The Candygram Gospel

blogpic.candygramI was looking at the local Dollar Store for some Lifesavers to give away during the Children's Sermon last Sunday. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was Isaiah 45:1-7, where God says two times "I call you by your name." I had planned on saying that I was going to be moving away soon, and that although pastors move on, and life changes, God always stays with us and knows us by name--God is our Lifesaver.

As I stood in the aisle looking at the candy possibilities, I remembered a candygram gift my daughter had made for a friend's birthday during middle school. Phrases with candy names began popping into my head. Phrases like "God created the Milky Way" and "you may not be Mike & Ike, but God knows your name." And behold, a candygram Gospel message was born.

Here is the good news according to Halloween that became my Children's Sermon--and giving away candy with it certainly increased the number of children who came forward!

Please don’t Snicker at my story!
God made the Milky Way and God made you!
If you’re a Smartie or you made a
Whopper of a mistake,
God’s love for you is Good ‘N Plenty!
You may feel be-Twix and between, 
or that you don’t know the Reisen God loves you,
but God goes the Extra mile by sending Jesus
to be our Lifesaver (or LifeSavior!) forever.
So whether your name starts with M&M
or you’re called Baby Ruth or Mike & Ike ... 

God knows you by name!


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Seeking Emotional Sobriety in Times of Change

blogpic.shoesIn two and a half weeks—17 days to be exact—I will leave St. Louis, Missouri and move to Frisco, Texas. As you can imagine, October has been fraught with more tasks to accomplish than are humanly possible in this short time, each one evoking a whole new curtain of feelings—grief, gratitude, anger, fear, hope, melancholy, happiness, nostalgia, and all their many variations.

The hardest part is giving myself time and space to experience these feelings, to express them in a healthy way, learn from them, and release them. That’s what emotional sobriety is—the willingness to acknowledge our emotions, positive and negative, and to actually feel and experience them.

“Sobriety” is a good word for this process. It is so tempting to bury our feelings and opt for familiar, potentially addictive coping strategies—strategies that are readily available and even encouraged for making ourselves feel better—like eating chocolate (or too much of anything, really), drinking alcohol, over-functioning to the point of exhaustion, shopping, Netflix-binging, or using prescription or recreational drugs. These can create a new set of problems with the power to wreak havoc on how we behave and what we say, while the feelings are still there, buried under all the muck.

Yet when we allow ourselves to just experience them, those feelings often dissipate more quickly. I still find this surprising. I’m afraid if I actually feel them, my emotions will be erupting all day, getting bigger and never going away. But what really happens is the opposite: When I just have a good cry, express my fear and anxiety surrounding these changes to a trusted friend, yell at God in the shower, and say “thank you” for the beauty (that I will miss) in the backyard, the intensity passes and I am freed to move on to the next task (and the feeling it will evoke)!

Richard Rohr offers The Welcoming Prayer as a guide to safely experiencing uncomfortable feelings and suffering. Briefly, the steps he identifies include the following:

1. Identify a hurt, offense or negative emotion. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt, and feel them the way you first felt them.
2. Notice how this pain shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into a dualistic, analytic mind.
3. After you identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard, but when we name it, feel it, welcome it, transformation can begin.
4. Stay present in the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into your ego. When you welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human, and also what it means to be divine. Remember that you, too, are being held by the very One who went through this process on the cross, when Jesus held the pain of the whole world.
5. Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness for the person who hurt you, for the event that offended you, for the reality of suffering in each life. The pain may or may not leave easily, but letting go frees up soul-energy that liberates us to move toward our True Self.

Truth to tell, my own emotional sobriety and welcoming prayers during this moving process have been a mixed bag. I have accepted some feelings and welcomed them, acknowledged the loss or the truth that accompanied them, let them go, and moved forward. Other times, not so much. For example, I have been projecting my mixed feelings about moving onto my sister who lives in Dallas, as though she didn’t want me moving nearer to her. The truth is that I haven’t wanted to move away from my two adult children, who are remaining in Missouri. Oh! And did I mention that I’ve bought four pairs of new shoes in as many months?

Which reminds me—a part of achieving emotional sobriety and the forgiveness we seek in The Welcoming Prayer is finding self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. I am not doing any of this perfectly, and that’s okay. And, yes, I did apologize to my sister!

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A Prayer to Savor the Moment

blogpic.prayerbeadsGod has made everything beautiful for it's own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart.   ~Eccl 3:11

At the "Savor the Moment" Women's Retreat I mentioned two weeks ago, we made prayer beads to go along with the prayer I wrote below.

Why beads? As our fingers touch each successive bead, the physical action helps keep our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness. They are a way to help us enter into meditative or contemplative prayer by using our mind, body and spirit. 

A Prayer to Savor the Moment

O Holy God, Loving Jesus, Blessing Spirit

You have made everything for its own time.

Help me open the gift of this moment,

A present from your heart to mine.

Draw my soul to your presence,

Grace me with acceptance for what is,

Bend my will to be present in the present,

Release my urge to control,

Unclutter my mind, quiet my spirit.

You are all I need in this moment.

As I see your beauty in this time,

I feel your eternity in my heart.


Thank you to Brenda Blight and friends, who edited this prayer to a manageable length, and to Carol Ruppar for designing the prayer beads, and teaching us to make our own strand! Thank you also to Cher Stuewe-Portnoff, my new blog editor!

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The Hokey-Pokey of Ministry Today

blogpic.HokeypokeyCharge to the Congregation for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Daniel R. Anderson-Little as Pastor of Legacy Presbyterian Church, Frisco, Texas; October 1, 2017

Ministry today is often more about asking good questions than providing answers. Recent research says that congregations who, like Legacy, want to reach out to Millennials and their families need to ask themselves some good questions—questions such as:

• Is our church authentic? Younger generations are looking for transparency and honesty.
• Does our church embrace social media and communicate digitally? Another good question.
• Does our church create space for rest? We love to get stuff done. Feeding the hungry and building habitat houses is wonderful and important work. But in our fast-paced, fragmented culture, people are equally in need of spirituality and a space to let go of their burdens and stresses.

When I first met the members of the Nominating Committee last May, we went to Babe’s for dinner. The family-style meal embodied the characteristics found in these three questions. It gave us a chance to build authentic relationships and to communicate our needs, as we decided upon and shared our food. We took pictures so we could connect with others on social media. The occasion provided a respite from the stresses of the job interview and our respective daily lives, as we got to know one another at a deeper level.

At one point, I excused myself to find the restroom. On my way back to the table, a whole line-up of waitstaff were doing the Hokey-Pokey. Not realizing that this was a staff-only performance, I jumped onto the end of the line and joined them in singing and dancing the Hokey-Pokey. You remember that last verse, don’t you, put in your whole self in? I need you get up and sing it with me!

You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about!

This begs one more question as we engage in the mission of the church: What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?

• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, your whole, authentic, transparent and honest self—successes and struggles, hopes and fears, convictions and questions.
• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with social media, creating multiple points of connection throughout the week rather than just on Sunday mornings.
• And you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with being as well as doing, engaging in your own spiritual growth, and creating space at church for rest and sabbath.
• Most of all, you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, and shake it all about—shake out and shake off what doesn’t work, learn from it, move on, and try again. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but everything else can be reimagined.

For we believe in a turnaround God who turns blindness around into sight!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns sinners around into disciples!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns death around into resurrection and new life!

So my charge to you is simple, Legacy Presbyterian Church of Frisco, Texas: Do the Hokey-Pokey—because today, that’s what ministry is all about!

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