Call to Worship – When you give a banquet.

One: Our appetites are insatiable.

Many: We are hungry.

One: Our world wants us to fill ourselves to the brim, taking all we can find for ourselves – and only ourselves.

Many: God offers enough for today.

One: God’s providing means there is always enough.

Many: For today. For tomorrow. For you. For me. For all creation. One day and one act of sharing at a time.

All: Help us, Jesus, remember what it means to give a banquet that honors God’s providence. Amen.


Prayer – A Banquet

In Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus teaches how to hold a banquet and where to sit when invited to one. We know that these directions are not a cotillion style education about which utensil is used when. Jesus’ teaching cuts to the core of how we treat one another. He says in verses 13 and 14, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” With those words in mind, please pray with me for all those who are hungry. -Pastor Kelli

Holy God,

You are table-setter and banquet-preparer.
In Jesus we see that you set a table that grows longer with every need known.
In Jesus we hear that you require of us to stand so that others may sit.
In Jesus we know that you demand we do something for all who hunger with needs unmet.

Give us vision to create tables that always have a chair ready for welcome.
A chair for the immigrant who came to our country for the treatment of a fatal disease and received word of their pending deportation.
A chair for the person who refuses to listen to our deep sadness or fears and even dismisses our trauma because they haven’t life the way we have.
A chair for the one in recovery who wonders what difference some big judicial verdict will make for the friends whose lives are controlled by opioids.

Each one is hungry, God.
Hungry for health.
Hungry for understanding.
Hungry for stability.

Allow our rumbling stomachs to send us back to you in prayer.
That we learn to set tables and prepare banquets like your heavenly one: open to all, embracing all, loving all – just as we are.


A Prayer – Going Back to School

Hi Bethany family,

This week students in Tulsa and across the country headed to school. Whether PreK or Senior year, and all in between, each child in our country deserves an excellent education in a safe, loving environment. Too often, though, gun violence continues to enter schools, workplaces, and public places. Join me in prayer for every student, parent, caretaker, teach and administrator, that they will be able to focus on what matters – learning.
-Pastor Kelli
Great Teacher and Loving Creator,
We see the flashing lights again, alerting us to school zones and asking us to slow down our cars.
May they also remind us to slow down our hearts and offer them to you in prayer.
We pray for each child, those who are eager to learn and those who have lost the joy of it.
We pray for each parent and caretaker, those who are sad for the summer’s end and those who are happy for the new school year.
We pray for each teacher, those who feel equipped and ready and those whose classrooms do not have the necessary supplies.
We pray for each administrator, those who see the potential of every child and those who are struggling to get it all done.
We pray for each support staff person, those who are familiar faces to returning students and those who are still learning which teacher goes with which grade.
We pray for each crossing guard, each bus driver, and each school resource police officer and security professional.
All in our schools should have safety and nourishment of body and mind.
Make us vigilant in pressuring politicians to ensure both safety and nourishment, enacting legislation that protects and fully funds our most vital public good – public education.
We pray this with assurance in you, in your ways of loving accountability and your grace-filled call to co-create a world that reflects your reign.

Need – A Call to Worship

One: I come here in need.

Many: We come here in need.

One: We need rest. We need nourishment.

Many: We need to pray. We need to see God before us.

One: We need to practice the ways of Jesus.

Many: We need each other to be bearers of Love’s spirit and sharers of  abounding Grace.

One: Our needs are met here when see ourselves and each other as God does:

Many: Ones who are both lovable and loving, filled with holy capacity to do God’s work in the world. Amen.

Sabbatical Reflection 3 – The T-shirt

On a late 90’s trip to Memphis to visit family, I had the pleasure of walking down Beale street. Over the years of going there with my mom and brother, we’d gone to Mud Island, Graceland and other quintessential Memphis places. In the window of a tourist-trap store, there was a Sun Studios t-shirt. It wasn’t one of the places we’d visited, but it was fun to buy it and think about the early recordings of folks like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and so many others. Years later, still rocking the t-shirt on occasion, a stranger asked me if I was just wearing the t-shirt or if I’d been there. My snarky reply was, “Just wearing it; I’m one of those people.”

