The Feast of Saint Krolik

When we met our oldest daughter for the first time, we brought her a small stuffed bunny. We called him Krolik, because that’s the Polish word for rabbit. Adoption from a Hague Convention country such as Poland requires at least 2 visits: the first to meet and agree to adopt the child, the second to stay as a family through the bonding period, court proceedings and visa-approval. So we needed a surrogate for what ended up being 4 months between meeting and starting to love her, and actually being able to lovingly parent our daughter in person forever. We needed a part of ourselves to show her we would come back. Krolik did that for us.

As is my modus operandi I thought the book was the point. The adoption agency had suggested we bring a book to give her as a gift on the first trip, and I had bought one of those Hallmark books where you can record yourself reading the book, so that as she turned the pages she’d hear us. I bought the little bunny as an after-thought because it was sitting next to the “Guess How Much I Love You” book in the display. We don’t know how often our beloved daughter looked at the book we had left with her in that interim period, but when we returned she didn’t seem too interested in it. But the bunny – he was her constant companion.

And Krolik was hilarious! He jumped and flipped and kissed by nuzzling nose-to-nose. He was just the right size for her little hand to grab him by the neck, the perfect companion for exploration. It was understood by all of us that Krolik was an essential player in any action we might take – indoors, outdoors, awake or asleep. But he liked to tease us. Sometimes he’d rocket across the floor of a museum, as if to say, “Can you find the real masterpiece in this picture?” Sometimes we’d rush into a cab, only to look around checking for all the necessities, panic-stricken until we spotted him on the bench we’d been waiting on outside.

We only lost him once, and it wasn’t abroad. It was in the drug store closest to our home. When we arrived home without Krolik, my cheerful, compliant daughter refused to get out of the car. She couldn’t tell me why, but it didn’t take long for me to figure that out. Like the mom in “Knuffle Bunny” my first thought was, “Where’s the bunny?” We rushed back to the drug store and re-traced our steps. The employees had just changed shifts and hadn’t seen us earlier. As we turned to leave, there was Krolik sitting atop the checkout that wasn’t being used – too high for my daughter to have put him there – so somebody must have seen him on the floor, known he was much beloved, and raised him up for those who would surely return for him.

Many adoptive families celebrate a specific “family day” and some even call it “gotcha day.” For us, it was such a gradual process, and meeting our daughter was followed so quickly by leaving her again for months. Plus the court date was in the middle of our second, extended time in-country together, so we decided to observe the first day that we took over from our surrogate parent, Krolik, as our milestone. We call it The Feast of St. Krolik, or Krolik’s Day for short, and we go out for carrot cake.

Months after our first Krolik’s Day (1 year anniversary), when I became visibly pregnant, what we had been telling our daughter about having a baby in our family and becoming a big sister became real in a way that surprised my husband and I. And if we’re honest, also hurt a bit. She tossed Krolik aside – physically out of her bed – for a baby doll. On one level, we understood. She was adjusting and living into her new role as protective older sister. But Krolik wasn’t just a bunny; he had stood in for us. He was the physical personality that had communicated in our absence how much she was loved. And he made every day a rollicking adventure.

When Little Sister was about 9 months old there was a resurgence of favor for Krolik, mostly as a baby-tickler. Now he’s making another comeback, but to be very clear, now like every doll or stuffed animal in this house of two daughters, Krolik is most definitely a “She”. We love her so much and are amazed by her every day. And Krolik too.

It has been an adventure-filled 5 years.

God Is In This Body

God lives here now. In this body, these bodies. God is aching with tired muscles and catching the flu and detecting cancerous cells and over-eating and going senile. God is in danger of being shot. God is denied advancement because the body God lives in has a uterus. God is starving this very body, because a perceived standard of beauty is so distorted it creates eating disorders. God is trapped in detention because the body God inhabits was brought across the border as a child, has no other home to go to, and no path to citizenship in this country.

It is scandalous and offensive to claim that a human body is God’s temple, God’s dwelling place. You bet it is; it is supposed to be. More offensive even than disrupting business in the Temple. The place where God meets us, is here – not in a spiritual sense, but a physical one. When you look into the eyes of Jesus or Isa or Yeshua, you are gazing into a temple in which God dwells.

