Suit Up

         This week’s final lesson from the letter to the Ephesians is a familiar one.  The armor of God.  This is a very well know passage and gives us a vivid image of readiness.  However, this image spoke to a context very different than ours.  First hearers would have been very familiar with the armor worn by Roman soldiers.  Yet swords, shields, and breastplates aren’t exactly the norm for our world today.
         Let’s reimagine an image that connects more closely with our context today and still help us hear the message of readiness.
         Before we come up with an updated example – let us visit two issues with this text when taken out of the larger context of this letter.  The whole of Ephesians speaks again and again of unity – bringing together all people.  The seven churches of Ephesus reached out into the Gentile community, to share the message of Jesus – a Jew.
         Yet sometimes we can forget that larger context and just hear this passage alone.  (Ephesians 6:10-20)  2 major problems come.
1 – We hear about the shield of faith and hide behind it.  Creating our own Christian circles, sometimes we use this verse to justify that we are simply trying to protect our families.  There are whole markets created to make popular culture items “Christianized” – t-shirts, where instead of an Abrocrombie and Fitch logo, it says in the same logo – a breadcrumb and fish.  Music, art, even mints.  Yet in this hiding, we do not reach out and follow the example of Christ to care for the hurting world.  Our churches look more like country clubs than the church described in the gospels.
2 – We adopt a “fight first” mentality.  Children are taught this passage using object lessons with an orange.  With a peel, it floats in water, without the peel it sinks.  Therefore the armor of God will protect you.  We take this armor and solider metaphor further and talk about being “prayer warriors” or being in the “Lord’s Army” (there are many children’s songs about this).  This continues with a narrative of confidence, or perhaps arrogance, that we have the one truth of God, and that we must share it with everyone.  The message of the gospel of love becomes simplified to our sin and Christ’s death bringing salvation if we only accept God’s grace.
       Yet this message does not reflect the call for unity, it brings division.  Let’s look into the verse a bit deeper. More familiar to us today might be a suit – instead of a suit of armor.
As we get ready in the morning to face all the things the world has coming –
let us put on:
– the belt of truth (6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist)
– the shirt of righteousness (and put on the breastplate of righteousness.)
– shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace (6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.)
Take with you:
– the jacket of faith – that which you use to protect yourself (6:16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.)
– the accessory of salvation, a hat, phone, keys, that which helps connect you to God (Take the helmet of salvation)
– and the pen of the Spirit, or text of the Spirit – the ability to write and to read the words of God (and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.) 
And PRAY.  To connect with God.  For each other, for everyone.  Prayer connects, encourages, and supports us all!
(6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.)
             Therefore as you are getting ready to go out into the world – get ready.  Suit up! Take with you truth, righteousness, peace, justice, the promise of salvation, and the comfort of knowing the Spirit is always with you.
             God’s peace to you and yours.  ~Deacon Erin

Wisdom and Wants

A friend of mine has four children between the ages of 5 and 10 (the youngest two are twins).  A response constantly heard from him to his children is “it’s nice to want things.”  As a adult I laugh often as I hear him say this in response to something like “but I want to play on the computer” or “I want another brownie”.  Yet it’s not so funny when he has said this to me – in response to “I just want this day to be over”, or “I just want to the church to support this!”
It’s so easy for us to list our wants.  In todays Old Testament lesson, when God asked what he wanted, King Solomon responded not with the typical list of riches, wealth, power, or position.
Solomon asked God to “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” – 1 Kings 3:9  
An understanding mind
able to discern between good and evil
Wow.  Not necessarily always on the top of my ask lists.  King Solomon is regarded as a very wise man.  As disciple seek God’s wisdom today among the confusion that is the world, Solomon gives a humble and wise request.  May we all seek from God an understanding mind.  Instead of rushing to evaluate and judge – that we make first seek to understand, especially that which may be different.
I direct a Summer Camp in Rogers Park serving over 50 families for 5 weeks each summer.  To accomplish this, we have a barrage of staff and volunteers from all over the Chicagoland area and across the United States.  We celebrated with some of the youth staff by treating them to lunch this week.  8 youth from around the city ages 16-18 served as counselors, art leaders, and game masters providing daily care, leadership, and support to campers ages 5-15.
We went to El Famous Burrito, a favorite in Rogers Park.  With 3 latino staff (2 fluent in Spanish), and a fantastic comedic waiter, everyone figured out something to order.  (much confusion as to what exactly is a “torta”) Knowing looks and conversation about the awesomeness that is Horchata and stories of aunts homemade recipes were shared, as well as anxious looks and questions about if food would be spicy “enough”.
Throughout the meal as we shared laughter about the foods we all normally eat and stories through the summer, there were moments of great harmony and great difference. There was understanding.  It took weeks.  (The first week, they barely spoke to one another.)  Yet among a small group of latino/a, black, white, and Nigerian teens where the differences are worlds apart, the bonding and true friendship was impossible to miss.  They even got some mayo for the torta, killing it – as the waiter teased.
There is wisdom in understanding
– seeing, asking, learning, seeking to know more.
Without understand one is not able to discern right from wrong,
good from evil, or the vast areas of shadows in between.
A few years ago with another staff, similar in many ways yet so very different, I lead a hard devotion urging them to stop fighting and work together with this prayer:
serenity-prayerI still pray this prayer often.
As we walk with the young people in our lives:
– I wonder how you help guide young people in seeking understanding?
– I wonder how you walk beside them as they learn about things they can not change?
– I wonder in what ways do we support them to change things they can?
– I wonder where they seek wisdom to know the difference?
Peace ~ Deacon Erin

Truth, Anger, Bitterness, Kindness: Imitating Christ

One of my favorite Tumbler/Twitter montages
isIron Man “Reasons my kid is Crying”. Great pictures of poor kids having meltdowns for ridiculous reasons.  In my work with children, youth, and families at churches, after school, and summer camp I have witnessed many of these difficult moments.  It’s hard not to laugh at these, as small people try to deal with lots of emotions boiling over inside them.  
             In the letter to the Ephesians, some of these complex emotions are addressed in how Christians should approach them.
Truth – “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another” (4:25)
Anger – “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (4:26)
Bitterness – “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” (4:31)
Kindness – “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:32) 

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us” (5:1-2) 

Seems so simple… yet as we all know, it isn’t.
                Conversation and games are great ways to help children of all ages develop emotional intelligence and empathy – skills that will help them interact with others as well as communicate their own feelings, wants, and needs.
                When working with children, I keep in mind that it is very difficult for young people (and adults…) to deal with the complex emotions we feel in life.  One skill I have learned is to simply listen to a child when they are upset.  To ask them if they are feeling sad, or upset, or angry.  Letting another explain their emotions is one way for them to process by sharing, and also helps to clarify to teachers, parents, and others the feelings of that child that can often be assumed.
                 The advice from Ephesians helps give some guidance once we have identified some of these emotions in ourselves.  Anger is not bad, we should feel anger in different situations.  Yet we must also remember to be kind and love others as Christ would.  At United Church in Rogers Park, children are taught when they are angry to 1 – stop, and 2 – think.  Taking deep breaths, walking away, and coming up with creative solutions to problems are all ways that we work through difficult situations when we are angry.  How we teach these skills to children are critical.
           I wonder what tips and tricks your family has used to help process emotions in your home?
           I wonder how we encourage young people to work through and not ignore their emotions?
           I wonder how we as adults model processing emotions?
           I wonder what ways we can look to Christ and Christ’s love as an example?