In my Vanderbilt class this summer, the memory popped up. Dr. David Kim, Professor of Religion at Connecticut College, talked about his deep passion for building a world that is more just. He reminded us that we have to really know what it means to to do this work – work that I would define as creating the visible reign of God on earth. Dr. Kim reminded us that there are lots of people showing up in t-shirts but not everyone knows what they will face.

Doing social justice in an unjust world means we will face dismissal and disdain. We are not exempt from hardship. In fact, walking in the way of Jesus in a society that glorifies narcissism and consumerist pleasures means that we will know hardship. It can look like standing up to beloved friends and family when they are dehumanizing things about those who Jesus made his priority: the poor, women, children, people on the margins.
Back in June, Dr. Kim reminded me that Christians determined to make the gospel real in our world will appear absurd. The roots of the word absurd are “ab” meaning “from/away” and “surd” meaning “something that makes sense.” You see, our society believes that making money is more important than the quality of people’s lives. Our society believes that one has to be worthy to receive any mercy or help. God has a different view, though. God’s mercy is abundant and requires no test of worthiness. In God’s economy, there is enough of every needful thing not just for survival, but for all to thrive.

While taking Charlie to swimming lessons this summer, another mom told me after the first week, she liked seeing what t-shirt I might wear. (My sabbatical uniform was yoga pants and t’s.) The t-shirts I wore were all some expression of my values, rooted in my faith. I pray that when people see me in them, these shirts simply confirm what they know about how I live in the world and not make them wonder if I’ve been there.

Sabbatical Reflection 2 – The Book of Ruth

Scripture’s ability to reveal truth in multiple ways blew me away this past Sunday. Chanhee’s Ruth-inspired children’s message about the power of crying with and being with our friends in hard times brought me to tears. Seeing Ruth’s ability to be with Naomi in the darkest time of her life without arguing with her to “buck up” humbles my heart with each read. Not only does Ruth not argue or dismiss Naomi and her feelings, but she doubles down on her commitments to Naomi and God. In difficult seasons, people often struggle to find or have people that can be with them fully, without trying to diminish or dispel the hurt and sorrow. When we show up with another in those moments, we take on their hurt too. When we stay with others in those moments, we have the chance to carry that sorrow.  Our culture tells us to turn away from hurt, or rush to buy something to relieve it. Ruth turns toward Naomi. I pray that we each have known someone who turned toward us and helped us bear the weight of sorrow – no matter the source. When the time comes, may we each live in that manner for someone else. It is then we discover how human we are and how we are made in God’s image.

The first week of my sabbatical was spent away in Nashville for a class at Vanderbilt. The class offered best practices, theory and encouragement for people who work for social justice. People came from across the country. The passion in the room was palpable and powerful. My heart was reinvigorated and challenged every day. One of the most significant challenges came from Dr. José Cossa, a professor in the Peabody College at Vanderbilt. His home country is Mozambique in Southeast Africa. He spoke to the necessity of shifting away from Western individualism and redefine how we see being human. He taught us about the idea Ubuntu.

Perhaps you’ve seen a meme with African children’s feet in a circle and a definition of the word “ubuntu” as “I am because you are.” While the sentiment and image are striking, Dr. Cossa let us know that this is not an accurate explanation of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African derived idea that takes different expressions across the African continent. Dr. Cossa went deeper saying that Ubuntu is more accurately expressed as “a human is a human because of humans.” The concept of Ubuntu is seen in the fact that some African languages have no concept of individual. When a person would refer to themselves, the word would be “we.” Further, when colonizers approached people who speak Bantu languages (rooted in the southern parts of Africa) and asked what they were called, the people simply said “bantu,” the word that means human. Misunderstanding, the colonizers called them Bantu as a name. (This information comes directly from my notes taken in Dr. Cossa’s class.)

Processing this history continues to inform reshaping of many ideas including humanity, individual people, church, and family. Ubuntu keeps waving to me from different corners of my mind as we go deeper in the book of Ruth. Ruth’s declarations to Naomi in chapter 1 (below) reinforces that our humanity is caught up in how we respond to another’s humanity. Her declaration strengthens my belief that any single person’s identity is never an individualistic matter, but rooted in our connections to others. Could I make a play on the idea of “we are what we eat?” Could it be that we are who we love? Could it be that we are who we show up for? Existentially and spiritually, of course. It doesn’t mean we all have to do WHAT Ruth did in order to be fully human or fully who God made us to be. Ruth, as a book and a person, reveals to us God’s design of our core being. God’s design of our humanity could easily be described as Ubuntu. God did not leave the first human alone. God did not leave God’s own self alone, creating humanity in God’s own reflection. The very character of God could even be described as Ubuntu! Hear now these words of Ubuntu.