One professor described Jesus’ actions in the Temple as performance art. It certainly has that effect. Flipping the tables of the money-changers, driving out the animals that were prescribed by God for the celebratory sacrifices in Hebrew Scripture, throwing coins on the ground like they were rocks. It provokes a reaction, maybe even a visceral, physical reaction from everyone who witnesses it.

About 5 years ago, a Cuban artist named Erik Ravelo created a set of photographs to highlight the plight of children, vulnerable in many ways throughout our world. In each one, a man is standing with back to the camera in the shape of a cross, and a child is hung on them, as if Jesus on the cross. A child dressed in Middle Eastern clothing, hung on a soldier refers to the on-going conflict in Syria. A child in school uniform, hanging on a gunman wearing a hoodie. An obese child, hanging on Ronald McDonald. And others. The images provoke an immediate visceral reaction. They’ve stuck with me, obviously for years, haunting other images I see.

The uproar around this series of photographs was really telling, though. People were offended that Mr. Ravelo used the image of the cross. That there were children’s bodies, in some of them, although all were at least partially clothed. The artist had to respond: “I still don’t understand why some people are mad at me, but they’re not mad about those problems. Some people get offended by the photos but not by the problems the photos want to talk about.”

God lives in this? Not in the artist’s depiction, but in the actual horrible desecration of children’s bodies that happens every day in our world? Or women’s bodies? Or elderly bodies? Or brown bodies? It’s offensive. It is heart-breaking.

I used to consider that the overturning of the money-changers’ tables in the Temple – at the beginning of Holy Week in the other 3 Gospels besides John – maybe contributed to the religious authorities feeling murderous enough to have Jesus crucified by the end of the week. But in this version, it seems like making a mess of the Temple was just a way to get people’s attention so they could question his authority and hear something more scandalous in his answer: when he refers to God’s Temple, Jesus is talking about his own body. “Jesus was not just ‘wearing’ a human body like a set of clothes. He was a human body, as inseparable from his body as you are from yours. And God was inseparable from him.”

What if God meets us in our bodies? When the Jews said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” what they were asking is, what authority do you have to do any of this? Christ’s authority is his body. He, like you, is made in the image of God, beloved as he is, so can walk through the world – and even rage through the world – acting with that authority.

Might we develop a different relationship with bodies if we actually trusted that God dwells here – our own bodies and other people’s? We don’t have to love Alzheimers or addiction or our bodies’ genetic predispositions, but as we abide in Christ and he in us, we are now the temples in which God dwells on earth. We can love the temple because God lives in it, in whatever state it is in.

When we exercise, tiny micro-tears occur in our muscles, which the body then repairs and adapts the muscles to better handle that activity. That’s how we develop strength in these bodies, through tears. These temples are in a constant state of flux: being torn down or built up, changing, aging, harassed, healing. And that’s the sign that God dwells here, not perfection.

Now, a warning against bad theology when our bodies are broken: I heard Kate Bowler a church history professor who has stage 4 colon cancer, discussing her book “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” earlier this week. She talked about well-meaning people trying to make the destruction of her body carry some meaning or purpose, perhaps to tame the chaos and make life and God less fearful for themselves. She said in the MPR interview: “I loved my life before. I want it back.” The “after” is not better, more meaningful. But of course you learn things by experiencing how fragile all of us really are.

We learn too, how fragile God has chosen to be, by living in human bodies. Now that’s love.

We don’t want to believe that this is the point – that God lives and acts in frail human bodies. But there it is. Our bodies are so precious to God. It seems like a non-sequitor to most of our faith, like Jesus’ comment to people who are talking about the Temple, only he’s referring to his own body. We try to make our faith about belief or eternal life after death. But really it is about bodies, struggling through this life. Can these dry bones live? Can this brokenness ever hope for something better? Who will put themselves out there to physically block the bullets from my body? What happens to all our bodies matters deeply because God lives here.

