Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pastoral Prayer: Listen & Testify

I offered this as the pastoral prayer in worship at Central Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky on January 18, 2015. The previous week we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord and remembered or anticipated our own baptisms. The theme of the week was "The Darkness of Incivility" particularly pertaining to racial strife and conflict. 

Holy God,
Fresh from the waters of baptism, secure in the knowledge of our beloved-ness, we meet our first faithful challenge: to listen.

Not to interject
       or interrupt
       or even to interpret.
To listen.

Teach us to listen before speaking, for we've had the microphone too long.
And before we endeavor to give voice to the voiceless, let us listen to their stories from beginning to end.

For the un-named, voiceless, hidden parts of our own stories, we pray for the courage to testify; that in sharing we may find that we are not alone.

Teach us what it means to accompany one another.
What does it mean to accompany Nigerians as they are slaughtered by militants?
What does it mean to accompany the French as they mourn?
What does it mean to accompany those whose homes are ravaged by typhoons?
To accompany those whose neighborhoods are controlled by poverty, fear and violence?

We know that when we open our hearts we will receive what we need to live faithfully. So break open our hearts. Give us eyes to see clearly, ears to listen carefully, hearts to receive, and tongues to speak wisely.

Teach us to listen first. To pass the mic. To testify. To pray and to support.

You are relentless in your love for us, and for this we give you thanks.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#BlessedAreTheCrazy: Making It Work

What follows is part of my own journey with depression. It might resemble yours. It likely will not. Mental illness is NOT one-size-fits-all. For an awesome resource on mental illness in the church, read Sarah Lund's book Blessed Are The Crazy. For an honest laugh at depression, click the photo below.

 Hyperbole and a Half: Depression 2

I still remember the day it clicked. It wasn't like a ray of sunshine or a rainbow or anything, but it was an epiphany. A star shining in the night. A weight shifted into a more comfortable place to carry.

You see, I was called to ministry at age 13. This career is, literally, all I have ever wanted. I tried to try on different career options but God kept calling me, pulling me, driving me into leadership in the church. It's where I am at home. I am called. 

When I began to experience depression and anxiety in college, my heart sank in more ways than one. The depression told me, and I believed it, that I could not be a good minister if I was depressed. The depression told me, and I believed it, that I would never be able to care for a congregation if I couldn't take care of myself. And depression definitely prevented me from caring for myself. 

My journey with mental illness led me to see a counselor toward the end of college. Through counseling I realized that my depression would be more easily managed with medication. I began taking medication a week before I left for Divinity School. I began to identify as a person who would live with mental illness for the rest of my life. I was thrilled by all the things I was learning and experiencing in graduate school. I was terrified by my daily struggles to do simple things, though much improved once I found the right medication regimen. The rigors of grad school continually changed my schedule, routine, and efforts at being well. I continued to rely on medication to manage my stress and anxiety. Much of my stress and anxiety stemmed from a deep conviction that I couldn't be a good minister if I was depressed. I was convinced that I would never be good enough for the job God called me to do. 

During grad school, I began to explore the sources of my depression more fully with therapy. I was no longer just coping, I was seeking the source. I started to question the things that depression claimed were true, but I still clung to my greatest fear: that I wouldn't be a good minister. Many people tried to tell me that I would be fine, that it would get better, that knowing mental illness from the inside would help me have greater empathy with others. I couldn't hear them over the heartbreaking things my depression told me. 

The epiphany came in the fourth floor ministry suite in Swift Hall at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I was sitting with my peers in our pastoral care practicum. On the topic of chronic mental illness and pastoral care, I shared my biggest fear: that I wouldn't be a good minister because of my depression. Perhaps it was the vulnerability that allowed me to hear it, or perhaps she phrased it differently than others, but my professor said to me, "McKinna, you can make this work for you, not against you. You will likely always struggle with this, but it can become one of your strengths. It doesn't have to be your weakness."

