Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"You Want Some Cheese with That Whine?" Message, September 18, 2011, Pentecost 14

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God had a change of heart about the calamity that God had said God would bring upon them; and did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to God and said, “O God! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O God, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And God said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Holy One, our God, appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then God said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus said, “For the realm of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Sermon “Want Some Cheese With That Whine?”

Will you pray with me? God of justice and love, open our hearts to all your people. Give us grace to see others as you do, worthy of your blessing and healing; equally your children with us. May we see with your eyes, the eyes of love and comfort and caring. In the name of your child Jesus the Christ, amen.

As many of you know, I grew up with four sisters, and we usually got along pretty well—still do. But there were sometimes difficulties, of course—with five siblings, it would have been a miracle otherwise! One issue, hard as it may be to believe for those of you who grew up in the 80s and 90s, was ear piercing. In the late 60s and early 70s, “nice girls” didn’t often get their ears pierced. So I remember that my older sisters had to wait until they were in university to get their ears pierced. By the time my sister and I were asking to have our ears pierced (and this was before any other kind of piercing was mainstream!), it was considered OK, if a bit wild, for teenage girls to have their ears pierced, So I had mine pierced when I was 14. My mom, who believed that the doctor should do such things, figured she might as well take my younger sister in at the same time to get hers done--she was 11. Well, there was a bit of family ruckus, as you can imagine. My older sisters thought it unfair that we younger ones got to have our ears pierced earlier than they had; on the other hand, I thought it was unfair that my younger sister got to have them done at the same time I did.

It’s one of the most common whines of childhood, isn’t it? “That’s not fair!” And I don’t know about you, but my mother’s response often was, “Life is not fair.”

But life is about more than fairness—it’s also about justice. And there’s a difference between what is fair and what is just. It might make sense to think the two belong together but they simply don’t. Sometimes there is fairness in justice and sometimes there is not. There’s a saying the Canadian Mental Health Association uses that I like: “To treat every one the same you must treat some people differently.” In order for everyone to get the level of care they need, some people get more attention—because they need it—than others. In the end, everyone has been given the care they most need—which is justice—even though some have gotten more care than others—which is not “fair.”

It’s somehow a human trait, though, to see only what we have received—or not—and make that the measure of fairness. We feel we deserve whatever grace has been given us but we are often—if not usually—unhappy to see it given to others. As a scholar put it, "It is simply a fact that people regularly understand and appreciate God's strange calculus of grace as applied to themselves but fear and resent seeing it applied to others." Those workers in the vineyard resented the latecomers earning as much as they did and Jonah resented the Ninevites their repentance.

Jonah was, in fact, that whining kid we all carry in some part of ourselves, tucked back in some corner of our minds or hearts. Now, this section of the book of Jonah may be surprising to you—it’s not what we think of when we think of Jonah. We’re coming in at the end of Jonah’s story in this reading. We have all heard the fist part of the story, I think—God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance to them, and he refuses. Jonah goes in the exact opposite direction, in fact, heading to Tarshish, and God sends a storm, which threatens to sink the boat, so the sailors, at Jonah’s suggestion, throw him overboard. He’s swallowed by a “leviathan,” generally understood to be a whale, which dumps him, after three days, on the shore near Nineveh. So Jonah gives in and goes to Nineveh, preaching repentance. And, as he had predicted, the Ninevites listen and repent.

This annoys—angers, actually—Jonah. And this is where the part of the story we read today comes in. He’s angry because—get this—the people listened to him and repented, and so they will not be destroyed.

Does this make any sense to you? Why in the world would it make Jonah angry to know some people repented, especially since he was the one telling them to do so?

Well, here’s a bit more information. Nineveh was understood to be a cesspool of evil, the worst possible place to be—wicked and dastardly, everything awful you can think of. Jonah is disgusted by the people of Nineveh, and feels they are too evil to ever repent and be saved from destruction. He doesn’t want to go there—we are not told why. Maybe he felt they were too corrupt, too set in the ways of wickedness, that they would never repent, that he would be wasting his time going there. Or maybe he had more faith—he knew that they would repent and change their ways—and then he would be responsible for them, he would have to accept them. He would have to overlook, or accept, their past, and be cordial to them and share fellowship with them---he would have to see them as equals. And he did not want to do that. And so Jonah loved the plant that God sent more than he loved the Ninevites; and he was angry unto death that they had actually repented, were wearing sackcloth and ashes, and were mourning their sins. Jonah had been successful and yet he regretted it. He did not want them to repent and be saved—did not want them to have the same reward that he had. Jonah resented the grace they were given.

