A Poem for Holy Cross (Year B)

The Feast of Holy Cross is September 14.

To kill the hero is the utterest of mistakes;
Bad storytelling at best;
Stark failure at worst.

To glorify the tool, the rood, the cross
Admission of defeat at best;
Unhealthy obsession at worst.

And yet the worst mistaken failure is the world’s best story;
And the worst instrument the most shining (1).

Because when the worst shames the best,
Makes it meaningless and futile,
Reinvents its deathful purpose toward life -
Reimagines its ending as beginning….

Then we can be ushered into something entirely new.
And we can, maybe, grasp a new symbology,
Understand a new language,
Grow synaptic pathways previously unheard of.

If we can do this, then perhaps the sting of our own shame and torture and personal hells
Can become something else too?


  1. 1 Cor 1:18



From the Book: Litany for Looking After Each Other

MY FIRST-EVER VIDEO READING! I feel like doing some readings lately. So here's a reading of a litany from my upcoming book _Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer_.

I've been working on it non-stop (well, around pastoring, parenting, and life-maintenance)! I just keep thinking of things I want to add. Editing is long. Litanies have a lot of punctuation. And I am slow and think way too much about things.

In the meantime, if you want to support my work you can do so at www.patreon.com/franpratt  . At this point, my Patreon mainly subsidizes a few hours of childcare so I can write more litanies and edit the book. Worth it! But I've got dreams.

As always, if you have specific litanies you'd like to see birthed into the world, send me themes, topics, issues, etc. And take videos! I love to see your congregations in action!

Thanks for subscribing and reading. Thanks for praying along. And thanks for being rays of love and light in the world.

Lent 2 (Year B): Litany for Memento Mori

A few months ago I purchased an ornamental skull and hung it on a wall. It’s gilt, and made to look like the skull of some kind of bull. I didn’t really know why I did this, except that there was something about the skull that was compelling to me; something edgy but true. In other words I didn’t do this strictly for decorative reasons. I hung it in the bathroom, which freaked the children out a little, but now everyone sees the skull whenever they do the business that living people do.

Weeks later I learned, quite by accident (from Sister Theresa Aletheia on twitter), about the ancient tradition of Memento Mori (1), Latin for “remember death.” It’s the practice of intentionally remembering that death is unpredictable and imminent, to remind us to live well, do what matters, not waste time on vanities. Many people practice Memento Mori by keeping a skull in view, so that they are reminded to live well whenever they see it. I had inadvertently stumbled into my own Memento Mori practice.

So this is what I thought of when I read this week’s Lectionary reading from Mark 8. Jesus informs his followers that he will have to endure suffering, rejection, and death; and then after that he’ll rise again. Some of the apostles, particularly Peter, just can’t deal with this idea. I can just hear him: "What’s this about death? Death has no part of this equation we are working on here! Death is far away, an abstract idea! We don’t have to think about that now! How humiliating that you would even think of letting death take you, Jesus!" And Jesus rebukes Peter, telling him that in his utter denial of death having any part in the narrative, he is “setting [his] mind not on divine things but on human things” (2).

In the season of Lent we are invited to remember our mortality, and our immortality. We are given permission to contemplate what is humanly (but not divinely) considered morbid. We begin by admonishing one another: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And we end by celebrating the life that comes after the dust, after the death.



God, we know from the narratives and themes within scripture
That the road to life is fraught with death
That the road to safety is fraught with peril
That the road to light is fraught with darkness.

We know from the narratives and themes within nature
That to get to spring we pass through winter.
That to get fertile soil, there must be compost and decay.
That to get to bloom we pass through buried seed.

We know from the narratives and themes within our own lives
That mistakes and failures teach us
That wisdom comes from experience, and often from hardship and loss
That growing up means learning hard lessons.

Death follows us everywhere we go in this life.
Nothing living is immune.

As Christ went down to death for three days
So we must follow:
Down, past death
    Death to self (3)
    Death to assumption
    Death to expectation
    Death to control
We are brought low by this humility.

And in turn, out past death we find a mystery:
What we thought was lost is found (4).
Death has hatched something altogether new:
Glorious life!

So, we accept our mission:
To live well,
To face death,
And learn the lesson of resurrection.

Amen

  1. More info about Memento Mori

  2. Mark 8:33

  3. Mark 8:34

  4. Mark 8:35


    *If you or your congregation are regular users of the work here at franpratt.com, please consider becoming a patron.

Litany for Waking Up

I have heard this story so many times: this narrative of people waking up to injustice or abuse in institutions, then trying so hard to help the institution wake up, then discovering that there’s no forcing change and that trying so hard is burning their hearts down, then waking up to the reality that leaving is the only heartbreaking option. I don’t know if it’s actually getting more common, or if I’m just paying better attention to it, having lived it a time or two.

I have heard this story in marriages. In churches. In businesses. In nations and governments. Over and over again. It’s a dark, painful story that calls to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:14 (and Luke 9:5) to “leave...and shake the dust off your feet when you leave…”*

I don’t think Jesus says that glibly. He knows that leaving is a painful decision; he also knows that trying to force anyone to listen or change is a futile effort, and graciously give his disciples permission to move onto different, more open and receptive spaces. And that’s another thing I see happening. I see new spaces being created. I see a new reformation happening. I see new ways emerging. I see hope and freedom sprouting up. I see a winnowing.

But waking up is still hard. There’s hope and life in it, but also discomfort, grief, and sometimes confusion. It takes great faith to throw our precious grain up in the air, and trust that what falls back down, after the wind has carried the chaff away, will be enough.**




God, you are the one who wakes us up
When we are ready.
You wake us up to injustice.
You wake us up to love.
You wake us up to injury.
You wake us up to hope.

Sometimes we wake up and realize
That our institutions need change;
That our theology needs change;
That our habits need change;
That our politics need change;
That our hearts need change.

