In Pursuit of the Spirit: Spirituality and Politics

spirituality and politicsOur church community has been struggling with questions of spirituality and politics over the past few months. At our most recent General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (USA) made some controversial decisions about same-sex marriage and our financial investment in companies connected with the State of Israel. While I’m sure that some congregations are struggling with the decision over same-sex marriage, the struggles in our community have surrounded the decision to divest from three companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. I know there are people on both sides of this issue, and there are a range of reasons why people are for or against this particular decision, but what I find most surprising about the conversation is the number of congregants who believe the church should not be involved in politics. [Read more…]

Making Sense of the Charge and Benediction: Children in Worship, Worship for Children (Part V)

charge and benedictionIn this series, we have considered how we can help children engage in worship, particularly during the summer months when there is no Sunday School. We have asked how we can help kids in worship become aware of God’s presence in their midst, hear God’s Word through the Scripture readings and sermon, and respond to God through prayer, music, and offering. In this post, we will consider how we can inspire children to do God’s work in the world and help kids hear God’s blessings for them. In a traditional service, these happen in the last moments of worship through the charge and benediction. It is a time of summation, exhortation, and blessing. Depending on the church and the pastor, the charge and benediction can be anything from a standard formality that takes the same form every week to a mini sermon that varies from week to week. Whatever the format, how can we help children in worship hear and understand the charge and benediction? [Read more…]

9 Creative Ways for Kids in Worship to Respond to God: Children in Worship, Worship for Children (Part IV)

In this series, I am exploring ideas for how we can help kids in worship participate and feel included, particularly in these summer months when Sunday School is often on break. In earlier posts I asked how we can help kids in worship become aware of God’s presence and how we can help children hear God’s Word through Scripture readings and the sermon. After the hearing of the Word, most worship services incorporate a time for responding to God’s Word through prayer, music, and the giving of the morning offering. In this post I have compiled nine creative ways we can adapt these practices for kids in worship. Some of these are ideas that can only be put into practice by pastors or other church leaders, but some of them can be adapted by parents to use if their church doesn’t offer opportunities for kids to worship. A number of these ideas could also be incorporated into a family’s life and/or done in the home as a way of engaging in family spirituality.


Prayer Ideas for Kids in Worship

1) An Invitation to Write or Draw Prayers

Have 6 small pieces of paper for each child in worship. On 3 of the pieces, ask kids to write or draw 1 thing, person, or moment they’re grateful for. On 2 of the pieces of paper, ask kids to write or draw 2 people they would like the church or congregation to pray for. On the last piece of paper, ask kids to write or draw 1 thing they’d like to ask God for.

Have a way to collect the papers either during the service’s prayers or after and be sure to include any appropriate prayers in future liturgies or prayer chains. Asking kids in worship to pray is only half of the equation, we also need to show kids that their prayers are heard and important.

[Read more…]

In Pursuit of the Spirit: Defining Spirituality

In Pursuit of the Spirit-Defining SpiritualityFor a period of time, I owned the domain Although I never did anything with it, and I eventually let it lapse, I thought it would make a good site for a spirituality blog. Spirituality has become quite popular in both religious and secular circles, but I think it often comes with connotations that can be unhelpful. For some, spirituality is a kind of new age voodoo that involves communing with nature, being intentionally un-religious, and/or a lot chanting. For others, the term brings to mind spiritual disciplines and there is a sense of rigidity, rules, and confining structures that were part of an ancient Christianity, but no longer seem relevant. And for still others, the term spirituality is so vague and pervasive that it seems hopeless to even try figuring out what it’s all about.

Not that these exaggerated impressions are completely off-base, there’s an element of truth in each of them, but they all serve to keep us at arm’s length from spirituality. And that is unfortunate because at its most basic level, spirituality is simple and easy to grasp. The very thing that often deters people from diving in and exploring spirituality (the plethora of definitions and descriptions, the overwhelming number of practices and places to begin, the sheer volume of literature on the topic in both printed and digital media) is also what makes it so “user friendly.” There are so many places to start, so many different definitions to consider or try on, so many practices with which to experiment. We just need to let go of the idea that there is a “right way” or a set path to follow if only we could find the definitive guide.

When I first started studying spirituality in college, every book I read either defined spirituality differently or didn’t bother to define it at all. Realizing this, I thought that if I could just read enough books I’d eventually see a common thread and I would know what the term meant. I was wrong. I came to realize that there are as many definitions of spirituality as there are books about it, if not more. Rather than trying to condense them, I needed to define spirituality for myself—figure out what I meant when I used the term.

For me, spirituality is our attempts to recognize and respond to the Spirit. Holy Goose Poop might verge on sacrilege, but when paired with the tagline “following the droppings of the Holy Spirit,” it does a good job of conveying my approach to spirituality. Celtic Christians have long imaged the Holy Spirit as a goose: noisy, messy, and not the least bit concerned about getting in your way or inconveniencing you. Wild and free, many geese move with the weather, sometimes signaling the changing of seasons before we’ve begun to notice and sometimes honking their way overhead late in the season, seemingly intent on alerting us to the already obvious change in weather. Imagining the Holy Spirit as a goose keeps us on our toes and prevents us from domesticating God. And spirituality, I would argue, is all about following the Spirit (looking for its droppings, attending to its abrasive honks, and noticing the changes its flight often signals) and learning how to respond.

There’s no “right way” to do spirituality. It’s all about finding the practices or triggers that help you begin to notice the movement of the Spirit in the world. And if you’re not sure what the Spirit looks like, start by looking for the things/people/places/events that make you feel energized or inspired, calm or at peace, happy or full of joy. Often, those are signs that the Spirit is calling you to those things/people/places/events. Head in those directions and see where it takes you . . . .

This article originally appeared on Coracle.

7 Ideas to Help Kids Hear God’s Word (Through Scripture): Children in Worship, Worship for Children (Part III)

In this series, I am thinking out loud about how we can help children experience and take part in worship. This week I’m wondering specifically how we can help children in worship hear God’s Word through the scripture passages that are read and the sermons that are preached.

This past Sunday I did the Children’s Moment during worship and asked the kids if they heard any words in the Scripture reading that they didn’t know or understand. Despite the fact that the reading was only one verse long and used the word ‘covet’ a number of times, all I got were blank stares. I suspect most kids in the pews simply tune-out the majority of what is said in worship. [I remember doing that as a kid, playing tic-tac-toe or hangman on my bulletin, waiting for the children’s message or a hymn, biding my time until I could leave.] I don’t think that kids tune-out because they dislike church, but rather because they sense that worship isn’t really meant for them.

[Read more…]