Text: John 2:13-22

No Greater Love Than This: Ash Wed in a Congregation Awaiting Re-development

John 15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This congregation is in a very specific moment, for which Valentine’s on Ash Wednesday is the perfect weird combination. In re-development, you are invited to lovingly embrace the death that leads to resurrection. Maybe it will be the death of things “we’ve always done this way” or death of expectations for the staff’s time, or the death of your control over the building or death of an unconscious hope that things will somehow return to when this church was in its “glory days”. Any of these could feel like a loss, and judging by how committed this core group of people are, it could also feel like a death of part of who you are. But it is not defeat; it is love. It is plunging into the waters of baptism in order to be born again, drowning the old self so the new might emerge. By the power of God’s limitless, unconditional love, death is the beginning of resurrection.

Jesus invites us to abide in him as he abides in the Father. How did that go? Well, Jesus submitted himself so thoroughly to the will of the Father – loving us even in our sin– that he died. The Father endured the heartbreak of losing a child, so that we would know definitively: we are all God’s beloved children always and forever.

What does it look like for faithful church members, of a certain demographic, to abide in Christ as he abides in God? Can you live into Christ’s body, emptied of himself for the sake of others’ resurrection? Can you live in God’s heartbreak over God’s only child for the same unconditional love? “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And it is clear in re-development that we’re not just talking about “friends” as those you are already close to, but those you will choose to love although they have no claim of family loyalty over you. It is always a loss, a sacrifice, to put someone else’s needs first. But for “friends” who are not even related or perhaps similar to you in any way? That requires deeper sacrifice, more akin to death of our will.

I’m not sure any of us can actually muster up that love. Maybe for our children or parents or beloved spouse or dearest friend. But for the “friends” we haven’t met yet? I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. But Jesus does. God the Father/Creator does. No one has greater love than Jesus has shown, in dying by human hands, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, or God in bringing a child into the world who would do so. Their acts of love, facing death for love of us, expose the complete injustice at the core of our beings. Yet once it is exposed to the light and air, our sin can be cleaned out and begin to heal. It is nearly unfathomable, this love; it is shown by facing death. So if Hope is to attempt this new birth, the resurrection of re-development, you will need to abide completely in Christ. Clothe yourselves in Christ, live “hidden” in him, embody “God with us.” Then you stand a chance, of death revealing the greatest love of all.

 

Both sides of the stole

This stole carries a lot of transitions.

I wore it – white side out – today for Transfiguration. By (Ash) Wednesday I will turn it over for purple, the color of Lent. Today I read the Gospel when Jesus’ robes were turned dazzling white, and God spoke directly to the inner circle of disciples saying, “This is my Son; listen to him!” Then I preached about the shadows in that scene of dazzling light, to a small congregation about to get some very disappointing news: the pastor they were eagerly anticipating is not coming after all.

So I showed them my stole.

It’s not just a job well done by whomever made my stole, that the celebratory festival/season and penitential season of anticipated grief are sewn together, back-to-back. There’s more transition, joy and grief in it than even that.

My family bought this stole at the Poznan Cathedral, the oldest in all of Poland, while adopting our oldest daughter. Adoption creates a resurrection, new life for an entire family, but the new life only and always comes out of fear and grief.

“I will wear this stole before you, every week for awhile,” I said. “It will seem like a long time on one side, but eventually we’ll see the other side again.” At Easter.

Resurrecting the Stories that Hurt Us

“Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Jesus_mother_Peter

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

This is one of those Scripture passages that raises the hackles on the back of my neck, and likely the same for other ordained women in ministry. Those who have questioned the legitimacy of women’s ordination or even women’s roles outside of the home will use this passage to say, “See? Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus so she could get up to serve him. That’s a woman’s place.” Now, those aren’t sermons preached in an ELCA congregation, but even in a church body that has been ordaining women since before I was born, those two verses stop me in my tracks. The fever leaves and she immediately gets up and serves them? With only a pause long enough for a comma? Come on, disciples of Jesus, someone should have said, “Please, rest. We’ll take care of the guests and family for awhile. Take care of yourself. We love you.” Anything along those lines would have been welcome. This is a frighteningly accurate portrait of how we use the “worker bees” in congregational life, many of whom are women of a certain age. Let’s do better at taking care of each other, especially for those whose work is often behind the scenes making everything run smoothly without any of the credit. So little credit, in fact, that “Peter’s mother-in-law” doesn’t get her own name, but is defined by a man in her family; just for today, I’m going to call her Miriam, to remember that she has her own identity.