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Sabbatical Reflection 1 – Showing Up

One of the very first lessons imparted to me by a mentor in ministry was simple: Show Up. Show up for your congregation. Show up for your colleagues. Show up for your friends. Show up for social justice. I could keep going, but I think you get the point. It seems simple, but like most things, showing up becomes complicated.
Our city (and country) is deeply divided by race and class. This is no new reality. Shouting voices on television and social media encourage us to live more separated lives. It is difficult to overcome. Yet, we know that division is not God’s will. As people who live in the way of Jesus, we are called to build bridges and develop relationships, reclaiming what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named as the ‘beloved community.’ Scripture calls it God’s reign. The first step is showing up. Since I cannot ask our community to do something that I have not done myself, showing up became an urgent call for the sabbatical.

During June, July and August, I worshipped at Pine Street Christian Church, our historic African American Disciples congregation in Tulsa. Prior to visiting Pine Street, I worked hard not to create any expectations of what the time would be like. Yes, I wanted to begin building a relationship. But, no one owed me a relationship simply because of my intent. In my study of African American experiences and my black friends’ testimonies, it is clear that we white people can have good intentions, but not always be truly sensitive to the experiences of African Americans and the multi-faceted reality of racism. People of color often have deep wounds created by well-intentioned white people. I carried this with me, knowing that I too have “stepped-in-it” and hurt someone unintentionally before in my life. My prayer was that when it happens, I will be able to hear with gratitude the truth shared with me and see the bravery it takes to share it. It continues to be my prayer.

As I prayed my way to worship that first Sunday morning, I asked God to teach me whatever I needed to learn. As usual, God provided in spades, because the people of Pine Street are ready to respond to the world with love and mercy. Before going, I did not let anyone there know I was coming. Much like at Bethany, though, once you walk through the doors, there is no staying incognito. Not only was I warmly welcomed, Rev. Brenda Denson called me forward to sit on the chancel! It was a humbling experience being welcomed this way. Each Sunday, Rev. Denson’s sermons spoke to my personal struggles of faith in a way that felt like she could see right into my soul. That, of course, was startling, and a balm to my heart.

Hmmm, at once startling and a balm to my heart? God sure does know how to make this journey of faith interesting. This summer’s sabbatical was just the beginning. Showing up is not a one time action, but a way of being. If we seek to see a more equitable and just city, it is our work to do. If we believe that God’s love is for everyone, we are called to build relationships that share love in a way that defy our world’s divisions. Let’s show up and see what God has in store. 

Can you join me this Sunday, September 15 at 3:30 pm for a worship service at Pine Street Christian Church? Meet me at church at 3 if you would like to carpool. Prepare to be back at church around 6.

It Tismas Time? – Christmas Eve Sermon 2016

The woman behind us in line smiled and nodded been-there-solidarity as she overhead the conversation that had been in loop for sometime now between Charlie and myself. Waiting for check out at Target, getting my coupons and apps for the ready, the loop went like this:

Charlie, “It Tismas time?”

Me, “yes, sugar, it is.”

C, “Santa come?”

Me, “Not yet, sweetie.”

C, “It my birfday?”

Me, “No, honey. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”

C, “Hooray!… It Tismas time.”

This was not a new loop for us. Once the decorations were up around the church and home, Charlie would one part ask, one part tell me “It Tismas time” every time we came into the church, which is 5 days out of 7. And sometimes when we were leaving. “It Tismas time?”

Of course, this is a mama-brag. The adorableness of a 2.5 year old’s joy at Christmas decorations never, ever gets old.

The woman behind us in Target seemed to enjoy it, too.

By the time loop began in line at Target, the question part had subsided. But it stuck with me.

“It Tismas time?”

Could it be that our Christmas this year hangs on that part question/part announcement of the birth of the Christ-child that Charlie so readily reminded me of this whole Advent?

