let them lead

20140907_103544Instead of a Rally Day service where grown-ups encourage kids and acknowledge church school teachers as we begin our church program year, this year we gave the day over to the kids. I prepared the liturgy and–with help–worked with the kids.

When I started thinking about the service, I thought I would do something that emphasized children. A Samuel story or Joseph or David. Maybe the boy having the fish for the feeding of the 5000; however, it was a communion service, and I had the John Bell refrain stuck in my head: “God bless to us our bread / and give food to all those who are hungry / and hunger for justice to those who are fed. / God bless to us our bread. / Bendice Señor nuestro pan…”

I decided to let go of kids playing kids or telling a story about kids and let them remind us of what it means to ask for bread and justice.

If you work with kids and don’t have John Bell and Alison Adam’s Sing with the World album, you might be missing out. We began the service with a 6th grader playing his saxophone for the prelude. Then the kids processed in with the cross, a pitcher of water which the young person poured into the baptismal font, and the bread and cup which the brother and sister placed on the communion table. The kids sang “Come all you people, come and praise your maker.” Originally we were going to do this with shakers (and have done in the past), but with only 3 weeks and one of them labor day weekend to practice, I let that one go. It was fine. Then one child led the Call to Worship and the kids sang “Cantad al Señor” first verse in Spanish and English and the congregation joined in the 2nd and 3rd in English. Another child led the Prayer of Confession.

Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth.

Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth.

Using a narrator and character parts, all reading more or less readers theatre style with minimal costuming, 3 groups of kids did 3 scripture readings that dealt with bread or justice: Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath (feed the man of God and you will have bread for yourselves), Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Why shouldn’t you heal my daughter even though I am a foreigner?), and following directly on that in Matthew, the lesser-known feeding of the 4000 (Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread, as will be echoed in the communion liturgy that would follow). After each reading, the kids gathered around the microphones and sang the refrain: “God bless to us our bread…”

Our only 3rd grader receives his Bible.

Our only 3rd grader receives his Bible.

After the scripture readings, the pastor gathered the children and called up any who hadn’t participated and talked about what they had done and what it meant to lead worship and gave our solo 3rd grader his 3rd grade Bible.

(In case anyone missed it, the embodying of the scripture by the children and the “Time with Children” in which the Pastor spoke to what the children had done were, in fact, the “Proclamation of the Word” in accordance with the Book of Order (NFoG). I was told afterword that we were out of order because there must be a sermon to have communion in the PC(USA). Yes. There must be the Proclamation of the Word. If you didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, I’m so sorry.*)

20140907_110501After the Time with Children, the kids made their way to the choir loft except one solemn boy who stood behind the communion table with a stole around his neck and handed the communion elements to the pastor as she spoke the sacred words and broke the bread and poured the cup.

20140907_110843As communion was served, the children sang again “God bless to us our bread…” this time including a prayer over the music and the Spanish words. The organist played the recorder and our music guy played the piano. When they had finished, the organist continued playing and the kids re-entered the sanctuary to join the line for communion and then find seats with their families.

I am often serving communion, but I had asked not to so that I could see to the children. Therefore, I was able to join the line with my daughter and receive with her. I serve her, but I don’t usually receive with her, and I am usually served by my partner rather than the pastor. There is nothing more sacred about being served by the pastor. It is the Lord’s table; not the pastor’s table. But she is my friend and my mentor as well as my pastor, and I let myself stand in her line because I usually don’t. It was a holy moment for me, watching her serve my daughter and then serve me.

And that was it. The boy who played the saxophone led the congregation in the prayer after communion, the closing hymn was “Jesus Loves Me” to bring the service full circle, the pastor pronounced the benediction, and we left.

People loved it. It was amazing. The thing people kept saying was that the kids weren’t cutesy and they weren’t performing. They had a sacred task and they fulfilled it.