Miriam actually does a whole lot more than getting up and serving the disciples, with Jesus’ help.

She is the first to be resurrected.

You see, the word used for “lifted her up” is the same one translated as “raised her up” – as in “resurrection!” This is what resurrection looks like – not just for women, but for all of us. When Jesus takes your hand, and raises you up, you are meant to use your renewed life to serve others: Women, men, children, all followers of Jesus! This word will show up repeatedly in the Gospel of Mark, as Jesus heals people; he’s bringing the resurrection into their lives. There’s no account of Jesus’ actions after his own resurrection in the Gospel of Mark but the disciples are instructed to go to Galilee, where Jesus did all these acts of healing to remember what resurrection looks like. But this Miriam’s story is the first resurrection story of all of them! Let’s consider her for just a minute. We know she’s a mother-in-law, so imagine: probably past the age of bearing or raising children herself. Possibly past the age of being pursued by men who find her attractive. But certainly not – as Jesus’ actions suggest – past contributing to the good of her community and the work of God in it. Huh. I guess a woman’s primary value is not just in producing or raising children, or providing an outlet for the sexual drive of men. Well, I’ll be. If that was her worth, then Jesus could have just let her succumb to the fever, and started the cascade of resurrection healings with somebody else.

Now, if you have been through a serious illness or injury or even childbirth, and healed to the point of returning to your previous life, resurrection might ring true to your experience; just to be able to do the most mundane things for yourself again is like a breath of new life.

But other times we don’t spring back. We don’t end up being cleared from the nursing home, or maybe your condition is chronic and is not going to get better; or new parents struggle with postpartum depression. We don’t know if our Miriam sprang back into action without any side effects. Jesus still extends a hand to raise you up to new life, but instead of returning to the old one, it is to a “new normal,” and we have to learn to navigate what service to others looks like for us now. Part of your new way of interacting could include a new-found empathy with those who are suffering. The “new normal” is new life, it’s just different because we have been changed by our suffering.

After Jesus raised her up, Miriam “served” them (not just Jesus, but the whole lot of them). The word for “served” is the same one we use for ministering, “diakonia”, from which we get “deacons” those rostered leaders who are consecrated to “Word and Service” instead of Word and Sacrament. Miriam is not only the first resurrection story, but the first minister, here in the first chapter of Mark. Serving epitomizes Jesus’ own ministry: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). As one commentator noted, Miriam “is an icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.”

Huh. I’m feeling less defensive and more loved by this story. So now I’m going to do something a little unusual, and talk about the sermon itself: meta-preaching, if you can follow me.

Notice the process I took, in dealing with this Scripture that has been used to hurt people like me.

  • I named the interpretation that is unjust,

  • gave a personal connection of how it hurts me,

  • then gave an alternate interpretation based on a detail of the Scripture that maybe we haven’t considered before.

This is one pattern for speaking to the damage done by bad theology, or toxic churches in people’s past. That may be part of your calling in re-development. You know, it’s kind of hard to exist in our country and not have some exposure – especially in the media – to somebody’s unhealthy version of Christianity. So even if they’ve never been to church, most people have some impression of it and it’s not good. It usually involves the church condemning people for some part of their identity, with verses taken out of context to justify it.

Martin Luther described Scripture as the cradle in which the Christ child lays. The Scripture – especially given how easily we misuse it and twist it to our own agendas, must be read through Christ: all that he was and did. Such as resurrecting one whom others might write off as past her prime, as the first minister of his legacy of resurrection. You might want to have some short, pithy notes about Jesus in your head, adaptable to many people whose faith has been damaged by a church or Christians:

Jesus saw the value in everyone (even those possessed by demons, mother-in-laws, children).

Jesus can bring us back to life after any kind of loss, even death.

Jesus gives us new life so that we can serve others. That’s what we’re about.

That Christianity will not alienate. It only lifts up to new life.

Sermon for a congregation awaiting re-development, on Feb 4, 2018

Gospel – Mark 1: 29-39

Credit to Prof. Karoline Lewis for inspiration: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5052

Honestly: The Truth About Us and Our Neighborhood

You know what is deadly to God’s work in the world or in us? Pretending we’re good, or okay even.

