit each year; the music selections and the reflections.  How could we offer the same text this year as last year?  I have such a clearer picture of the crisis and the call to action right now than I did a year ago.  A year ago this congregation was still in the early phases of a difficult leadership transition; this year they are leaning into a wise-one-like search for their next settled Rector.  

The rest of the explanation of why I offer this singsong and everybody can have a role and get all your steps version of liturgical drama, the apologetic is in the text.  The critters are only critters as we are critters, they are metaphors.  This story is portrayed as awesome and cute, but much like Noah and the Great flood, it is far more startling and demanding than most children's animated fare.  So too are all of us on this wild journey of faith to the heart of God.  We call the sanctuary the nave, which essentially means heart or center (like your navel).  This is a punctuated expression of what we do all the time.  Even the more theologically educated among the congregation are still searching and wondering and trying to follow in dangerous times.  A core principle of the Godly Play method is that young people grow in their knowing God by manipulating and working with the stories and practices of the Christian people.  There isn't much evidence to suggest that this isn't true for our whole lives.  We grow in faith by leaping into the 'costumes' and moving around in it right now where we live.  WHOA.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Not a Pinata Pinata: A More Equitable Game

The problem with a piñata is that either the first child breaks the thing wide open or it takes forever.  The latter happened at my sister's wedding - round after round of children twacking that Dalek and it was not breaking one bit.  This scenario is slightly better than the first one, because there is great pleasure in being given permision to try and break something with a bat.  However if you have lined up, and gotten all excited about this activity and the first or second child manages to break the piñata, everyone else is left with quite the empty feeling.  

The party planning industry has come up with an inbetween zone, where each person pulls a string.  Which while more equitable and less violent, is in its own way somewhere between lame and creepy.  Pinterest boards offer punch cup games.  These are homemade versions of an old Price is Right game.  Cups attatched to a box with openings covered in paper. This has that thrill of breaking something, and the chance for all to have the break something feeling.  However I must admit to my weariness at the suggestions of DIY that take much more time than what most people I know have to give.  

Those Pinterest boards did offer a suggestion that involved a string with balloons, where toys and candy were inside the balloons on a string.  Enough balloons to break  for all partiers and some effort to get to the toys, but who wants to put stuff into tiny balloon openings all day!  And the sound of a balloon popping isn't my favorite anyways.  

Instead I used small colorful paper bags.  
Then I folded these bags over and stapled them to my thin rope. 
 Very easy, very low effort, very colorful.  

We then followed the typical piñata game rules as each child had the chance to hit not one but two bags.  The guests watched intently, ooooing and ahhing and cheering with each hit.  Some bags busted quickly, and some took several hits.  Nevertheless candy and toys went flying,and it was safely explosive.  

The one lesson learned is DON'T PUT HARD CANDY IN THE BAGS.  The paper is thin and the thwaking is hard!  The softer the better for the games and candy.