We approach the season with tradition and ritual. We hang the greenery and light candles.

We sing of the Shepherds’ approach to the manger. We echo the angelic announcements.

We recount the Christmas morning smiles of our children and grandchildren.

A proud-mama-preacher tells cute stories.

We tell these to ensure the Hope of the season, the “ahhhh” moments at what it all means, because someone else’s Joy -the shepherds, the magi, Mary and Joseph- help us live fully into the assurance of God’s goodness.

This year are we all are approaching the manger with a tinge of question in our voices. Is it Christmas time? Is the Christ-child really going to appear in the manger? Can I dare to hope for implications of God-with-us? There is almost a resistance and assuredly a wonder if grace-embodied really is going to born again.

Can we move past our hesitancy to see God’s goodness after a year that was deeply burdensome…

a year that pit neighbor against neighbor and sibling against sibling with an election that was about anything but public policy;

a year where images poured out of Syria, where the first and second generation inheritors of our faith trod the road to Damascus, of both rebel and state forces killing civilians in a bid for control;

a year where the news of celebrity deaths reminded us that even those who are worshipped for talents we envy die, suddenly and often without any ceremony;

a year where the only solution put forth to better funded education in our state was a regressive tax that failed and in doing so singed the already raw hearts of dedicated teachers across our state who often have second jobs or live (fingers pinched together) this close to applying for food stamps.

a year where people simply keep saying, “that’s enough 2016.”

Do you feel the hesitancy? Do you feel this indecision toward the nativity? It’s the dark-side of hopeful expectancy that we celebrate as Advent? We come to the manger with side-eyed-wonder. I come to the manger with diffidence, desperately seeking good news that God wills a world that can be more whole than the one we known this year and the one upon I reflect today, on December 24, 2016.

And so, I thank God for the tradition and ritual of this season, for the hanging of the green and the lighting of candles, for the reading of liturgy and singing of carols, for the angels messages to Joseph, to Mary and to Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. I thank God that the “It Tismas time?” out of Charlie’s mouth back in late November has transformed to “It Tismas time!”

Are we, too, willing to hear the voices of of the angels, the shepherds, the magi, the children among us and shake free the questions of whether or not God’s goodness is for us too, in this time, in this year, in this season? Can we listen, even if our voices are too tired to sing along?

While we may not feel equipped to shout with the angels or shepherds, we hear these words from the writer of Titus. Surely, we can share in this good news, written at least 2 maybe 4 generations out from Jesus. We know for sure it was written 2 generations out from even Paul. Titus was a disciple of Paul. This pastoral letter was written by those who were a part of the churches nurtured by Titus in the area Corinth.

These were folks, who like us have no direct knowledge of Jesus or even Paul. Here the words that community wrote again:

Titus 2:11-14

“2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,

2:12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,

2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2:14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

Good news for ALL…that we would become zealous for good deeds and the glory of God! It is good news that God is training us for such things. If I need to train to run a 5k, I surely need to train to be Jesus’ disciple on earth. And God is working in me, in you, in us to ensure that we are Hope Bearers in the world.

Do you hear the singing of the angels now? Do you see that signs of the manifestation of our blessed hope now? Perhaps these followers of the way of Jesus were as weary as we. And, they, too proclaim that the grace of God has appeared! They-without a child in a manger near by- knew signs of God’s grace among them.

Are there signs for us now, this year?

Well, “The start of Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same day this weekend, a rarity that comes only every few decades. It means millions of people of both faiths will be lighting candles together, across the land,” highlighted Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak. She continued,

“Hello? Haters? Are you seeing this celestial bat signal?

It’s a sign. Interfaith wonderpowers: Time to activate. Because the darkness has been deep this year.”

You, know I think she’s right. If the reading of Luke 2 and the joy of children aren’t enough to solidify statements rather questions, how about that – after a difficult year world-wide, and our own particular experiences of that difficulty -Christmas and Hanukkah begin together. Two holy celebrations of God’s faithfulness to humanity.

God is faithful to the point of incarnation. Both in the manger and in our eagerness, our zealous hope to do good and shape God-sized wholeness into being.