Gospel: John 1:43-51

“Can anything good come from there?” Let’s correct Nathaniel’s wording first – can anyone good come from there – and remember we’re talking about people. Children of God. Beloved to their families and in theory, to us as their siblings in Christ. Are they still all of these things, no matter where they come from? Yes.

I’ve always heard, read, and thought that the implication behind Nathaniel’s cynical remark was that Nazareth was perceived to be a backwater place, middle of nowhere, the opposite of worldly. But this time a commentary by Professor Thomas Slater named something that actually sounds like the opposite. “Nazareth sat in the heart of Galilee, a region populated by Jews and Gentiles from several ethnicities. Positively, it could be said that it was a diverse region. The Jewish communities, at most, constituted about 60 percent of the Galilean populace. Judea was over 90 percent Jewish. Those in Judea paid the temple tax, kept the rituals more rigorously, and were less likely to intermarry. On the other hand, Galilean Jews were less likely to pay the temple tax, more lax in regard to ritualistic traditions, and more likely to intermarry.” Hmmm…sounds like the East Side.

What if Nathaniel was critical of Nazareth not because it was out of touch with the world, but because it was so diverse that the “real” Jews didn’t consider it pure? There is something so much more reliable about a homogeneous group. We know we will speak the same language – figuratively and literally. We can hold each other to standards that are, well…standard. We can ensure that our traditions and institutions will go on in perpetuity as we have known and loved them. Diversity can feel threatening in its unpredictability.

As Lutherans – in a 99% white denomination – do we really believe anything good can come out of diversity? Not just grafting people on who fall right into step and assimilate, but those whose different ways of doing things or even different beliefs or understandings will change ours? It is really hard work. And if everyone does not intend to become multi-cultural – it won’t work.

 

We have to be honest about why we are doing what we’re doing, you know?

Bigotry has no place in the beloved community, or in following Jesus. But it is the place in which Jesus meets many of us, like Nathaniel: still feeding off our prejudices. Acting like we know what “those people” are like even though we have no experience with or interest in knowing them. Or maybe we have just a little experience, and think that is enough to go on. You know what is deadly to God’s work in the world or in us? Pretending we’re okay, or good even.

Just before Christmas I heard Marlon James, a Jamaican-born writer and professor at Macalester College, talking on MPR about the 6 month anniversary of the “not guilty” verdict in the case against Geronimo Yanez, the police officer who killed Philando Castile, near the state fairgrounds in the summer of 2015. Professor James lamented that people insist on seeing themselves as “good people;” so we only want to see racism as a malicious problem. If I’m not a malicious – intentionally harmful – racist, then I’m not one at all. There are malicious racists, of course, and now they think it’s fine to be public about that. But if at base level racism is a systemic problem, then even those who think we are not can talk about or have pointed out to us how we are contributing to the problem at any given time, without becoming horribly defensive about it. Because we are part of the system, and we can’t see clearly to change anything unless someone turns the light on.

“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” Jesus describes Nathaniel with what almost sounds like a compliment, because at least his prejudices are out in the open. He’s not burying them deep, then unconsciously sabotaging the mission of the Messiah because he won’t deal with his own baggage. It spills out of him. And it’s horrible. And God in the Flesh engages him, tells him that he sees him, and Nathaniel is changed. Suddenly he’s declaring Jesus the Messiah. I hear Jesus’ response as saying, “Whoa, slow down. Let’s not be ‘all in’ because of a comment about a fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” But if Jesus had gotten any more specific about those greater things, Nathaniel might have cut and run. We all would.

Seeing “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” would certainly be impressive, but is truly astounding is how God can and will take a person like Nathaniel – or any one of us in our prejudices – and transform us until we are telling everyone who will listen that we are all brothers and sisters, loved unconditionally by our one heavenly Parent. It is a long and painful process to get there, and it ends at the foot of a cross. Disciples like Nathaniel mess up a lot: following Jesus, while trying to keep children away, and women who demand justice, escaping crowds of hungry folks and people from Samaria and other places they would refer to with slurs. The gradual transformation of these folks, through daily living with Jesus seems like his greatest miracle, maybe even more so than rising from the dead.