Sometimes we must suffer the scathing heartache
Of leaving behind ideas or institutions
That don’t work anymore, now that we’re awake.
Sometimes our waking requires parting.
Sometimes we can’t support.
Sometimes we are no longer supported.

It can feel like homelessness,
Like up-ending,
Like disowning,
Like failure,
Like giving up.
We wish it weren’t so.

We can only allow ourselves to change at your prompting;
We can’t force others to understand.

Let those of us who are waking, painstakingly and in various ways,
Have no judgement toward those who aren’t yet ready to arise.
Let no arrogance exist among us,
But only patience and compassion.
Let those of us who can stay and enact change,
Be strengthened and encouraged.
Let those of us who must leave,
Leave wisely and lovingly.
 

Amen

* I appreciate Sarah Bessey's writing on the topic of leaving, and also on staying.
**Matthew 3:12

Litany for Stupid Fights

The other day my spouse and I had a Stupid Fight. You know, the fights you have sometimes with someone close to you that are about stupid nothing. The ones that happen all of a sudden, something just lights up - some irritant gets you in just the right spot while you’re washing dishes or a child. The ones that happen maybe when you’re both tired and oversensitive, or maybe there’s been an earlier, deeper offense; or maybe there’s some anxiety humming in the background. When whatever anger is below the surface of your calm finds a vent and erupts.

They are usually about the most mundane things, at least superficially. You can hardly remember why the conflict started. What you should have been able to shrug off or solve with one sentence becomes a conflagration. I most often observe these happening in the context of close relationships that are at some level “safe”, or at least longstanding.

Earlier on in our marriage, we would do Stupid Fights more often. Now we’ve learned a few things (not that we have it all sanctimoniously figured out, but 14.5 years is a fair amount of time for practice):

  • If your calm was that easy to crack, it was fake.
  • Either a) give vent to the emotion and let it play out without truly hurting each other, or b) someone take a walk.
  • The stupid fight is not the real issue, but it’s pointing to it.
  • The work is in the deeper, more vulnerable conversation that comes after, once the magma has cooled.

My wise friend Sharon says, “Emotions are messengers and messengers are angels.” I think she’s right. My experience with Stupid Fights is that they are often merciful messages telling us there is something needing attention.  They are opportunities for a meaningful conversation. The rub is this: the Stupid Fights are easy to blindly engage in and may even feel cathartic; but the real thing that’s beneath - the difficult challenging thing - is the one you’ve been avoiding. It’s the one that’s going to take some courage and vulnerability to talk about.

I’ve said this many times to friends who are getting married: Marriage is like a mirror that shows you your true self - you won’t be able to escape your own truth in it. But really I think any authentic relationship is a kind of mirror. It’s why church is always so messy: we are always revealing ourselves to each other whether we intend to or not, and generally trying to avoid what we don’t want to see.

All that to say: I’m a fan of Stupid Fights, with caveats. Have the Stupid Fight - fight well, without abuse! - then when it’s safe and the pressure is lower, do the real work the Stupid Fight was clueing you into.


God, we expend all kinds of energy avoiding ourselves.
We are difficult people.
Because we avoid our deepest selves, we tend to think you’re avoiding us too;
But you’re always close by.
You’re always mercifully holding up a mirror so we can see ourselves better.
Our best mirrors are our closest relationships.

We often expose each other’s weakness,
     Irritate each other,
     Make each other angry,
     Hurt each other.
We say things we don’t mean
And things we do.
We hold grudges.
We disagree.

When we are in conflict, give us the energy and courage to do the real work:
To be vulnerable
To share and listen
To resist shame
To let our anger and pain teach us
To explore our own souls
To be kind
To be merciful.

We embrace the messengers that point us to the deep issues:
Thank you for emotions.
Help us to hear the messages
And do the messy work of transformation.

Amen

Poem for Leah and Rachel

The Lectionary for July 30 includes the story of Leah and Rachel and Jacob. This is a hard story for me to engage with; the patriarchy and polygamy, the treatment of these two women is sometimes more than I can see past. There is much to learn from the story, but as a (modern, feminist) woman I must acknowledge the elephant there: two young powerless women being traded by their father for field labor, without their consent, determining the course of their lives. It arouses my own sorrow for the continuing plight of women in the world.

There are times when I can engage with a difficult text seamlessly. And sometimes not. This one was a not this week. So instead, I wrote a poem. Because, as a friend of mine who is a priest says, "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful."

 

We made you work for it
But we were worth it.
You didn’t get exactly what you wanted at first
But in the end, you were happy.

We didn’t control our fate.
We had no say in whether, or when, we were given to you.

You obviously had a favorite.
Everyone knows that.
But we served you well
For little reward.
And you did the work. You agreed to the plan.
Because we were so valuable to you.

Plan A didn’t work out -
You were given second best;
A saboteur got the better of you,
While you, in your lust, weren’t paying attention.
Plan B got you your beloved,
Who was barren for the longest,
But beautiful and graceful
And resentful.

None of this was perfect. None ideal.
But you became rich anyway, a father of many.
We were jewels among your hoard,
Breeders among your flock.
Your 14 years of labor
Paid your penance.

Who is Jacob
To complain about his inheritance?
 

Litany for Self-Love

This litany was originally written to accompany a sermon I preached at Peace of Christ church. You can find the sermon here. The sermon uses this week's Lectionary reading from Romans 7.
 

Loving Creator, we confess that, in general, we are bad at loving ourselves.
Help us, oh God.
Many of us have been criticized mercilessly and have simply accepted the habit of it.
Help us, oh God.

Help us to regard ourselves with the same kindness and patience
With which you regard us.
Help us to lay down our judgements of ourselves and others
And to leave the judging to you.
Help us to see ourselves and everyone around us in the light of love,
Which is your own light.
Help us to feed, nourish, care for, and live into our True Self,
Which is your love in us.