Sounds like those workers in the vineyard that Jesus tells us about in the reading from Matthew, doesn’t it? The ones who had worked all day got the same pay as the ones who only worked an hour or two. The Ninevites, who had just repented, got the same reward as Jonah, who had been faithful to God all his life.  And so Jonah was stamping his foot, crying, “That’s not fair!”

But God is not about what is fair. God is about justice. God’s justice gives grace to all, to everyone, whether we humans think the recipients deserve it or not.

And my friends, this should be reassuring to us, not a source of frustration or resentment. Because if God gives grace to others—whose faults we can clearly see, even if we think God can’t see those faults, or chooses to ignore them—then surely God will give grace to us. We know our own faults, even if we don’t like to admit them. If God gives grace to all people, then we are included in that all.

It’s tough to realise people who have hurt us or others, people we think of as irredeemable, being loved by God just as much as God loves us. People who tell us we are less than, people who reject us, people who hurt the ones we love—and yet, God loves them, gives them grace as much as God gives us grace.

If we can learn to see this, too, as a gift, then we will be much closer to God’s realm, to what should be. Every one of God’s children gets what she or he needs—not what she or he deserves—including us. That, my friends, is grace. That is God’s gracious love for each of us.

In all God’s many names, amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Changes after a Crisis...A Response to the RevGalBlogPals Post

Ch-ch-ch-changes… Songbird, at RevGalBlogPals, asked if we had made changes as a result of 9/11. 

Yes. Yes, I did. 

The horrific events of that day were not the only influences on those changes, but I did feel a sense of finality—yes, I must do this in light of processing what happened.

I was in the second year of my seminary internship at a wonderful parish in the suburbs of Washington DC. We had a lot of federal employees in the congregation, and foreign service members from non-US countries. My then-husband was retired from the US military, although working for them as a civilian. Most of our family and friends were employed by the federal government or other official or semi-official agencies (my sister-in-law and her husband, for example, worked for one of the utility companies). 

It was a couple days after a successful church picnic which I had coordinated—I was feeling great about my coursework—a class on Psalms, with one of my favourite professors among them--the internship was going well, it was a gorgeous day. We had used a park shelter for the church picnic, and I had to return the key to the local recreation department. To this day I don’t remember why I couldn’t return on the Monday, but I couldn’t, so Tuesday I drove to the rec headquarters and dropped off the key, then took the scenic route to the church.
The drive is clear in my mind, almost every turn and vista, the sunshine on the trees, not yet beginning to turn, the summer flowers still blooming strong. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking of—classes probably, we were in the second week of them; or possibly some remodelling I wanted to do in the house, or about my son’s just-begun 7th-grade year. I was possibly also thinking about the events of about a year before, when my father went into the hospital for the last time. 

I arrived at the church and stopped in to say hello to the church secretary, whose office was on the way to mine. We chatted, and when the phone rang, I picked up my bags which I had put down to chat, preparing to head down to my office and begin my day. The secretary waved at me, though—it was my husband. I took the call there at her desk.

He said a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York; I got the sense that it was thought to be deliberate. 

We wheeled the TV from the youth room into the office, and gathered to watch the news, in between calls to locate family members. The second plane hit the other tower. I talked to my sister-in-law who worked near the White House. They were being sent home, but she carpooled and had no idea how that was going to work; there were rumours of explosions, of Secret Service snipers on the tops of various buildings, of bombs on the subway system. When we hung up, we both said a heartfelt, “I love you.” 

The pastor had arrived by this time, and I spoke with her about the possibility of a prayer service on the next night, of opening the church for prayer that night. To my shock and bewilderment (and today, my disgust), she dismissed any need for either, going into her office to work on her sermon for Sunday, and making it clear that she thought the rest of us (the secretary, myself, the custodian, and a couple of church members who happened to stop by) were over-dramatizing by watching all the coverage on TV. 

Then the plane hit the Pentagon. Things got very close to home—I had friends who worked there, as did members of the congregation. I had spent time in the building—getting a passport for an overseas posting, meeting my husband for lunch, shopping in the mall attached to it. 

Then the plane went down “in a field in Pennsylvania,” as Melissa Etheridge sings. One of my closest seminary friends, who had graduated in the spring, pastured a church not five miles from Shanksville.
We watched, stunned, shocked, frightened. My thoughts went to my family and friends—where were they, were they safe? My husband worked for the federal government, in a “sensitive” building, as they say. My son was in school, and for the moment the schools were continuing—they had no way of knowing if anyone would be home yet to meet the kids, so they kept them. My nephew was living in New York City—where, I had no idea—was he safe? And what about the various members of my husband’s family, who worked in NYC?
And above it all, the largest question to me—was it over? What would happen next? 