Something shifted. I continued to question the claims of my depression, but I also began to converse with it as a respected partner. No longer did it lord itself over me (well, most days), but I stood on equal ground with it. I carried it with me in my purse alongside my Bible. Most importantly, I no longer believed that it would hold me back in ministry. Instead, I began to believe that if I learned to use it well, I could be the sort of minister I felt called to be: good, faithful, steadfast, and trustworthy. I began to realize that the more I punished my depression, the more it would fight back to injure me. But when I treated it like I would a small child, I was able to gently interact with it in a more constructive way. I started to see past the lies that depression tried to tell me about myself and into the truths it was telling me about the world. That there are shadows and they are real. That sin lingers like a scar on every human heart and undermines the foundation of all of our institutions. Depression made me come to terms with the facts of life: that many of us struggle to survive, others are handed a tool-kit for success, and there's little rhyme or reason to any of it. It was only THEN that I was able to ask, "What's God got to do with it?"

The answer to that question, "What's God got to do with it?" is for another blog post, and perhaps, I'll just be trying to live into the question my whole life long.
I'm okay with that.

My ability to manage and question my depression is the only reason I survive it. Throughout grad school medication was a crucial piece of the management puzzle, as was weekly therapy, really good friends and roommates, and steadfast mentors who stared down the shadowy valley with me. I had to find my way to the manageable place before I could learn to work with depression.  Now that I am out of the stress-machine of grad school, my symptoms have changed. I no longer need daily medication, and I only see my therapist every other week. I have mostly "good days" or "okay days." I have very few "bad days" anymore, but when I do depression works me over and hangs me out to dry. On those days, depression is my enemy and I hate it. On those days I questions the truths I know: that my friends love me and care for me, and I treat my family and friends poorly. On those days I bargain with the world by saying, "I will survive this day by staying in bed, breathing slowly in and out, and eating mac-n-cheese out of the pan I made it in. And that's enough for today."

There are so many who spend weeks, months, years in that desperate place and to you I say: Fight it. Fight it hard. Please don't believe the lies. Surround yourself with people who will sit with you in the dark place and show you that you are not alone. Call the hotline, call your therapist, and pet your dog/cat/gerbil/fern.

You're not alone. Not now, not ever.

If you need immediate help, the national (US) suicide prevention hotline is 1.800.273.8255.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Christmas Eve Prayer (for all year 'round)

Loving God,
Mary and Joseph likely didn't expect a stable for the Savior they knew was coming. The shepherds were just trying to get in an honest night's work and a little shut eye under the stars. Fast forward and the Magi were probably looking for someone a little more, um, royal.
But they opened themselves to your way of doing things in order to receive and be a part of the greatest love story ever told.

Your way of doing things is different than ours. It is all at once whimsical and wise, sacred and mundane. It is peace in the middle of a war zone. It is justice rendered in a corrupt court. It is music ringing out in the darkest night. It is light that will not be extinguished. It is crazy, sacrificial, unreasonable love that stands up to fear. Your way of doing things is different than ours. And we are so glad for that.

Teach us your way: we need peace in the middle of war zones, justice in corrupt courts, music in the night. We need a baby in a manger, and a savior in Mary’s arms. We need to love our enemies and with our food we could feed thousands if we could only learn how to share. We need Jesus, and tonight a child is born unto us. Break open our hardened hearts to receive your Son.

Teach us to pray with humility- for our vulnerable earth, for the poor and needy, for the cold and naked on our doorsteps. Teach us to act with courage- to give more than we knew we could, to look the stranger in the face and dare to see something holy. Teach us to believe with abandon- that love makes a difference, and that peace is possible. Teach us to walk in your footsteps and to be a part of your story: the story that has the power to change the world… and maybe even change each of us.

Steal our hearts tonight, we pray, and show us the way to your kingdom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


My news feeds and brain is spinning with all the cool things by friends and colleagues are doing for Advent.

Whether it's reading stories with your kids, trying to set healthy boundaries on your time, working out, or praying, it seems that Advent is a great time to try a something new. After all, God is getting ready to do a new thing! Maybe we can join in!

For me, I've been feeling a little intellectually stagnant. I have lots of interests but little time to devote to them. My work days have been full of tasks and it's left little time for reading or learning. By the time I get home I find that I don't have much energy for anything that requires brainpower.