We acknowledge that we live among tensions and paradoxes that are not always easy to parse out:
    Good and evil
    Light and darkness
    Flesh and spirit
We acknowledge that our enemies are mostly unseen,
And sometimes hidden within ourselves.
We acknowledge that we must both accept ourselves as we are
And work toward transformation.
We acknowledge that you have given us authority and power over evil,
And we take hold of them in the name of Christ.

Hallelujah! For you have looked upon us with eyes full of grace
Grace is air we breathe.
Grace is the ocean we swim in.
Grace is our resting place.

Amen.

Litany for Song

This litany was written by special request, specifically for an event put on by friends in Kentucky. It may be my favorite litany I've ever written.


God, it was your voice, the vibration of your words, that set the first molecules into formation and motion.
You sang the universe into being.
Your breath first nudged planets and atmospheres into existence, by the rasp and melody of your speaking.
You sang the world into being.
Like the cascade of waterfalls, the rumble of thunder, the whir of wind, and the soft breath of infants - so is the beauty and power of the voice of our God.
You sang creation to life.
You moved air through lungs of dust and called us Beautiful, named us Beloved, and shared with us your energy and your art.
You sang humanity to life.

When we say that we live and move and have our being in you, God, we mean that from wave to particle to atom to molecule to cell to organ to body - you are within and throughout.
Your voice makes us.
You are love, and Love set the earth spinning and the stars shining and our hearts beating.
Your voice makes us.
Love that sings and vibrates, dances and gyrates; Love that never stops being and becoming.
Your voice makes us.
Love that energizes and ennervates, uplifts and invigorates; Love that multiplies and amplifies.
Your voice makes us.

In Christ, Love put on a human face; took on vocal cord, consonant, resonance, and sustain.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love decided that dying was dancing and resurrecting was to be expected.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love said that loss is gain and death is life and power is weakness and dissonance is harmony, and then proved it.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love is re-making every broken thing; every off-key note and accidental, every counterpoint, coda, and hum is arranged to beauty.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love is singing again, and still singing: a song of redemption, invitation, and new creation.
Hallelujah!

Amen


 

Resurrection Sunday (Year A): Litany for the Story

Here are the Lectionary texts for Easter morning, Year A. I have tried to draw elements from each text, plus an additional reference from John 2. Hallelujah! He is Risen!

 

God, You have loved us with an everlasting love;
You have continually been faithful (Jeremiah 31:3)
You are our strength.
You are our salvation. ((Psalm 118:14)

This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth:
He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.
He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed.
He was put to death on a cross and his body laid in a tomb. (Acts 19:38,39)

“Tear this temple down,” he said,
“In three days I will rebuild it!” (John 2:19)

And so it is:
On the third day,
As the disciples Mary and Mary Magdalene have seen:
Christ’s tomb is empty! (John 20:1)
An angel has rolled away the stone: (Matthew 28:2)
He is not there.
He is risen!
He is risen, indeed!

We celebrate the story of Jesus Christ:
Birth, work, death, resurrection.
And we have been raised with Christ,
Who is our life. (Col 3:1,4)

Amen



 

Litany for Surgery

It’s only a tonsillectomy. In all likelihood, our little gal be bouncing around asking for ice cream within a few days. But…. THEY ARE TAKING MY BABY, PUMPING HER FULL OF CHEMICALS AND CUTTING HER WITH SHARP OBJECTS.

My monkey mind is having a heyday with this. Or it could if I let it. Because I know for certain when she gets out she will be feeling the worst pain she’s ever felt. And she will be feeling this pain because her Papa and I have willingly and consciously made the decision to allow her to feel this pain. We’ve made this decision for good reasons that we believe will benefit her and our family going forward, but that doesn’t change the fact of our child’s pain, the fact of what walking through the next 48 hours will be like. She will cry. I know that her pain will stress me out and make me cry too.

Fortunately I’ve been practicing the trick of stepping back from the monkey mind. Giving it a look from a distance. Perhaps chuckling at it a bit and nudging it lovingly. I’m only beginning to learn this skill, but wow is it helpful when I can remember it.

Peace, be still, Mama.

Hey, Mamas and Papas who have walked your babies down cold corridors, kissed them at O.R. doors, and relinquished them into the hands of mostly strangers. You who have done this many times because of accident, chronic illness, or ongoing medical issues. You who have spent countless hours in waiting rooms, drunk countless cups of awful coffee, and glanced up eagerly every time the door opened, a hundred times, in hopes that it’s over and the report is good. You. I see you now.

(This litany is not just for parents. I'm hopeful that this prayer can be helpful to most anyone going into a surgery or medical procedure.)
 

God, it’s into your hands that we send our Loved One*
She* was only ever there all along.
We breathe in the peace of your presence:
     Your presence with her as she sleeps
     Your presence with us as we wait.

Be present to those caring for her while we are apart.
Let the peace of your presence come to them as well.
Let your lovingkindness fill their hearts,
     Calm and focus their minds
     Steady their hands.

Let no evil befall them or our Loved One.
May each body system come to perfect harmony.
May each wound inflicted bring health and healing behind it:
     As by Christ’s wounds we are healed,
     So now, we ask for healing wounds.

Make us awake to our blessings,
Things we take for granted,
Things many people throughout the world don’t have:
     Sanitation, education, access, options, medicines and therapies.
     Hope, provision, support, community, nourishment.

May we care for her with compassion and patience while she recovers.
We know that in the midst of pain, you bring growth and goodness.
May we be strengthened and tireless as we offer help:
     Each word echoing the mercy of Christ
     Each action formed and informed by love.

Amen
 

*Substitute the name of the individual here
*Replace gender-specific pronouns as needed

A Dead Man in LadyBird Lake + Litany for the Homeless

We had a sad and stark thing happen in our family this week. My husband Jordan Gadapee is sharing the tale. A litany from me follows his story.

