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The Blessing that Changed My Life and My Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Ware Jackson

“God loves you, and so do I,” my son lisps as he kisses my forehead. I return the blessing, listening as the ritual of love echoes from sister to brother, from father to son. And I know it is true. Deep in my bones, in the darkest recesses of my soul, I know it is true: We are loved by God and by one another. Every night, my heart simply bursts with the love and grace and truth. But it wasn’t always this way.

As a family with two young children and two pastors serving two different churches, our home life is harried. You would think a family led by clergy would have faith formation covered, but the sad truth is church schedules and the challenges of professional faith leadership can wreak havoc on a home. We usually managed a bedtime prayer and a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” but it wasn’t enough. So, encouraged by the work of Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators, we embraced the Faith 5:

  • SHARE your highs and lows
  • READ a Bible verse or story
  • TALK about how the Bible reading might relate to your highs and lows
  • PRAY for one another’s highs and lows
  • BLESS one another

In our house, we usually share our “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” at dinner and read a bedtime story from the Bible. Sometimes we talk about what we read and we almost always pray, but we never ever miss the blessing. It’s the sacred moment when our love for one another connects seamlessly with our love for God.

These simple, powerful steps transformed our family life, and we didn’t even need to buy a curriculum! Suddenly, all the things we were already doing – sharing, reading, talking, praying and even the “good night kiss” – became part of our family faith formation.

Soon I began to wonder: if this works so well in our home, what about in our church?

At Faith Presbyterian, we’ve been welcoming people of all ages into worship for a few years. We created a PrayGround at the front of our sanctuary to give families the space to move and engage in our traditional setting. We have a lot of fun during the service and love the joy and life the kids bring! But worshipping alongside children is not quite the same as worshipping with children.

We have the kids and the adults in the space, now how do we bring them together? How do we help them tell their stories and pray for one another? How do we foster relationships and build cross-generational community? How do we become the Body of Christ?

Inspired by my experience of Faith 5 at home, I decided to experiment with it in worship. After all, share, read, talk, pray, and bless are authentic and traditional service movements. If these practices could bring us together in the home, why not in the sanctuary?

In order to reduce anxiety and keep everyone open to new experiences, we kept the basic flow of the service, but before we began the prayer of confession, I encouraged folks to form small groups around the sanctuary or use Faith 5 as a personal spiritual practice in the tradition of the examen. I closed the PrayGround and guided anxious but willing kids and elders to share and interpret the Word together. It was beautiful! We practiced Faith 5 Worship every Sunday in October and we will return to it at least once a quarter, but one movement remains every week:

We form a circle around the sanctuary, literally knit together in a single body. As we gaze upon the faces of the family of God – young and old, black and white, refugee and native-born, long-time members and first-time visitors – we hear the charge, “… that the love of Christ that dwells within you can reach out and touch others through you.” Then we turn to one another, crouch down or reach up, grasp hands, touch foreheads, kiss cheeks, and know the truth: “God loves you, and so do I.”


Karen Ware Jackson leads cross-generational worship at Faith Presbyterian Church, a small but mighty congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two young children who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading a congregation. She blogs about engaging all ages in worship at  www.karenwarejackson.com and tweets at  @karenwarejack.

Building Community Across Divides: A Book List

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In November, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel curated “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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We asked our contributing authors this month to tell us what they are reading or have read that has helped them in the work of building community across divides. Here’s what they said:

Jodi Craiglow

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch
“I recommend this book probably five times as often as I recommend all other books — combined. Crouch’s main argument is simple but profound: We can’t change culture by critiquing it. We can only change culture by creating
more of it.”

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
“Easily (and simultaneously) the most beautiful and the most challenging book I’ve ever read. Volf argues that we can only truly experience reconciliation when we embrace “the other,” bringing them into our lives in the same way that we’ve been embraced by God.”

Roy Howard

Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry Hurtado
“This is a clearly written book of Christian history that has implications for the church of our time under a different empire and seeking a distinctive identity as Christians that will resist the idolatries of the culture and more than resistance, offer a compelling alternative. Our ancestors in the faith have frequently had to face similar challenges as we do.”