In an attempt to remedy my continual brain-fart, I'm going to watch a TedTalk every day for all of Advent. If I have time or find a particularly good one, I'll post about it here.

I'm not sure what I'll watch when, but I'll be starting with my TedTalks pinterest page every day.

Do you have suggestions? Let me know!

Here's what I'm watching today:

Thursday, September 11, 2014


 The Painted Prayerbook- And the Table Will Be Wide

At church on Sunday, we sang that good old hymn “I Love to Tell the Story.”
But what it the story? We celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, but what are we really doing here? What is the story of this table?

There’s a popular practice among people who tweet. We challenge each other to tell a story in six words. You might try to tell a six word love story, six word tragedy, or even a six word gospel or a six word bible.

Today I asked myself if I had only six words to tell the story of this table, what would they be?
I wonder what YOUR six words would be? I came up with a number of possibilities before I found one that felt true enough. I’ll read them to you now:

Filled with grace, bread
send me. (ehh, feels kind of clunky)

Receive body/grace,
offer self, service (still clunky, try again)

Belonging here,
I am sent out. (we're getting somewhere)

Room at the table for all (yeah, I like that)

I am home
Jesus is here (on to something...) 

Dear God, Dear God,
Help me. (sometimes this is all I've got when I get to the table)

But here’s the one that I settled on today:

I love you. Tell my story. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christian Century: Ambiguous Labor Pains

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now (Romans 8:22).
This year at Vacation Bible School I told the story of Jairus’s daughter. My plan was to have one child pretend to “sleep” and then be raised up by Jesus. But it turned out that all the children wanted a chance to be Jairus’ daughter. So around I went, taking the hands of “sleeping” children and touching their foreheads and saying something like, “Get up! Jesus makes you well.”
As I went around raising these children and sending them off to craft sheep out of marshmallows, I could not help but think of all the children who will not be raised up. I thought of my friend who had recently miscarried. This week, I think as well of the little ones on Gaza’s beaches and on our own borders. Pregnancy, birthing, raising children, losing them—all these acts leave me speechless. 
Get the rest at The Christian Century Blog!

Devotional: Scripture and the Bone of Song

I am often frustrated with scripture. It is mysterious, contradictory, out dated (on an initial read), contains varying genres, and upon reading large portions of it I feel quite sleepy.

The thing is I want more from my scripture. I want it to leap off the page and speak to me! I want to shimmer with energy in my hands. I want to see the world through the eyes and words of the author of whatever portion I'm reading. Instead, I end up with interrupting thoughts about my to-do list and a yearning for coffee.

My favorite singer/songwriter wrote about the canon of classic songs in a piece called "Bone of Song," which is linked above. 

As I've been hearing this song lately I thought that he could have been writing about the canon of scripture, too. He writes about finding an old jaw bone as he walked in the woods and when he runs his hand along it he hears songs (the fall of Troy, Auld Lang Syne, Magnificat, Your Cheatin' Heart) and though some of the songs are written in foreign tongues and dead languages he can read it all the same. There's a blessing written on the bone, older than all the rest saying, "Leave me here I care not for wealth or fame. I'll remember your song - but I'll forget your name."

I wonder if the Bible itself might be akin to the Bone of Song of which Josh Ritter sings. Full of varied music by many composers and poets, etched into the collective memory of a people who have interpreted the words differently throughout the ages. This holy text cares not for wealth or fame. It doesn't even care what I want from it. It is just here, waiting to be discovered, ready to sing if I'll listen.
The refrain of the song is this: "Lucky are you who find me in the wilderness/ I am the only unquiet ghost that does not seek rest."

Perhaps I have been approaching my Bible in the wrong way. Though it is old and her authors are long dead, perhaps she does not seek to rest and be still. Perhaps she is unquiet and waiting to be heard. Perhaps she is waiting for me to let go of my own "stuff" - expectations, desires, even my name - in order to hear the whisper song of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I must leave my comfortable desk chair and wander in the wilderness before these words will speak.

God of Song and Living Word, You are unquiet. You are speaking. Help us listen. As we turn to your Word, let us set aside our own desires and expectations and listen instead for what you might say. We know that you hear our prayers and know our hearts. Let us also know YOUR heart. Amen.