Eventually, the schools closed and sent kids home, the federal government sent people home, and my family gathered that evening to watch and try to make sense of it all. We learned through cell phone calls and emails of the safety of friends and family members. Some of the stories we would not hear for a while. My nephew in NYC running down the street, talking to his mother on his cell phone—and the phone went dead. The friend whose office was to be in the newly remodelled section of the Pentagon, who had been working in temporary quarters—the move that had been scheduled for September 1, but delayed because it wasn’t quite done. The cousin who worked in NYC and had gone to the company cafeteria for coffee at 9 am—the cafeteria’s large windows opened on the WTC, and the images of the next ten minutes lived in his nightmares for years.
The next morning, I had an interview with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, in a rural church. I took the back roads to get there, leaving my son and husband watching coverage on TV—the government was closed and so were local schools. It was eerily quiet. Because most governments and large employers had shut down, there were very little traffic. The airport was not far away—but there were no planes. When one did fly over, as I waited to be called in for my interview, I watched it through the window in mixed fear and confusion and dawning understanding that it must be a military aircraft, flying a patrol. 

Over the next few months, I thought a great deal about many things—why my supervising pastor had not wanted to host a prayer service (we did have one; she grudgingly allowed as how if I wanted to put something together before the service on Sunday it was OK with her); the realization that the people killed had just been about their usual business of work or travelling or vacationing; that this sudden attack and death was what many people around the world already lived with—the difference here was the scale.  And I realised just how precious is this life—this everyday, routine life—the only one we are given.

I had several other reasons to think about the brevity of life.
                My father had passed away just a year before, and I had been coming to realise that he had not lived the life he wanted, that he had been disappointed in many ways—but instead of finding other satisfactions in life, he had wallowed in the disappointments.
                 A young member of the congregation had passed away during the winter—close to my age, with a child close to my son’s age—and death—my possible death—became even more tangible.
                In the spring, I took a study trip to Poland to study the Holocaust. Again, the sense of life being cut off too early, of death and violence interrupting life and destroying possibility and promise forced me to think and look at my own life.

Had I done what I needed to do in life? Was I living my life as God intended me to? 

My life did not change overnight. But gradually, I came to terms with what I needed to do to be most truly the person God had created me to be. 

I was consecrated a probationary elder (i.e. temporary pastor…), and appointed to a church. This felt right and good, My husband and I went back into marriage counselling—I felt 20 years of marriage deserved one last try. 

But over the next few months, I realised that our marriage could not continue, it was no longer a partnership of mutual respect and support and understanding. At the same time, I was awakening to the need to be truly who I am—as God made me, as I am called to be. 

In the end, I ended my marriage, came out as a bisexual woman, and transferred to another denomination. 

The events of 9/11 on their own would have opened my eyes to the necessity of integrity in ministry, of honesty about who I am and the quality of relationships that I deserve. But 9/11 was the final ingredient in an on-going process. Because of that day, I came to realise that:
                Contrary to my self-perception, I have a sense of pastoral need that others often don’t, even other pastors.
                While it is easier to “go along to get along,” there come times when we cannot do that, and even if other people are upset, angered, or must rearrange their lives, the truth must be told and lived. This is still a struggle for me—sometimes in the moment, it feels too frightening or difficult—but I am improving! “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes”(Mary Oliver, I think).
                We have only one life to be all that God created us to be—I don’t want to waste it on “that which does not satisfy,” nor on being less than I am meant to be.
                This precious life can vanish at any moment—cancer, a traffic accident, a heart attack, random violence—any number of things can pull us out and away, without our having really lived as we are meant to live.

And so I have to say that yes, that terrible day in September 2001 did change my life. I was a married heterosexual mother and seminary student, living a conventional suburban life, preparing to become a pastor in a mainstream denomination, foreseeing a career of rural and suburban churches, culminating in one or two larger churches and possibly a stint as a district superintendent. 

Ten years later, I am a single, out, bisexual woman, pasturing a small urban church in another country and another denomination, a cancer survivor, a published author (one article, but still!). I’m still a mother! 

But now, as a result of many events, with 9/11 being among the most important, I am more likely to speak my truth, to not be silent, not be the “nice” one, to take the time to look at what I really want and am meant to do, not what others (however well-intentioned) want me to do. 

I am more fully alive.

