Thursday, May 31, 2012


There is a wall post on Facebook that says "Cousins are our first friends," I wonder how many people really have that experience anymore. I got to thinking about this because I have been in contact with four of  my cousins this month: one by phone, one in person, and two on Facebook. It's a record!

A rare day with lots of cousins!
I didn't grow up with cousins nearby - I had fourteen on my mom's side but they were scattered from Colorado to Texas to Cameroon, West Africa. We were rarely, if ever, all together. My dad was an only child so none at all on that side of the family. It's both interesting and exciting to me that as we are aging some of us are becoming more interested in getting to know one another.

I think it has something to do with context. We are starting to wonder how we got to where we are, and that involves getting to know where we came from. One of the cousins I talked to this month works with immigrant children. The church where I work has an Indonesian Fellowship meeting on the premises. We compared notes on the immigrant experiences we observed and wondered together about our common immigrant great-grandparents, and their children, our grandparents, and how much their first generation experiences mirrored the ones we were seeing around us.

The faith context is evident as well. Though we have had very different "church" experiences, the faith of our common ancestors has filtered through the generations and is also a context we share and compare. Our common grandmother was determined that we would all be together in heaven. Knowledge of how important that was to her has probably influenced more than one of us to seek the Lord, or to turn to God in times of trouble.

Each of the cousins carries part of our genetic heritage. This one has the height from that branch of the family. This one has hair just like so-and-so. That one looks so much like Uncle X it is amazing. "Well you know I got this nose from Grandpa Y." We can also learn of shared health histories - things we may not even know about when we are so scattered.

Time can be measured in cousins too. Stories are often "dated" by who had been born that year. Photos can be assigned to a specific Christmas based on who is or isn't present in the picture. Each birth was an event; every new marriage helped place events in time.

The number one subject of all our conversations though is our parents. Though they are nearly all gone now, we still talk about them. We exchange stories about each other's parents that we heard from our parents, and stories they told about themselves as children that featured their siblings who grew up to be our cousin's parents. We also see our parents through our cousin's eyes, which is often enlightening too. It is fascinating.

Parents are important. Kids care deeply about knowing their parents. Keeping up with cousins supports that. So tell your kids stories about your sisters and brothers, even if you don't get to spend time with them. Help your kids feel as if they know their aunts and uncles and grandparents. It will help them relate to their cousins. Share family history, both good and bad, without judgment. Give your children a larger context to fit into.

Love transcends all generations. Love binds us together. And ultimately, it is love that connects us to the source of all love - God. Cousins are one more place to look for love, and most likely find it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


"I will send you an advocate."  An advocate is one who supports, defends, or intercedes on behalf of another. This was Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. I thought about that text this week when I encountered a parent interceding on behalf of her child,  defending the child for something the child had failed to do. I believe this to be one of the things that we are called to be as parents: our children's advocates. We are to support them, defend them, and intercede on their behalf. It is holy work.

Some of us do this too often and too much. We are the helicopter parents that educators complain about. We are so much in their business that it becomes our business. We stick up for them in situations where they ought to stand up for themselves. We make excuses for them. We get involved in their disputes with other children, and try to get college professors to change their grades. This is not good advocacy.

Others of us advocate too little.  Perhaps we believe that our children need to stand on their own two feet; we believe that if they expect someone else to defend them they will be disappointed. Maybe we hate or fear conflict so much that we won't get involved, even when our own children have suffered an injustice, or when they are up against an adversary they are not equipped to handle. This is not good advocacy either.

As with most things in life, finding the right balance is not always easy. In my years as a parent I have sometimes been overly protective and sometimes not intervened as I should have. None of us will do it perfectly, but it is important to look at situations and carefully consider what our role  should be: supporter, intercessor, or defender. All three are means of advocating; which one is best?

I think Jesus sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to the disciples for things outside of their own skills and abilities. I doubt that the Holy Spirit got very involved in Peter and Andrew's fishing ventures. They were competent at fishing even  before Jesus arrived on the scene. The Advocate, however, showed up on Pentecost when it was time for the disciples to come out of hiding and testify to what they had experienced. That was a big deal, a big crowd, multiple languages, lots of soldiers, lots of fear, lots of discernment and wisdom required, and in that case the Spirit supported them, gave them the words and the courage.

Maybe this is the model we parents should follow. Let our children navigate the day-to-day business of their lives and advocate for them when the big deals happen: when they face something new, when tragedy strikes, when they have a job that's bigger than their training and experience has prepared them to handle. In between we can wear some of the Spirit's other titles: Helper, Counselor, Friend, Comforter, Wisdom. In this we don't replace the Spirit, we merely imitate the spirit in our own limited and human fashion. We are, after all, created in the image of God, and the Spirit is God. The Spirit came to us, and to our children, in baptism. As we advocate for our children, know that there is one who supports, defends and intercedes on our behalf as well!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


It has been said that the church is a crossroads - a place of intersections. It is the place where daily life and eternal life overlap. The place where fear and faith and doubt and dreams all meet.  It is the cross road - the place where we  pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, and where we lay them down. The place where we are reminded that there is One who makes the load lighter; One who gives hope and light and love. 