We had three weeks. My kids were the only 2 who were there all three weeks, and the boy child didn’t participate in the end. So we had three weeks and different kids every week, including a kid who came with the neighbor on the first week, I gave her a part, and we didn’t see her again until the actual service when she came and brought her family. I was terrified Saturday afternoon. But Sunday morning as they all showed up early to rehearse, I was able to let myself relax and let the Holy Spirit in and they (the kids and the Spirit) pulled it off. I am thankful that we have parents who work with their kids and a music volunteer who makes practice CDs for the kids (Those practice CDs save us. Our carpool makes up about half the kids and they listen to and sing with it every day driving home from school whichever car they are in).

It was incredible. I have a script and an order of worship I’d be happy to share if anyone is interested, but when I prepared it, I did what I have done with the Christmas Pageants the last couple of years, I started with our kids and who they are and what they can do and with a song I wanted to use and I shaped it from there.

Also, we did this in lieu of a Big Pageant this year. In December, we’ll be doing an Instant Pageant, giving families a break in the overwhelming Holiday Season.

*For the Presbyterians among us who wonder about the woman  who told me I was wrong, here’s what the current Book of Order states:

Whenever the Lord’s Supper is observed, it shall be preceded by the reading and the proclamation of the Word.

The Book of Order talks about preaching and then it has a section on “Other Forms of Proclamation.” The above, does not say “preached;” it says “proclaimed,” and it gives a variety of ways to proclaim:

The Word is also proclaimed through song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas and oratorios which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, spirituals, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. Drama and dance, poetry and pageant, indeed, most other human art forms are also expressions through which the people of God have proclaimed and responded to the Word. Those entrusted with the proclamation of the Word through art forms should exercise care that the gospel is faithfully presented in ways through which the people of God may receive and respond.

Pretty sure the people of God received and responded (and actually the Time with Children was a sermon, but it didn’t have to be). I was angry because the woman “went to Former Pastor and asked him” to make sure she was right and I was wrong before she came to me. That’s a pretty big breach of order in a Presbyterian church, and he has dinged me on other things that he has called “wrong” that are simply a difference in practice, always when the current pastor has given her endorsement to what I am doing. So. Let it go. Everyone else knew the Scripture was Proclaimed.

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monday morning musings

School started last week. I sent my kindergartner into the world.


1st day






And here, at the end of the day, are the three 2nd grade friends:

2nd graders






This year WordGirl is in class with the girl but not the boy.

Having a kindergartner means I have a few hours at home alone a couple days a week. I haven’t quite gotten those hours sorted as I would like, but it’s a pretty amazing thought. I might even find time to blog. I enjoyed thinking and writing about A Wrinkle in Time in the last couple weeks.

GGMy grandmother died at age 91 a few weeks ago. We all had the chance to see her in the hospital and to say goodbye. The memorial service in my uncle’s home the Saturday before school began. It was a good day. She probably deserves more than a few sentences here. She has certainly been much more than a few sentences in my life. She was a young and fun Grandma to me, and she has always been a part of my life.

Rather than a Kick-off Sunday or Rally day at church this year, we are going to have the children lead worship the week after Labor Day this year (though they have all been back in school already). I planned the service like I have the Christmas pageant the last couple years with our kids and a couple songs in mind, using the theme of the Lord’s Feast (it’s a communion Sunday) and the refrain “God bless to us our bread/and give food to all those who are hungry/and hunger for justice to those who are fed/God bless to us our bread.”

We began working on the service yesterday in our new education format where we don’t lament how few people come for the 9:30 education hour and how many come with their kids at 10:30, but we mix the education hour with the worship hour, integrating the kids into worship in the first half of the service, and, 3 weeks out of 4, having them go to their own Space for the Word (and we are working hard to integrate what is happening in the sanctuary with what is happening in KidSpace so the Time with Children can work as a kind of anticipatory set and families can talk about the same scriptures and themes on their way home). We’ll see how it goes. (I’ll write more about this sometime, but the longer post does not belong in the Monday Morning Musings.) My kid was pretty happy about the change in format. She loves Church School and likes the first half of worship, but has less interest in the sermon and long prayers.

