New resource: gifts gratitude calendar

“I don’t have enough time to do all the things.”

“I don’t have anything worth contributing.”

“Our congregation is so much smaller and grayer than it used to be.”

“We’re gonna have to send these church budget requests back to committees to be pared down, because our projected giving is down 10%.”

Do these sentiments sound familiar? They play in loops in individuals’ heads and reverberate through sanctuaries of all sizes. They are the product of scarcity thinking, of focusing on what we don’t have. The scarcity mindset is rampant in our culture, manifesting in the beliefs that we need to guard what we have and prepare for the worst possible scenario. And unfortunately, while we worship a God who created the universe out of a dark and formless void and follow a Savior who was all about opening up the law and the bounds of community, this thinking has trickled down into our churches. The result is that many of our people are afraid to dream and reach out, instead turning inward and wondering how long our congregations will be able to hold on.

The scarcity scourge is a huge barrier to growing our faith in and love of God. Luckily, the season focused on removing such obstacles to our discipleship is almost upon us, and I want to offer a resource that might help individuals and congregations note the abundance that God has blessed them with in the form of resources, talents, connections, hopes, and ministries. The calendar below gives a gratitude prompt for each day of Lent and the first day of Easter. (A printable PDF is available here.) Feel free to download and/or share it. I hope that those who use this calendar will talk with one another about the unexpected ways they have realized that God is at work in and around them.

 

A plainspoken prayer to end 2017 and begin 2018

Note: This post was originally set to run last week, but I wimped out. “It’s not the right forum,” I thought. “It’s a little too political.” But since I set being more vulnerable as one of my goals for 2018, I decided this prayer was a place to start. And while my focus on this blog will continue to be on clergy and congregational well-being, there’s no denying that the gospel we root our ministry in is, in fact, political.

Dear God.

Wow. I thought 2016 was terrible,

but then 2017 said,

“Heh. Watch this!”

All manner of natural disasters destroyed human lives and whole communities and economies.

White supremacy showed itself as bold as it’s ever been, maybe more so.

Our country crept closer to nuclear war, tweet by tweet.

We realized that sexual harassment and assault are even more epidemic than we realized.

The people we elected to work on our behalf tried to rip healthcare away from the most vulnerable and passed a tax plan that will concentrate even more wealth among those who already have plenty.

People had new laws, new insults, new dangers heaped upon them based on their sexual and/or gender identities.

Civil dialogue and bipartisan cooperation appeared to take their last breaths.

We turned away refugees fleeing danger and prepared to send “home” people who have only known this country.

We demonized people based on our shallow understanding of their religious faith.

We ignored science and continued using up the earth and her resources like toilet paper.

We (I) got frustrated with people who didn’t share our ideals and cut them out of our lives.

We (I) appalled ourselves with some of the thoughts we (I) had about these same people, fellow children of God.

That’s a lot of suckage, and it doesn’t even touch the personal traumas we all endured.

But.

I made some new friends this year, people I would never have met if we weren’t knitted together by our concerns for all the crap I just mentioned.

I was shaken out of complacency and compelled and equipped to be a more engaged citizen.

I was forced to take a deep look at my own internalized bigotry and to chip away at it through listening, learning, and interaction.

I stopped holding my cards so close to my vest.

I heeded a bigger, bolder call to discipleship.

I became a lot more dependent on my prayer life.

I noted old, dysfunctional systems and beliefs beginning to crumble around me.

I witnessed the power of women at work.

I saw evil get dragged into the light of day again and again, where it could be defanged.

I spotted God-glimmers in places I least expected them and often when I was at my lowest.

I laughed a lot, delighted in my loved ones and in my work, and felt gratitude for all that I have.

I was reminded that humankind partners with you to bring about justice and peace here and now.

I was, at the same time, shown anew that our ultimate hope is in you.

Whose presence is constant.

Whose love is abiding.

Whose preference is for those on the margins.

Whose promises are sure.

And so, I believe that 2018 will be better, even if it’s worse.

As we begin it,

I pray that you would give us daily bread as fuel,

and wisdom to know how best to embody your care,

and fierceness then to do it,

and generosity with all that we have,

and companions for whatever lies ahead,

and heart eyes to see the divine light in others,

and strength with heaping sides of humility and vulnerability,

and rest when it’s needed,

and joy in the midst of it all.