On December 28, 2016, a man was found dead floating in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. The man likely drowned, but authorities are not yet sure of the cause of death. He was wearing baggy pants, several shirts, and four neckties. He had a butter knife in his pocket. His name, age, and reasons for being in the lake were all unknown. If you live in the Austin area, you may have come across the story. It’s possible you saw the headline in a passing tweet. Maybe you heard a brief news report on the incident. Or, perhaps, there was an odd odor on your afternoon run. I didn’t run that day.

I work in downtown Austin at 301 Congress St. The lake is a few blocks away from my office, and a lunchtime jog makes for a great pardon on busy days. The man was found floating one mile from my office. That’s 5,280 feet. When the weather is nice, the park around the lake is full of people. You’ll find runners, walkers, and casual explorers. My favorite person is the homeless man who sleeps on the bench. If he’s awake, he’ll give you a high-five as you run past. It was 82° Fahrenheit that day, and I imagine his hand stinging from too many high-fives. I didn’t get a high-five that day.

Lady Bird is a local favorite for recreational watercraft, and the day was perfect for breaking in the kayaks delivered by Santa. Beautiful weather is the upside to Christmas in Texas. A couple of kayakers were enjoying the weather when they spotted the body floating. It’s unusual for people to swim in the lake — thanks to the chlordane, overgrowth, and old debris. The man was unresponsive, so they called 911. I didn’t see the police tape; I was in my office.

I was also in my office on January 03, 2017. It was a week later and cooler outside. The temperature was 74° Fahrenheit. I had just talked to my mother, and she briefed me on the incoming call. I was still holding my phone when it started vibrating. I answered the call at 4:38 pm. Jennifer spoke with a practice cadence of a surgeon, “Hi Jordan. I am Jennifer from the Travis County Coroner’s office.” Pause. “On December 28th your biological father was found dead in Lady Bird Lake.” Shock. Jennifer was excellent at her job. She answered some of my questions: “Yes dead on the scene.” “Drowned, we think. There are other tests still results we need.” “We identified him by his fingerprints.” Silence. “You have an aunt and her name is Jan. She is making the arrangements.” The volley of questions lasted 6 minutes. I wanted to go for a run.

I didn’t know my biological father. I would learn from Jennifer that he was indigent — that’s fancy for homeless. Being homeless means he was a part of society but mostly unseen, unheard, and untouched. He was invisible. Just like in my life; there and not. Present in my enzymes and proteins but not for soccer practice or bed time. No one was looking for him. It took the county seven days to find a relative one mile away. I didn’t even know we lived in the same city. Repeat: I had no idea we both lived in Austin, Texas! There had been divorce, estrangement, distance, and decades. His kinship rights waived long ago. We spoke on the phone once. It was 14 years ago and the conversation was brief. He turned invisible again after that. I never got to run with my father, though we walked on the same streets.

We may have met. I keep spare change and dollar bills in my car to give away to homeless people. I sometimes give away my lunch. I’ve served at food banks and helped box food in South Austin. When my children ask why I give money away, I explain, “This is what kind humans do. We have and they do not, so we share.” I should ask the homeless their names; kind people do that. If I had asked, this story could be different. I am resolved to close the loop and to return kindness for his unkindness. To be present even though he was not. I will be there for whatever service or memorial or tombstone he has. I will try to learn the names of the invisible (especially, high-five-black-man).

Nine days later, the weather has turned. Today the high is 38° Fahrenheit. I do not feel like running. However, I have had many other feels over the last week. Most of all sadness, loneliness, and curiosity. I have been desperate for the nearness of my family. A run with my wife Fran would heal much. I am sad for many reasons. Among them are the circumstances of his dying homeless. Being homeless and dying must be like watching a pot boil. Slowly violent. To die without a place, lonely, and invisible while there is so much and so many around is sad. I’m embarrassed that it happens in our society. I am willing to help.

There are many organizations in the Austin area that provide aid, services, and education to the homeless. Over the next year, I will be giving to money to Caritas of Austin, boxing food at the Central Texas Food Bank, and supporting the Food Pantry at the Austin Vineyard Church. If you’d like to do the same, the links are below. It would make me happy. I will try and run around Lady Bird Lake more often. Most of all, I will learn the names of the homeless I encounter. His name was Johnny.

Caritas of Austin, Tell them Jordan sent you in the comments of your donation.

Austin Vineyard Church, Your donation can go directly to the food ministry. They feed almost 100 families a month.  

Central Texas Food Bank, it’s a great place to volunteer. The people are awesome. It’s great for teams.

If you give to your local charity, linking this article will help them track to source and reasons for your donation.

As a final note I think it’s important to acknowledge that my mother is an incredible woman. The man my mother re-married years later is a loving and caring father. He is my dad. He was always there at soccer practice.

 

LITANY FOR THE HOMELESS

God, we know that many invisible people exist all around us:
People we consider beneath us,
People we judge for what we consider their poor choices or low standards,
People we distance ourselves from because they are unclean,
People who have been ill or made mistakes and fallen through the cracks of society,
The beggars at the gate. (1)

We don't know them,
But you do.
We don't know their names,
But you know each hair on their heads.
We often fail to care for them,
But they are precious in your sight.

Help us to see what your eyes see:
Human beings
Broken and beautiful
Sacred and scarred.

For those without shelter
We pray to God.
For those without jobs
We pray to God.
For those without food, water, and facilities
We pray to God.
For those who have been imprisoned and never recovered
We pray to God.
For those whose minds are befuddled by illness
We pray to God.
For those destroyed by war
We pray to God.
For those overwhelmed by addiction
We pray to God.
For those who have simply lost hope
We pray to God.

In the midst of death and dying,
Of filth and discomfort;
Of hunger, thirst, and exposure,
Come Lord Jesus!

Make us your hands and feet:
Generous sharers and helpers,
Bearers of the good news of your kingdom
Even unto the Invisibles.