I’m trying to spend some of my Extra Hours purging and housekeeping. I need to move forward with that task.

Tonight I have a Youth Core Leadership Team meeting. Tomorrow night my Circle (Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study) has our annual kick-off for the year at a local Mexican restaurant. Thursday is Back-to-School night. Then I’m finished with evening meetings for the month.

Meanwhile, with two kids to send off to school with their dad at 7:40 every morning, we’re trying to figure out how to make mornings work. I want lunches made and clothes put out the night before, but we keep having late activities and we’re hurried and exhausted for dinner and bed and so we’re not there yet. (And maybe we never will be. I suppose one can learn organizational skills like that, but they do not come naturally to any of us.)

Finally, the GirlChild and I are reading the first Harry Potter book together. She is younger than I had planned, but there is this Lego iPad game and I don’t want the game to spoil the book for her, so we are reading the book. As I read, I realized that right now, at age 7, my daughter is Hermione Granger. I know almost all my close friends and I have a bit of Hermione in us, and most of us can relate to her, but really, my daughter is her. I think she will eventually fight a troll and find her way out of the stage of absolutisms–she is 7 and it is a normal stage–but there it is.

On a side note, we are reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone because I do have the British editions of each of the books. I was appalled at the obvious Americanizations in the 1st book, and so I found my way oh so many years ago to Amazon.co.uk and ordered the 1st 4 (I began reading them just after #4 had been published) and, subsequently, each of the others. I don’t think any of the others were as obvious as the first one was, though. I had a poetry teacher in graduate school (a British woman who taught modern American poetry. Loved her.) suggest that there may not have been nearly the brouhaha there was over the witchcraft stuff if they had simply left the title alone and called it Philosopher’s Stone (a real made up thing in alchemy) and not switched it to Sorcerer’s Stone (a completely made up thing that put sorcery right in the title).

So. Happy Monday. I’m going to go try to sort some boxes.

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plain and awkward

And here is Kristin’s follow-up to the blog conversation: Heroines, Plain and Awkward. After wondering why movies can’t include more than a narrow ideal of beauty for women, she comes back to books like Wrinkle and the depth of portrayal of someone who seems real.



Posted in Books, Films | 2 Comments

can meg be unattractive?

Disney has announced a new version of A Wrinkle in Time adapted by Jennifer Lee who co-wrote and directed some little film with strong female leads you might have heard of if you happen to be alive: Frozen. I posted the announcement on that ubiquitous social networking site with the line “this has potential.” Kristin and I had a brief exchange about casting:

KB-A: Oh the important casting questions. I hope they don’t make the Meg character all glammed up. She needs to be studious and Calvin needs to be athletic, and they can find each other regardless.

BG: I also immediately went to the casting of Meg. It’s kind of like Jane Eyre. They never make Jane plain enough. They never make Meg awkward enough. (Might make an interesting blog post; would truly plain or awkward heroines make audiences too uncomfortable in a way that book readers aren’t?)

This is my stab at the aforementioned blog post. If Kristin writes one, too, I’ll link it. The following is simply from my own observation and musing. It is not academic. I am sure there have been studies done and papers written, but I am not accessing outside information.