Monday, September 05, 2011

"A Different Kind of Triangle" Pentecost 12 (September 4, 2011)

"Reconciliation"  Duke Divinity School
Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by our God in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


Will you pray with me? Holy Three in One, teach us how to be your beloved community of faith; give us wisdom to understand each other; to accept each person’s unique gifts and graces which you have given. Show us the way to speak the truth in love—not to wound or shame but to support and guide; help us to show love without anger or vindictiveness. Remind us of your presence wherever we may be, whoever we are with, for wherever we are, you are there with us. In your many names we pray, amen.

One of the most important concepts I learned in my pastoral counselling class was triangulation—that classic communication and relationship style in which one person doesn’t express their issues to the person they are angry with but a third person—thus creating a triangle. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this idea!  Friend A is upset with Friend B, but instead of talking to Friend B, they complain to you…. Many organizations, whether churches or businesses have a policy in place to deal with this and prevent the issues it creates. It’s called a face-to-face policy. If one person is upset with another, they are supposed to first go directly to that other person to discuss the issue—face to face. Not to their cubicle neighbour, not to their sister or hairdresser or best friend—that puts the other person in middle, especially if that third person also knows the person who is the cause of annoyance.  If the issue isn’t resolved, then they go to their supervisor or boss or human resources manager. This makes sure—ideally, anyway—that the issue is resolved and not left to hang. It means the community—the workplace, the organization, the church—can work more smoothly, without hidden resentments or anger or frustration.

I’m sure some of you have been in this position. When I served as an interne in seminary, some of members of the congregation were unhappy with the new pastor. Rather than take their concerns to her, or to the lay leader (like our Vice Moderator), they came to me. It was flattering, I have to admit, and I had my own issues with her, which made me want to join right in with their complaints. I am relieved to be able to say that I did not give in to that impulse, and declined to discuss the pastor with them—suggesting they talk with the lay leader if they were upset with the pastor. Yes, I then was accused of covering up for my boss…. Monkey in the middle isn’t just a child’s game, is it?

This is the kind of situation Jesus is talking about—and he offers a way around it. Open dealing, one on one, rather than a whispering campaign or rumours or innuendo—plain talking, face to face. If the person doesn’t want to talk with you alone—or at all—try again with some friends or other church members. If that doesn’t work either, then bring in the congregation. And if the community can’t bring about reconciliation, then you will know you have done all that you can.

Notice that this progression also protects the other person—the one who upset you—you in the generic sense. If you go to them directly and privately and ask them about it, you give them an opportunity to apologize before anyone else knows about it—or has a chance to comment on it. You defuse the situation. And who knows, perhaps the issue was unintended—they didn’t realise you would be offended by the remark, or they knew it was stupid as soon as they said it but didn’t know how to approach you to say so, or whatever the scenario might be.  Remember Jesus said, “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name.” So begin with prayer—even if it’s just you praying to yourself—and God will be present in that conversation.

But if that person denies doing or saying anything, or says you took it the wrong way—then you bring in others, just a couple people. Again, God will be present in that conversation. With only a couple of people there, the other person will have to face the fact that is not misinterpretation or over-sensitivity, but that it is a real issue. At the same time, it’s not being dealt with in a public way—they can still save face and make reparations.

A continued denial means, though, that the issue has to be brought to the attention of the community—whatever that community might be, in this case, the church. If the conflict is not dealt with, if it remains underground, it will fester and worsen, like a hidden infection, and reappear later in more malevolent ways.

Let’s face it, churches, and the people in them, do not like open conflict. The truth is that we are human beings and given a group of a large enough size-say, two people—there are bound to be differences of opinion and things about each person that annoy the other or others.  So in churches, it is common that people who have conflicts with another person will seek to simply avoid that person, or won’t talk to that person about the issue. After all, it’s church, and we are “supposed” to get along with each other, love each and accept each other.

But there is another truth, and that is that conflict is not necessarily a negative thing. This is difficult for many people, including me—we want to be liked, we want to be seen as “nice,” as friendly, and so on. But conflict, in and of itself, is not really bad or evil—it simply is a way of dealing with a problem. What can be negative is the way the conflict is expressed and dealt with. War, for example—or whispering campaigns, or manipulating others to get what we want or maneuvering the person we oppose out of the group—whether that’s a work situation, a family, a group of friends, a social club or a church.

There is a distinction to be made between conflict and differences, and too often they are confused. In a face to face conversation, we can learn what the other person is thinking, and whether we have a difference—I think one way, you think another, it won’t affect whatever we are trying to do together—and a conflict—it will affect what we are doing. How two people interpret a passage from the Bible doesn’t prevent them from teaching Bible study together, even if they have very different understandings of the passage—that’s a difference. On the other hand, if one of them believes the Bible is the inerrant, perfect, literal word of God and the other thinks it’s a collection of folktales—that’s a conflict.