Telling the truth about ourselves is a starting point for God coming to us, and getting us to follow. Having our luke-warm responses called out, like Martin Luther King called out the white moderates in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He wrote, 55 years ago: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

King was right. And so was Jesus. Getting it out in the open is the first step, as long as we are committed to getting beyond just naming our prejudices, but fighting against them, so we can follow Jesus faithfully.

Might I suggest: Phoebe Finster, Minister?

Four days after Christmas, our 3-year-old read aloud her new book from the back seat of our car. Except she can’t read; she had memorized Rosie Revere, Engineer. Now, our youngest daughter is a book lover of the highest order, and I’d already read this delightfully rhyming book to her at least a dozen times by then. But I also like to imagine that the speed with which those words implanted in her memory has to do with the empowering message of this and another book we love by the same author, Ada Twist, Scientist: Girls can do anything, and live into their callings as their natural aptitudes are supported by others.

Nowhere in either book does any character breathe a word to the heroines even implying, “You can’t do that because you are a girl,” or “Girls aren’t suited to that.” Although “Girls in STEM” initiatives are working hard to reverse those misconceptions we know they are still prevalent. Yet in the world of these books, not even a whiff of such prejudice exists. The adults in their lives are quite bewildered by their experiments, and laugh (Rosie) or discipline (Ada) the girls, but it’s never about gender. Readers follow along as the girls follow their curiosity, do what comes naturally and others navigate how to relate to them. The calling of each girl is never in question; only how their families can support them is.

We need a book that summons a world where that could also be true of a young girl I’d call Phoebe Finster, Minister. Becoming a clergy person is certainly a process of tinkering, uncovering natural abilities, and finding support for such a vocation both internally and externally. Undeniably part of the appeal of Andrea Beaty’s excellent picture books are her clever storytelling and engaging illustrations by David Roberts. I’m not trying to infringe on their trademarked genius. But I wouldn’t mind consulting (call me)! Here are some of the elements I would suggest:

Rosie and Ada both bear names with historical ties to their passions. Phoebe is named by Paul in his letter to the Romans as a leader in the early church: (Romans 16:1-2) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” Or you might choose from the names of the first women to be ordained in various denominations in the U.S., although those time lines vary wildly, and so many mergers have occurred that virtually none of those denominations still exist in the same way now. So, I’ll continue to call our heroine Phoebe.

While Ada’s focus is questions about how things work and Rosie’s is making gadgets to solve problems, Phoebe must be invested in the power of words. She could read voraciously, play with words, delight in words. She could walk around making analogies between things she has read and situations she encounters. She is an interpreter of meaning in both ordinary and extraordinary situations. How is God experienced? Through the words in sacred texts, but also in interactions of human beings, awe-inspiring nature, and the effort we make to bring abundant life out of both.

In direct contrast to her penchant for words, Phoebe would either possess an innate sense or develop an understanding of when words are not helpful, especially when sitting with people in grief or anger. We call this the “ministry of presence.” For instance, if her friend’s pet dies, our heroine could be shown listening, or just putting her arm around her buddy. Later she could find the words that – while not telling her friend how to feel – express what the beloved pet meant to them, and commit them into God’s care, and those doing the praying to providing ongoing support.

Phoebe might, like myself, really appreciate a good theme. Is she planning an event for others, a ceremony, or a project? First she would talk her way into a theme that could resonate with many people, then point all the details towards said theme. Her theme would not only uplift people’s spirits, but point them towards some good they can do in the world. For example, she might rally all her friends to think of kind gestures towards the friend whose pet died, such as visiting the animal shelter to play with the pets, or organizing a collection of drawings and stories about the pet. Or eventually she might convince the bereaved friend to help her throw a fundraising event for the animal shelter. Perhaps this friend who has experienced loss might not even be a child, but an elderly neighbor, since ministers spend much time crossing the boundaries between generations.

The gifts of one who pays attention to words, meaning and nurturing empathy are quite different from STEM tendencies, but the same principle applies. We nurture natural aptitudes and love young people for who they are, so they can change our world for the better, effective immediately!