The good life that God promises in the Christ child comes as we are zealous, eager for the good deeds that make plain the HOPE for which we wait, no for which we ache.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak quoted George Washington in her column and I think it bears sharing here. He wrote, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

This Christmas, without a tinge of question in our voice, let us sing with assurance of the life we commit ourselves to living, eager to do good deeds that proclaim no one shall live in fear, that salvation – as described in Titus as the whole of creation redeemed from iniquity and purified to be a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds, ensuring the grace of God has appeared.

It Tismas time, friends.

1. on 1.

September 8 unravelled a piece of my life that put me into action mode. Fix it. Save it. Hold it. Tape it together. It’s ok now, as I write now on November 16. It was never my little family at risk. And, in the two or so months since I’ve realized it was always my little family at risk. Because, what happens to us when things get difficult can often bring out the worst of our coping mechanisms.

In the midst of responding, I also attended a (previously) planned trip to the Why Christian conference in Chicago with the 1 day Enneagram immersion added on to the front. Many of my colleagues are Enneagram nuts and I love a method of understanding human behavior. The day was intense, simply from the constant receiving of information about the 9 types of personalities of the system. My number was presented third of the day, a part of the gut triad. As Susanne Stabile began describing my number, I began to feel nauseous. Like, woah, what it happening sick to my stomach. (Remember, I’m part of the gut triad.) As she continued teaching, I thought to myself, I better keep listening to all the numbers so that I make sure to identify with the right one. So, if you know anything about the Enneagram, you probably know my number by this point in my reflection. I’m a 1, the perfectionist, the reformer. The one who hears the voices of negative self-thought and the obsessive-taunts of ‘should’ circling my head, all. the. time. The best image I’ve come up with is the bubbling pink slime from Ghostbusters that emanates negative energy and overwhelms all it touches.

Identifying my number, and the wealth of reflection about best practices and hopeful responses to who I am couldn’t have come at a better time. It feels an awful lot like discovering what it means to be a child of an alcoholic household. That was ground-breaking for me and only came about due to a trauma that catapulted me into counseling for the first time. Speaking of being a child of an alcoholic household (and all that entails), being a 1 connects with being the oldest ACOA in a family. And, the negative coping mechanisms are similar.

For the past two months, I’ve squashed my feelings and absorbed as much as I can to make sure others are ok. (FYI, I don’t hide my feelings well. But, I think I’m squashing them nonetheless.) That’s lead to me having a couple (strong) drinks every night at home in order to zone out of that deep hole and relax. I know that’s not the way to respond in a healthy way. And, I did it. I did it cause it’s easy, because it’s familiar and because I felt cornered by emotions and didn’t want to confront them. This self-defeating behavior feeds my negative stream of consciousness about myself. And the cycle is awful. The shame and self-directed anger is awful. And, so now I feel a little closer to understanding my dad, the alcoholic who drank in seclusion every night when he got home from a job that wasn’t his dream and held tight to his promise not to be the parent that he had. So, he hid. And drank. I often want to feel close to him as he’s been dead since 2001. This really wasn’t what I had in mind.

Back to the Enneagram. I’ve committed to a detox of all things that feed my shame cycle. So, no  booze. No personal facebook. And I’m really beginning the reading of The Road Back to You. I intend on blogging my journey. Here we go.

That $ y’all

One recent Sunday night, I walked past the counter in the kitchen and noticed a new thing. This time, something was different when I left my paycheck and the deposit slip for Nick to deposit before work the next day. The paycheck, the reimbursement check, the deposit slip were all facing up on the counter, instead of folded in half or face down.

I don’t know if this was the first time this happened. Nick only occasionally runs by the bank for me. Usually those checks stay crammed in my purse until I make it the couple miles to a branch.

You may wonder why this is of note. It symbolizes a solid ground of trust where I now walk. Nick’s always been trustworthy. My ability to talk about money (instead of shutting down or raising my voice) and remember that it is tool has been a slow, long journey. But, I’m there. I’m so there. I’m there enough to not even subconsciously shame myself by folding a check or placing a deposit slip face down.

Money is a tool. Money requires a plan. Using money instead of money using me means gaining skills over many years. There’s always room for my improvement and learning. I’m not going to be teaching an investment portfolio class. But, I live now without a recurring shame around money. And that freedom is so damn good.