May we – with your help – be your harbingers of hope to a world in desperate need of it as we move about our days.

Dear God, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Five lessons from 2017 and five hopes for 2018

The turning of the calendar provides a natural opportunity for looking backward and forward. Here’s some of what I learned about myself last year:

I’ve been a complacent citizen. In the past, I have either taken for granted that others with concerns like mine would speak up or believed that my lone voice would not make much impact. This year circumstances compelled me to – for the first time – call my members of Congress, canvass, phone bank, write letters to elected officials, march for causes, and poll watch.

I have internalized more bigotry than I realized. The unmasking of white supremacy in the culture at large prompted me to do some inner examination, first as a Lenten discipline, then as an ongoing process. It turns out that forty years of insidious messaging had done more damage than I realized, and I continue actively chipping away at my biases through listening, reading, and interacting.

Scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (This is not to deny that some people live in dire poverty through no fault of their own.) Sometimes the sermon is as much for the preacher as for the congregation. I often refer to the dangers of a scarcity mindset from the pulpit and in my writing – pointing out that time and again God has done much with little – yet I have fretted over pennies myself. I’m in an online book group that has challenged me to think out of an abundance framework, and when I’ve been able to do it, it has given me a sense of freedom and opened my heart to the dramatic and barely-detectable ways God is showing the way forward.

40 rocks. Many people dread turning 40 years old. I didn’t, and so far my new decade fits me well. The age I feel matches the age I look like on the outside. I see the need less and less to justify my perspectives and my work to those who would poo-poo it. At the same time, I want to remain open to new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things.

The act of prayer is changing me. I have been more angry and afraid this year than I have ever been. When I’ve caught myself heading down one of these paths, I’ve stopped, taken deep breaths, and confessed my feelings to God. Over time, some of my attitudes have shifted. God is working in me, and I think that the process itself of being honest with God has also made a big difference.

As I anticipate this new year, here is what I am working toward, with God’s help:

To be more generous. I want to grow in my ability to practice what I preach when it comes to the abundance of God’s love.

To be more fierce. There’s no going back to complacency. Lives are at stake. And my voice matters.

To be more vulnerable. There’s a time for privacy, but less often than I have typically exercised it.

To be more resourceful. I want to leverage my creativity and intelligence for good.

To be more connected. I tended to distance myself last year from people who had different commitments than I did. That is neither faithful nor practical.

May your new year be filled with peace, love, and hope.

A pastoral prayer for these days

God of all creation,

you made the world we know out of a dark and formless void.

Before your breath swept across the face of the waters,

there was no light.

No sky.

No land.

No way of marking time.

No vegetation.

No animals.

No humans.

You made everything out of nothing, out of chaos.

And it was all good.

 

On behalf of everyone whose life feels out of control this morning,

who wonders how anything good could come out of such mess,

we pray to you this morning.

Where there is fear, let there be courage.

Where there is discord, let there be unity.

Where there is sickness, let there be healing.

Where there is oppression, let there be liberation.

Where there is loneliness, let there be connection.

Where there is worry, let there be peace.

Where there is want, let there be enough.

 

Use us, your people, to bring about all of this good,

because in your blueprint,

you bestowed upon humankind responsibility for all living things.

Prompt each one of us,

whether we are the leader of the free world

or have no formal position of power,

to use the skills and influence you have given us

in ways that make your world a place that is more just

more interdependent

more joyful

more beautiful

more sustainable.

 

These things we ask in the name of Jesus,

who came to redeem the brokenness in all that you made,

and by the power of the Spirit, which recreates us on a daily basis. Amen.

Creative Commons image “Hubble Goes High Def to Revisit the Iconic ‘Pillars of Creation'” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Praying through the month

Just before New Year’s Day I published a one month calendar of prayer prompts. The thought on the timing was that many folks commit (or recommit) to growing spiritually with the turning of the calendar. But May is also a transition point for many – warmer weather, the end of the school year, the end of the program year in churches – which can lead to changes in spiritual disciplines. I am thus posting the calendar again. I hope you find it useful, and I welcome you to share it. (Here is the print-friendly PDF version.)

prayer calendar