Amen

(1) Luke 16
 

Litany for Confession

I’m gradually waking up to the understanding that my greatest and most pervasive sin is lack of compassion, which is to say, lack of love. Sometimes it looks like apathy. Sometimes it looks like pride. Sometimes disgust. Sometimes hurried-ness and preoccupation. Sometimes it looks like laziness. Sometimes it looks like blindness. Sometimes it looks like somebody else’s problem.

It’s all the same thing, the same root cause: a lack of compassion in my heart, a seed that fell among thorns (1). There wasn’t enough compassion to move me. There wasn’t enough to get me to DO anything. Because true compassion MOVES; and true compassion DOES.


If I were sitting with you over wine or coffee I could tell you a lot of stories about a lot of missed opportunities. A lot of times I didn’t say hello, didn’t open the door, didn’t call or send a note , didn’t pull over on the side of the road, didn’t rifle my purse for cash to put in a cup, didn’t want to get up early or stay up late, didn’t want to give up some luxury, didn’t see whatever pain was right under my nose. Didn’t go, didn’t do, didn’t move. A lot. More than I want to think about.

I prayed for a friend the other day who has a long-standing health issue and I felt the compassion of God toward her. She expressed frustration with this. Why should she care if God has compassion toward her if it leaves her in pain all the time? What good does God’s compassion do if she’s not healed of her affliction? I resonate with her frustration--that’s hard.

But how about if I turn that mirror on myself: what does my compassion do? Does it feed hungry people? Does it lament alongside folks who are grieving? Does it care for orphans and lonely folks? Does it speak encouraging words? Does it make peace? Does it foster equality and work for justice? Does it grow legs and walk around? Do I embody it?

Usually not. And sometimes it smacks me in the face, but mostly I get away with it.

Note: I have written this litany in first person because it is my personal prayer. If you want to pray it too, go ahead. It could easily be adapted for congregational use by changing “I” and “my” to “we” and “our."


God,
I have sinned against you in thought, and word, and deed;
In things I have done,
But mostly in things I have left undone.
I have not loved you with my whole heart.
I have not loved my neighbor as I love myself (2).

Half the time, I haven’t even realized my neighbor was there.

You were thirsty and I didn’t give you a drink.
You were naked and I didn’t clothe you (3).

I have gone around blind,
Preoccupied,
Self-absorbed,
Lazy,
Prideful.

I have blamed it on
Family responsibilities
Lack of time
Not my problem
My smallness (4).
Fear of doing it wrong.

If compassion is a seed, then I am the thorny soil (5).

Forgive me, Oh God,
According to your mercy.
According to your great compassion
Blot out all my iniquity (6).  

I have nothing to offer you
Except a broken and contrite heart (7).
Remake my heart out of love,
And let love be the heart of my life.

Amen

  1. Parable of the sower, Matthew 13

  2. This language is adapted from the Prayer of Confession from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

  3. Matthew 25:35,36

  4. Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

  5. See item (1)

  6. Psalm 51:9

  7. Psalm 51:17

     

Litany for Freedom

The lectionary reading from the Gospels for August 21 is from Luke 13:10-17.

I love this part of the story. I get a smile on my face every time I read it. In part because I enjoy breaking rules and sticking it to The Man. It’s the stage-3, rebellious teenager in me. No actually I wasn’t very rebellious until I became an adult and I started to see the cracks in the whole faith-schematic that I was a part of. I came to adulthood in a denominational world of fundamentalism, rules-adherence gospel, and church power struggle. Pastors were routinely “voted out,” having had factions rise up against them from within churches. Families who didn’t follow the rules were made unwelcome.

I witnessed all this. I witnessed an aversion to ecumenicalism, resistance to anything “tainted” by any other theological perspective, and unwillingness to build community bridges. My perception of the church was colored by the fact that there was always drama and disagreement within it. Calvinism was gospel and the gospel was Calvinism, and war was a valid tool for spreading it. The message to me as a young woman was: God is happiest with you if you are married, mothering children at home, submitting to your husband, being quiet and dressing modestly. My interests in theology and leadership were misplaced, so I was told, so I shut them down for many years. I don’t say all this as a judgement; I say it as part of the story of what I experienced as a young person, and what brought me to where I am today.

Eventually that vague sense of dread became a personal revolution. I came to a place in which I said: I don’t want this anymore. This is not good news. I am not sure who I am, but it isn’t who they say I am. Scratch it all, start again. But keep Jesus, I like him even though he confounds me every time I open the book.

Jordan and I married and moved far away from home. We flipped a coin to decide where. We landed by the grace of God in the bosom of a little community that was trying to follow Jesus together, to be emotionally healthy, to work through disagreements in raw but authentic ways. The little church was, of all sacrilegious and heretical things, pastored by a woman! We were a bundle of misunderstood theology, church resentments and wounds, and in the midst of a great deal of life-shock; but gradually we moved toward healing and towards Jesus.

That church broke all the rules we had been taught. Talk about our feelings? Emotional health is important? Reconciliation is a thing? Women can do stuff and the wrath of God won’t descend? We don’t have to choose between faith and science?! There are other ways of approaching scripture?!! ...So many yes’es and so many broken rules that healed our sore hearts, and so much freedom.

So when Jesus does this in Luke 13: breaks the Sabbath, which is a gift and an invitation to be free, and sets a woman (a woman!) free from literal physical bondage on entirely the WRONG DAY OF THE WEEK; I just want to dance a jig, and often do. I think of that woman, how Jesus took hold of freedom on the day which most people considered their hands to be tied: Oh, we can’t do anything to help, it’s the Sabbath too bad so sad we won’t risk incurring God’s anger for one little woman. And Jesus said nope; you’ve got it wrong, the Sabbath is meant to free you not to bind you, the Kingdom is here now and everyday I’m letting freedom ring! Hallelujah! The entire crowd was rejoicing (verse 17), and so am I! Oh, hallelujah.

If you have been freed, or are hankering for freedom, I invite you to pray.