Meg, in this 2003 TV Movie, is not “glammed up” per se, it’s a fresh and simple look, but it is ridiculously attractive (no glasses? Really? They’re an integral part of the plot and the essence of who Meg is):
meg_murryHere is her description in the book, “She looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror and made a horrible face, baring a mouthful of teeth covered with braces. Automatically she pushed her glasses into position, ran her fingers through her mouse-brown hair so that it stood wildly on end, and let out a sigh almost as noisy as the wind” (8). She once overheard herself described as “‘that unattractive girl'” (12). Compared to her mother, her “plainness” is “outrageous” and a hair cut makes her look “even plainer than before” (15, 16). She is also described at various points in the first few pages as aggressive, sullen, and belligerent. She is unattractive, especially to herself, perhaps, but the book makes it clear that other people see her that way, too, and not easy to like, at least when she is with people who make her uncomfortable. She’s not good in school, not good in sports, not really good at anything except math, and she can’t even show that in school. The book is as much or more about her journey to accepting herself, faults and all–Mrs. Whatsit, “Meg, I give you your faults” (121)–as it is a science fiction story about 2 kids and a friend saving their dad from a distant planet. The darkness on Camazotz, the idea that making everyone be exactly the same is a kind of evil, highlights the theme of Meg accepting her differences: “‘Maybe I don’t like being different,’ Meg said, ‘but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either'” (170-1).

Meg is an awkward, difficult teenager whom people love anyway, and I think that’s part of the reason so many of us identify so deeply with her. She was not someone we aspired to be; she was who we actually were.

The question becomes, how does that get translated to film, and is it possible? It’s one thing to read about an awkward, geeky character who is belligerent and aggressive. When I’m reading I can translate that any way I want in my mind. It becomes, perhaps, a version of my own type of introverted social awkwardness. I’m also pretty sure my own sense of Meg is somewhat more attractive than the descriptions I quoted above.

Also, my idea of what those descriptions mean differs from others. Kristin said “studious” and I said “awkward.” Those adjectives might correspond or they might not. She sees Calvin as “athletic,” and that is absolutely the case (“Meg was pleased and a little surprised when the twins were excited at having Calvin for supper. They knew more about his athletic record and were far more impressed by it than she” (55)), but, in spite of that, I see him as tall and gangly with bright red hair and freckles, tall and skinny rather than “athletic.” Two careful readers, both of whom have doctorates in literature, see these characters at least somewhat differently. No matter what the filmmakers do, it will be someone’s vision, and that vision won’t necessarily be wrong (except as above, when they leave off the really specific details like glasses and braces–though braces have changed so much since the 60s, that if the film is set in the present, that detail might have to be changed for the sake of verisimilitude), but it probably won’t match mine.

My real question, though, is this: on film, where the characters and actions are presented to us, and there is not room for recreating those characters in a way that works for us in our minds, can a heroine be truly unattractive, both physically and in manner, and have us connect with her? How does she become lovable? In the story, by being loved, but we have to want to love her. Does making her slightly more attractive both physically and in manner help us do that? Could we grow with her if she started rough and began to soften as she gets to know Calvin and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and Aunt Beast (maybe my favorite section) and find her own strength? I would like to think so. But I guess this is my concern: given Hollywood’s track record of making heroines attractive, I’m not sure we will have the opportunity to find that out. (Think Hermione who is lovely with a nod toward “bushy hair” from the beginning of the first Harry Potter film or Anne Shirley who is played in the enchanting mini series by the ever lovely Megan Follows, and always Jane Eyre who can be made up plain-ish in movies, but is never ever actually what I would call plain.)

As I said originally, I think this new film has great potential, but even Anna and Elsa are beautiful princesses who can then also be strong female characters. huh.

Posted in Books, Films | 3 Comments

anna & anne

I was walking and listening to a podcast conversation about 1 John (the epistle) and Kathryn Schifferdecker (Luther Theological Seminary) said something along the lines of: if we reverse the verse to “Love is God” we get our society’s version where Hollywood makes “love at first sight” or “finding your soul mate” the ultimate goal in life.

My first thought was that Shakespeare may have contributed to this idea.

My second thought was that Frozen plays with that concept and turns it around so that, while love is still the ultimate goal, it is a self-sacrificing kind of love among various members of the community (yes, Anna saves Elsa and the sisterly bond is foremost, but Kristoff also acts in unselfish love as does Olaf).