All the of following are taking place at my church this week:

  • Confirmation 
  • Pre-school graduation 
  • Job interviews
  • A wedding 
  • Celebration of a retirement 
  • An end of school picnic 
  • A funeral 
  • A last day of work 
  • Meetings to plan for summer
  • A special Eucharist 
  • Teacher appreciation
  • Last day of regular Sunday School

At the same time, people are experiencing:

  • High school and college graduations
  • Traveling relatives
  • Surgery or health issues
  • Babies being born
  • Applying for summer jobs
  • Houses being sold or renovated
  • Kids coming home from college
  • End of school year events
  • Vacation and camp preparations
  • News of great sadness or great joy

Weeks like this can overwhelm families. Come to the crossroad and rest with your baptismal brothers and sisters. Come and refresh at the font, soak in the familiar and the family, float in forgiveness and love - if only for an hour. It will put everything in perspective.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wild Thing! You make my heart sing!

Have you ever wondered why children like scary stories so much?  Why they terrorize themselves with monsters under the bed and in the closet? I am wondering about this (not for the first time) because Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, passed away recently. “Wild Things”, was a beloved bedtime story at my house. Also beloved was Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, and The Boxcar Children series. All featured brave characters venturing out on their own. We moved on to Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, and Pippi Longstocking with more tales of bravery and challenge. I didn’t read the grim Grimm brothers to the girls – I thought they were far too scary for bedtime.

As the girls got older we read pretty much everything that Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches) and Lynn Banks Reid (The Indian in the Cupboard series) wrote. The perennial favorite was The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a story about a brother and sister who run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  The children in these stories face all kinds of scary situations – hunger, violence, loss of parents, witches, giants – and they all prevail (actually not that different than the scary Brothers Grimm.)  At some very elemental level children seem to know that it is good to face scary things vicariously before they have to face them in reality.

Is that why they like to be scared so much? I wonder if this might be an organic part of their faith formation: A way of learning that the world is kind of a scary place; a way of learning that they have an advocate within. Through literature they get to sample the scary things of many generations, because the scary creatures or circumstances in the books usually reflect the historical context of each author’s childhood. Some generations are defined by war, others by exploration and expansion. Often the fearful thing is defined by something that is missing: a parent, money, or friends. I can’t help but wonder if a lack of familiarity with church and a supernatural God contributes to the current magic and vampire trends in children’s literature.

Whatever the trend, there is fodder for faith talk running through it. Read to and with your kids. Talk with them about what the characters choose to do, and why. Share your own stories of faith and fear. Your children will be blessed.

I am grateful for all the authors who have enriched the lives of children, whose descriptions of monsters and giants and wild things have prepared them for life. Pastor David Hansen of Brenham, TX posted this lovely epitaph for Maurice Sendak this morning: “’And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.’  And now, Maurice Sendak is where someone loves him best of all.”

Thanks be to God, who helps us face our fears.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Roll the Stone Away

Last week I really struggled to write my post. Let's call it blogger's block. Someone suggested that the best way past the block was to write about it, and in doing so I got to thinking about obstacles. The Easter story has its own big obstacle: the stone that seals Jesus into the tomb. In Mark's account of the resurrection, the women on the way to the tomb worry about the stone blocking the entrance. Here's where those thoughts took me next:

The stone that blocked the entrance to Jesus' tomb was big. I think a lot of big things can block the way: big expectations, big money, big talk, big promises, and big disappointments. The sheer size of big things can block the entrance to where we want to be. For me, that thing is usually a topic too big for a five-hundred word treatment - but it might be something that is so big that it distracts me from the task. Does your family have any big stones? Is there anything out of proportion? Any obstacle to the family life you want to have?

The offending stone at the tomb was also heavy. It weighed too much for the women to simply roll it. As I take on obligations, their collective weight can become an obstacle that blocks my way - either because it slows me down, or worse, completely crushes my creativity. Sometimes we just have heavy loads to carry. If your family is carrying a special burden, whether it's grief, physical or mental illness, unemployment or debt, then you know the obstacles heavy burdens can create.

The women came to the tomb equipped with oils and spices to care for the body. These were the tools for the job they knew how to do, but they didn't come equipped with tools to move the stone away. I may be very capable and well-equipped, but circumstances for which I lack the proper tools can block my progress too.  Nobody starts a job with fewer tools than a parent. We mostly come equipped with memories of how our parents did it, a few observations of other people's mistakes, and maybe a book or two about raising infants and toddlers that we read while we were expecting. Lack of tools can block your family from the home-life you want. 

Oh such a downer! Obstacles everywhere! But wait! Just as the women at the tomb ultimately didn't have to roll the stone away, neither did I and neither do you. God rolled the stone away. Whether by earthquake or angel, a stone can be removed by a power greater than your own. Or God will give you the strength,  wisdom or tools you need to remove the obstacle. The Risen Lord will not be blocked! Let the stone be rolled away!