Jesus, so often we miss the point of your invitations.
We strap them to ourselves as weights and constrictions
When you meant them to free us.

You invite us to Sabbath
To rest
To contemplation
To community.

You invite us to think differently
About rules
About assumptions
About what the Kingdom of God looks like.  

You invite us to your revolutionary idea
That the Kingdom is now
That freedom is now
That Resurrection is resurrecting everything.

Help us to go to the scripture, to the rules, hand in hand with you.
     You guiding our thinking,
     You keeping our foot from stumbling
     You pointing out the most important bits.
Help us there to find all the freedom we expect from you
     Peace in every encounter,
     Love in every interaction,
     Joy in every invitation.

Amen

Litany for Changing Times; and, Why I Often Want to Wring Jesus' Neck

The Lectionary reading from the gospels for August 14, 2016, Proper 16, is from Luke 12:49-56. I found it helpful to read Eugene Peterson's translation of it, to get the spirit of it.

I nearly gave up on this week’s gospel Lectionary passage. <Why, Fran? Why did you nearly give up?> Because sometimes Jesus frustrates the hell out of me. I have been following Jesus, with various fits and starts, for something like 26 years. Obviously, something about him compels me. Yes, he does. He is the most compelling character in history, the most pivotal person ever to walk the earth. His coming initiated changes even the secular world admits have profoundly affected the course of history. Not only that, but I really do believe he was/is God in human flesh, walking among us.

Yes I find him compelling, but actually engaging with him can sometimes be a little crazy-making. How can I simultaneously want to worship at someone’s feet and wring his neck? (1) (I am not the only person who occasionally wants to wring his neck, seeing as how an entire group of people did a whole lot worse than that, killing him for no real reason except they found him frustrating. I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here but not too much.)

My journey through reading the gospels is, every single time I go to them, heavy with questions. Why did you curse that fig tree, Jesus? Why did you write in the dirt? Why did you say you didn't come to bring peace, when a few chapters later all you seem to say is "Peace be with you" (*pulls hair out and emits swear-words*)? And this passage is no different for me. Frustrating and compelling in equal measure.

But what I find very comforting here is that Jesus seems to acknowledge my frustration. He just comes right out and validates it: yep, the good news I have to tell you is going to disrupt you, and go against your grain and be counter-cultural and antagonize the powers that be and make you feel uncomfortable feelings and puzzle you and confront all the darkness in you and it’s going to be great so come on let’s go; oh and by the way I’m shifting the entire paradigm of the universe and all your ideas about economy and power and justice are going to need to go out the window.

Thanks, Jesus. Thanks for that. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I’m actually trusting you more because you’re not pulling any punches here.

What he said has proved, in the two millennia since, to be true. What Jesus has to say has been divisive. If you don’t feel like admitting it, just look at the sheer number of denominations of Christianity in the world: it’s estimated to be somewhere around 33,000! (Phyllis Tickle also told me that.) Nobody can agree on how to do faith. But even that is beautiful. We have this beautiful diversity of thought and expression and culture and language and art; all because we disagree.

Still, the times are changing, then as now. And we must interpret them. Some of us will get the paradigm shift, or parts of it. Some of us will recognize that what is breaking in is the Kingdom of God, but some of us will think it’s a burglar. Some of us are going to wage war in Jesus name even though he told us that peacemakers are God’s people. Some of us are going to see grace and choose rule-following anyway. Some of us are going to lock the doors of the church against people we don’t approve of and who make us uncomfortable, even though Jesus actively sought those people out. Some of us are going to fall down and worship Jesus, and some of us are going to want to wring his neck.

 

God, things are changing.
The world is changing.
We feel uncertain and shaky.
We feel anxious.

Questions have arisen that we’ve never had to deal with before.
Give us wisdom.
Shifts in culture and technology have brought problems we’ve never had to face before.
Give us discernment.

We are divided in our opinions of how to move forward.
We want unity.
We disagree on policy.
We want compassion.

We know that the Kingdom that Christ began on earth
Is progressing.
The good news
Is expanding;
The momentum of your will being done on earth as it is in heaven
Is unstoppable.

Even as all around us changes
Your love endures forever.
Even in war, and climate change, and social media, and cultural shifts
Your love endures forever.
Even in theological and political disagreement
Your love endures forever.

Help us to love one another as never before;
Better than before.
Help us to not be defensive or closed-minded,
But open to the Kingdom coming in unexpected ways.

Amen.

 

(1) Some are taking good-natured issue with my irreverence in suggesting (or admitting) that I might sometimes want to "wring the neck" of Jesus Christ. I assure you I mean this in the most affectionate way. Kind of like how I sometimes want to wring the neck of my fitness coach when she invites me to do yet another set of burpees. It's an invitation; one that will benefit me if I commit to it -- I will be stronger, fitter, more apt to live a longer, more vibrant life. But there, in the moment, I have some strong feelings about those burpees, and a strong initial resistance to overcome in order to get them done. (YOU MUST BE CRAZY I CAN'T POSSIBLY DO MORE THAN I HAVE ALREADY DONE YOU ALREADY MADE ME DO A GAZILLION SQUATS AND 700 V-UPS AND YOU THINK I CAN POSSIBLY DO MORE BURPEES NOW OK I'LL DO IT.)

This is what I mean. When Jesus digs in to my points of resistance and it's infuriating and I hate him for half a second for challenging me on them but in the end I am committed and if I can just surrender one more inch to his goodness I will get a priceless treasure, even if it is only simple joy. At least this is what happens to me when I go to the gospels. I don't know what happens to you.

A for-instance on points of resistance: the whole sell-your-possessions thing. I have a boatload of resistance to that one and I'm guessing I'm not the only one because several people have told me they hated that post.  Don't wring the messenger's neck, folks; Jesus said it, not me.