Then I thought about the Hans vs. Kristoff romantic aspect of Frozen, and wondered what other stories were similar. That’s when it hit me. Anne of Green Gables. Princess Anna bears a striking resemblance to dear old Anne.

anna 2012-05-anne-of-green-gables-bookThere are the obvious bits:

  • Red hair
  • orphan
  • spunky/exuberant

Then there are the slightly more subtle bits: They both grew up in lonely, isolated worlds where they were their own only company. Anne talks to her own reflection as “window friends” or “mirror friends.” Anna talks to the pictures on the wall: “Hang in there, Joan.”

They both have a preconceived notion of what “true love” should look like. When Princess Anna sees that vision in Prince Hans and when Anne sees it in Roy (full name Royal) Gardner, they think it’s real because it looks like what they have created in their imaginations. It turns out that this ideal of “true love” is false, and they find themselves in love with the down-home kind of guy who has been there for them all along, who is actually their emotional and intellectual equal, but most decidedly not the dreamy ideal.

There may be other connections, but that’s my first pass at it.

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solstice picnic at the peak

gator skaterThe day started with a skating graduation. They invite families to join the skaters for a complimentary skate session (which we didn’t realize and none of us but the GirlChild had socks, so CG ran to the Dollar Store to set us up). The kids wear felt caps that match their level colors and skate across the floor to receive certificates and goody bags. Then there’s cake.

Later, our Mutual Friend (the one who introduced Computerguy and me 11 years ago Wednesday) had invited us up the hill for a solstice picnic on the peak.

wrong year, right label

wrong year, right label

We were joined by another couple and their teenage son. I brought a caprese salad, a salami, and a bottle of wine I had picked up at TJ’s months ago and had been saving for an occasion.

We met at OMF’s house, had a glass of wine, and drove as far up the mountain as we could (and we had the excitement in our car of getting pulled over for pulling out directly in front of a police officer. If it matters, CG who was driving had NOT had a glass of wine). Once we took care of that little side adventure, we parked on the side of the road and–arms and backs full of food and wine and blankets–hiked up rocks and dirt (what our mountains are made of) to a flat rock kind of plateau where we set up our picnic. (We felt sympathy for the solitary woman wearing headphones who was already there and seemed to be attempting to enjoy the evening alone. She left shortly after we arrived.)

We spread out blankets and food and I lazed contentedly, sipping wine and chatting with the women, while Computerguy hiked around with the kids and the teenager flew a kite. Eventually we settled down on the blankets and shared a feast of lentils with curry and chicken with potatoes and cabbage salad and salami and caprese and baguette and grapes and chocolate chunk cookies. As the sun began to set, I read a Mary Oliver poem for Summer and the other woman played her bagpipe chanter and we all watched.

It was pretty spectacular. Old friends and new acquaintances, a celebration of our cyclical world, an evening of something a little different than the usual. It was great and I appreciate the invitation, and the thought put into making an occasion.

I was being too lazy to pick up the camera, so I must content myself with the sunset photos CG took.

sunset 1 sunset 2

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june 4th


I wrote this last year. This year marks the 25th anniversary. (Also, I suppose, 25 years since I graduated high school.)

Originally posted on Bookgirl:

I was a senior in high school. I would be graduating soon. I had written my 2-minute salutation a week or so prior so it could be vetted by the graduation coordinator. In the speech, I interwove events from the year in the news, popular culture, and school culture (e.g. people lined up in Russia for food; they lined up around theaters in the US for the opening of the 3rd and final (hah!) installment of Indiana Jones; and they lined up around our school for the sold out performances of Grease, our spring musical). In the speech, I talked about the hopeful student protests in Tiananmen Square. And then June 4th happened. The tanks rolled in. I had to change my speech between writing it and delivering it because what looked hopeful and peaceful had become deadly. It cemented those events forever in my mind.

Jemma writes here

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