And that’s why we begin with the face to face. Of course, how this face to face is done matters too. Remember, this is the first stage—done with love and hope, with the knowledge that we too are human and may have misunderstood, or that this is not really a conflict but a difference, mindful of God’s presence.  We have to remember our basic psychological understanding, and make our “I-statements” and so on…not confrontation and anger. That’s a sign of not only psychological maturity but spiritual maturity as well, to recognise that we all make mistakes, we are all imperfect people, even—even!—if we are Christian and in a church setting.

I am willing to bet that most issues that divide churches and other organizations could have been resolved without all the pain or departures and alienations if this model had been truly followed. Not all of them, of course—nor am I saying that the splits or departures would not have happened. But they would have happened in a more positive, fruitful way—which is the best way to begin an endeavour—in hope, not in anger.

Think of how much better it would be to change all relationships this way. Isn’t it interesting that weddings and commitment ceremonies are celebrated with hope and joy and celebration, with gifts and parties and special ceremonies---but the changing of relationships are not? There’s no divorce service or recognition of the end of a relationship. Oh, there are official forms to be filled out and a judge to see, in the case of divorce and many authorities that recognise commitment ceremonies or domestic partnerships, there are also forms to fill out. But there is no gathering of friends and family, no presiding clergy to recognise the changing of the relationship. I say changing, because no relationship is ever really over—in addition to children, property, shared friends and so on, which ensure continued contact on some level, there is the fact that these people shared a life—as friends, as partners, as co-workers, and therefore affected each other in some way.

But there is no real recognition of changes in relationships in society. Individual couples may put together a ceremony, and even bring in their clergy member and family to share the event—but that is rare. Generally, there is simply packing, some words—angry or consoling, hurt or supportive—and everyone moves on.  Perhaps it is because so few relationships change in a way that is not hurtful to one or both people; or perhaps it’s because it takes a while to come to a place where we recognise that the relationship could not have continued as it was.

The closest we come, I think, is the “farewell” when a co-worker leaves. In the US military—and perhaps the Canadian military too—there is the tradition of the “Hail and Farewell,” at which newcomers since the last Hail and Farewell are greeted and welcomed into the group, often with a gift symbolic of the unit—perhaps a unit coin or a nameplate with the unit crest on it. Those leaving are given a farewell—often a roast by their colleagues, with a variety of gifts—a plaque commemorating their accomplishments, joke gifts referring to events during their time with the unit, or maybe something they will find useful in their next posting. Civilian companies usually at least get together for lunch and maybe a couple of gifts for the departing co-worker. These offer a time to remember the good times, let go of issues, and move on. In pop psychology terms, it offers “closure.”

This is what we are asked to do in this process Jesus is telling us to follow. We are to deal with each other face to face, honestly but without hostility, and to recognise that God is present at every conversation, in every group. In doing so, we can truly name and accept differences and find ways to work through true conflicts to healing and reconciliation.

And finally, Jesus is realistic in his understanding of human nature. There are some people who do not want, are not capable, of coming to this reconciliation, this healing. For those people, there is nothing more to be done. But if we have done the work of reaching out, speaking face to face in love, seeking understanding and reconciliation, then we have done what is needful, and Jesus says, “There is only so much to be done. You have done what you can; let go.” And I would say, too, that this is perhaps a cycle. Sometimes it happens that someone leaves a group or relationship angrily, with no intention of reconciliation, no desire for healing and the group has to let them go in that way—but later, the person changes—for whatever reason—and does desire reconciliation and healing. The door of the group should always be open to that return, to that hope of the prodigal coming back for healing and understanding.

I know some of you already practise this in your life; if you don’t I would invite you to try this for a week. Just try it—face to face, no hostility, one on one—then a small group, and only then authority. For those who do so already, think about how and why you follow this practise—and then do so more fully.

God is present in all our interactions. I would suggest that the crucial point in this process is the knowledge that God is there, and invoking the divine presence through prayer—your own or the group together—to remind yourself and the other person of that presence.

It’s not a magic formula—it does not always bring healing and reconciliation. But it is the best hope for both.

In the name of God in community, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, amen.

Creed
We believe in the God who made every man and woman in God's image. We believe in the Christ who died to reconcile every human being to God, and to restore our common humanity. We believe in the Holy Spirit that has always hovered over creation, and ignites love's fire in our hearts. We believe in the community of faith that worships God, follows Jesus, and lives by the Spirit. And we believe in the time when all things will be made new, and all things will be brought together under Christ. Amen.