 

Litany for Privilege

The other day I gave an exasperated lecture to one of my kids. My kids are 3 and 5, so I’ll admit it may have been developmentally inappropriate, but I was frustrated and venting and I figure I may as well start them early at recognizing their privilege. The lecture went something like this:


Why are you whining and complaining all the time?! I’m sick of hearing it. You have a beautiful, wonderful life. You are safe. You have a mama and papa who love and adore you. You have a sister who is your friend and who loves you. You have aunts and uncles and grandparents who love you. You play outside all the time. You go on nice outings. You eat nice food. You sleep in a comfy bed in an air-conditioned room. You have plenty of clean clothes. Every aspect of your life is cared for. Do you know what this whining and complaining is called? It’s called ingratitude. That is when we don’t thank God for the blessings God gives us and we don’t appreciate them, and God doesn’t like it and I DON'T EITHER.

So. This mama may have taken a few deep cleansing breaths after that. This mama may have thought about how this child is unable to see her privilege because she has never known anything else. This mama may have realized she was lecturing herself, and recognized that the lecture may have caused a new swell of gratitude in her own heart, and a new commitment to helping her kids learn compassion.

 

God, this life here on earth is a mixed bag
Of joy and pain
Grief and exuberance
Stillness and frenzy.

We don’t get to choose where we are born, or to whom,
But we know you made us and we are your children.

Open our eyes to all the ways we are blessed
That we may share and bless others.
Open our eyes to all the ways we have been born to privilege
That we may live with grateful hearts.

In many ways we are born to pain.
Let us bear one another’s burdens.
In many ways we are born weak and blind.
Let us be kind to one another.
In many ways we are born to poverty.
Let us know the riches of your grace.
In many ways the privilege we are born to blinds us to the pain of others.
Let us be considerate of our brothers and sisters.

May we spread goodness and mercy wherever we go
Regardless of where we come from.
May we find healing and acceptance with you
And know you as the one who gives good gifts.

Amen.

Litany for Mary, Martha, & The Mess

This week’s lectionary text is from Luke chapter 10:38-42 (Year C, Proper 11), the story of Mary and Martha. Preachers around the world will be preaching from that text on Sunday.


10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

I like the story of Mary and Martha. For one thing, I like it when there is a significant story about women, particularly ones with moxie who dare to sneak in an education at the feet of a renowned teacher in a time when not many families would waste an education on a woman.

I also like the story because I feel a great deal of compassion for both Mary and Martha. Martha is mostly cast as a nagging shrew, which I think is a shame. I imagine Martha as the older sister who has spent her life feeling like she has to carry her sister’s weight as well as her own. I imagine that she is bone tired and resentful that all the work of entertaining guests has fallen to her, and the only help she might have had, her sister, has abandoned her yet again, left her to clean up all the messes. I have heard this exact sentiment from my older daughter in reference to my younger daughter: Mommy, she’s not helping pick up toys! We are both supposed to help! And I myself have felt this way; left alone to deal with a slew of messes, the weighty responsibility of keeping everyone happy and fed.

I imagine Mary as a would-be intellectual. I imagine that she’s spent her life yearning to learn, but was never deemed worthy because she was a lowly girl, purposed to serve and birth. I imagine that she sees in Jesus a new regard, a glimmer of life possibility, and she just can’t let it pass her by, her one shot at understanding, her one shot at something bigger than housework. You’ll never be a rabbi, Mary. You’ll never go to seminary. You’ll never teach or preach. But you can sit at Jesus’ feet and listen right now.

I imagine the mess in the kitchen as the other character in the story. It's behind the scenes, the result of the privilege that a bunch of folks got, which was to eat a nice hearty meal for free that someone else prepared. I imagine that they didn’t care what happened in the kitchen so long as their bellies were full. The kitchen was invisible to them. The dirty dishes were not their problem to solve. I imagine that Martha’s love language is Acts of Service and she is getting no love despite the fact that God Himself is preaching the gospel in the next room. She is so overwhelmed by the enormity of her tasks that she can’t hear Jesus speaking, and doesn’t feel free to.

And here we are two millenia later, hearing the story of the woman who had a hard time swallowing the fate of the dirty dishes, and the fact that she got left out of the conversation because she was too busy dealing with her nemesis: the messy kitchen.

I also feel a little peeved at Jesus in the story, and if I were there I don’t think I could resist shoving my elbow into his side and saying, Look at that pile of dishes, they all enjoyed that meal, why aren’t these bozos helping, tell them many hands make short work!! Better yet, if he’s so humble why doesn’t he go help wash up himself?

I understand that the answer is that the dishes aren’t nearly as important as the gospel of the kingdom of God and the presence of Jesus. I get that. I’m just saying I see how Martha might feel. How can we be expected to listen well when things are such a mess?

No really, how can we be expected to listen well when things are such a mess?

'Cause things are a mess and there are a lot of problems to solve. A lot of dirty dishes, if you will. Our national problem of racism comes to mind, but other issues of injustice also. And we have a lot of Marthas who are feeling resentful and abandoned and overwhelmed and left to fend for themselves with the odds against them. And rightly so.

Let’s pray that, like Mary, we can bask in the presence of Jesus and the good news and allow it to get into our bones and inform our hearts, but let's also help the Marthas so they can hear it too.

 

God of grace and peace, give us perspective on our national problems in light of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Give us grace and peace.

Grant that we may have the heart of Martha, understanding our responsibility and calling to peacemaking;
Willing to work hard to set things right.
Grant that we may have the heart of Mary, understanding that the presence of Jesus in our midst is the most important thing to seek;
Willing to seek first your kingdom.
Grant that we may have patience with the mess we are in, understanding that transformation is a process,
Willing to take the first steps.

Jesus, we invite you among us now
That we may sit at your feet.

We say to the worried and distracted,
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
We say to the spiritually hungry,
The Kingdom of God is near.

May we know the treasure of the presence of Christ,
The peace of the presence of God;
God among us,
God with us.

And may we set our distractions aside, making space to hear your voice, and only then setting about our work,
To be the hands and feet of Christ in a worried world.

Amen

 



 

For Alton Sterling and Philando Castile: Prayers from the BCP

I sat down yesterday to write a litany about Alton Sterling. To offer some mourning or lament or ask God for a fresh round of hope, a dose of something alive that might help. I had nothing. And then I looked at a news site this morning and discovered that another black man, Philando Castile, was killed last night, also by a cop.

Still I have nothing. Maybe tomorrow I will have a prayer to pray of my own. Not today.

So, I went to the BCP. That’s the Book of Common Prayer, for all the Protestant Evangelicals who, like me, had never seen a prayer book other than Psalms. There I found a few gems of helpful goodness that could .

I was especially inspired by a few phrases from a Prayer for Ordination of a Deacon, which says:

...[C]arry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord...  (p 540)

Racism and violence have grown old and must be made new. From the ground up, we need a new paradigm. We have outgrown them, but some parts of our society are not letting go; some are choosing to remain enemies, mired in corruption. Kyrie eleison.

This is, for me, the beauty of written prayers: to have somewhere to turn when my own emotions have overwhelmed me and dried up my ability to pray on my own; or when the thing I need to pray about is unthinkable. This is why I write prayers, and why we can lean on the prayer books that have been handed down to us. Pray with me now from the Book of Common Prayer*.


Prayer for the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son;
Look with compassion on the whole human family;
take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts;
break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love;
and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen (p 815)

Prayer for the Future of the Human Race
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen ( p 828)


Here I have pulled out some lines from The Great Litany

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord deliver us.

That it may please you to bless and keep all your people,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to make wars to cease in all the world; to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord; and to bestow freedom upon all peoples,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to have mercy upon all mankind,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
Grant us your peace.

Kyrie eleison. (Lord, have mercy upon us.)

 

Grant us grace to entrust Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to your never-failing love; receive them into the arms of your mercy, and remember them according to the favor which you bear unto your people.
Amen (from “Burial I” p 481)

 

Thanks Be To God
for the collection of prayers of the saints throughout the ages
which give a light in dark times.
Amen

*I use The Book Of Common Prayer according to the use of The Episcopal Church
Oxford University Press, New York.


 

Litany for Trump and Hillary, or, What To Pray When You're Worried

I love to vote. The year I turned 18 was an election year, and I drove 2.5 hours from college to my hometown just so I could vote in the presidential election for my first time. I appreciate the right to vote. I think voting is, not a perfect system, but a strong one. As a woman, voting is an especially cherished right. When I think about women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and others who organized, were imprisoned, and in some cases died fighting for women’s suffrage - you can bet I’m damn well gonna vote.

We vote all kinds of ways: on ballots, with dollars, by participation. Some we are conscious of, some are tacit. This is human economy. This is a system of government generations of people, people we know and love, have defended to the death, mostly with honor and courage and good intentions. I’m grateful that I live in a relatively safe society (tragic events of this weekend notwithstanding, we are generally safer than, say, Syria), a relatively free one, a relatively functional one, a relatively just one; thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of those women and men who came before me and stand around me. I think we collectively are grateful.

We’re grateful, but everyone seems worried lately. 49 people were gunned down this last weekend, which is worrisome to say the least. We are worried or angry or both. One group is worried that Trump is going to be elected president. Another group is worried that Hillary Clinton will be elected. The other group is worried by the idea of either candidate arriving in the White House as one of the most powerful politicians on the planet, potentially causing the whole voting-economy-government system to crumble. We're convinced that someone is going to send us all to hell in a handbasket.

I’m tempted to worry too. I’m tempted to stew on my bafflement. I’m tempted to judge and condemn people with whom I disagree. I’m tempted to stop trusting in Jesus and start trusting in a politician or political party or system of government to save me from my fate of brokenness, war, poverty, sickness, consumerism, greed, hatred, and power-hunger. I’m tempted to bury my head, withhold my vote, stop reading news and interacting with people, and indulge in false consolation. I’m tempted to get stuck in anger.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think there’s any voting in the Kingdom of God. I think the best system we’ve come up with for governing human beings doesn’t even come close to the goodness of God. I think our best attempts at a fair and functional economy cannot compare with the gold standard of the currency of God, which is Gracious Love. I think we cannot even conceive of the Justice of God, and our best imitation of it is only a shadow, subject to corruption. I think the best political leaders the world has ever seen will bow before Jesus along with the rest of us when he comes.

So.

I wonder if there’s another way for me aside from worry and anger. I wonder if there is a way to walk on top of murky waters. I wonder if there’s anything I can do that might be helpful. I wonder if there’s an alternative to despair.

If you are worried and wondering too, I invite you to pray with me.


 

Maker of All Things, we invite You now
into our feelings of discomfort, confusion, anger, fear, and worry
over How Things are Going to Be.

We are reminded:
That Jesus did not resist the political regime of his time,
     but instead preached the Kingdom of God.
That Jesus did not condemn or punish,
     but instead healed, fed, traveled, talked, and ate meals with people.
That Jesus did not worry,
     but instead prayed when he was troubled.

We acknowledge that human leaders are flawed.
We acknowledge that human systems fall short.
We acknowledge that hardship is always present this side of eternity.

We acknowledge that Jesus will save the world.
    Not a politician. Jesus.
    Not a judge. Jesus.
    Not a celebrity or even a pastor. Jesus.
We acknowledge that Jesus has already begun that work;
    In us, with us, through us, Jesus is saving the world.
We acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is expanding, unstoppable.

We ask for Your Gracious Love.
We ask for wisdom and compassion.
We ask for strength and courage to do our best work for Your kingdom, work that will last.
We ask for goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives.
We ask for our faith to grow.

We set aside worry; instead we take up grace and peace, which You offer abundantly.
We put our hope in Jesus Christ, and in His kingdom.
We give thanks that our future is safe in Your hands.

Amen