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
“This book explores theology through the experiences of the body: the dying body, the aging body, the sexual body, the body in play and the body at work. It’s a compelling argument by a New Testament scholar that scripture itself is a response to the experience of God in the body, and hence we should pay attention to the body for signs of God’s presence among us.”

Joe Duffus

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson with Peter Wehner
“This looks like a fitting start for traditional or evangelical Christians to consider in light of changes in our culture and the sharp decline of civility in discussion.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
“This book tells the stories of various people whose lives were ruined by Internet ‘mobs’ that reacted to things those people said on social media. He wrote a long article based on the book for the New York Times a while back that I keep coming back to, because of what it says about how people’s online behavior has become so much more impulsive, vicious and bombastic than anything they might do face-to-face.”

Don Meeks

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls
From Amazon: “Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.”

Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew by Charles D. Drew
From Amazon: “Can Christians be political activists without hating those who disagree? As the next presidential election comes into view, Americans are deciding where to stand on the key issues. The church has often been as politically divided as the culture, leading many Christians to withdraw from politics or to declare alliances prematurely. But Charles Drew offers an alternative for people who care deeply about their faith and about the church’s corporate calling in the world. In this updated and revised version of A Public Faith (NavPress 2000), Drew helps Christians to develop practical biblical convictions about critical social and political issues. Carefully distinguishing between moral principle and political strategy, Body Broken equips believers to build their political activism upon a thoughtful and biblical foundation. This balanced approach will provide readers Democrats, Republicans, or Independents with a solid biblical foundation for decision making. Drew even helps Christians of all political persuasions to understand how they can practice servanthood, cooperation and integrity in today’s public square. With questions at the end of each chapter to help readers explore and apply principles, Body Broken will train believers to actively engage with political issues while standing united as a church.”

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
From Amazon: “Drawing on more than four decades of polling data, The End of White Christian America explains and analyzes the waning vitality of white Christian America. Jones argues that the visceral nature of today’s most heated issues—the vociferous arguments around same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the rise of the Tea Party following the election of our first black president, and stark disagreements between black and white Americans over the fairness of the criminal justice system—can only be understood against the backdrop of white Christians’ anxieties as America’s racial and religious topography shifts around them.”

Jessica Tate

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
“This is a book that takes our all-too-common labels of one another as ‘right Christians’ and ‘wrong Christians,’ explores the sociology behind our division, and reminds us that Jesus commands us to love our neighbors (all of them), just as he did — relentlessly.”

The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words by Deborah Tannen
“Written in 1998, this one is starting to show some age, but continues to be a helpful book as it traces today’s public discourse (or lack thereof). While it is a linguistic perspective, not a theological one, Tannen opens by saying, ‘This is not another book about civility…. Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention — an argument culture.'”

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin
“This book paints the picture of Nelson Mandela’s consistent and persistent work to humanize white Afrikaners and black South Africans to one another through the winning of their hearts in a united force behind the rugby team – the Springboks. It’s a compelling story of playing the long game, refusing to demonize, and seeking to find the image of God in every person. I read it as a parable.”

Quinn Fox

The Road to Character by David Brooks
“One of the leading public intellectuals of our day, Brooks challenges readers to focus on the deeper values that should inform our lives—by striving to shift the focus of our living away from the ‘résumé virtues’—achieving wealth, fame and status—toward the ‘eulogy virtues’—those character traits that are worthy of being at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.”

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter
“To change hearts and minds has been the goal of modern Christians seeking to correct a culture deemed fallen and morally lax. Hunter (author of Culture Wars) finds this approach pervasive among Christians of all stripes and in every case deeply flawed, to the point of undermining the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance. After charting the history of Christian assumptions and efforts to change culture, Hunter investigates the nature of power and politics in Christian life and thought, and then proposes an alternative: what he calls the practice of faithful presence, rooted not in a desire to change the world… but rather in a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth.”

Living with Difference: How to Build Community in a Divided World by Adam B. Seligman, Rahel R. Wasserfall, and David W. Montgomery
“Written by a team of scholars who specialize in helping communities engage with difference, this book explores the challenges and necessities of accommodating difference, however difficult and uncomfortable such accommodation may be. The authors are part of an organization that has worked internationally with community leaders, activists, and other partners to take the insights of anthropology out of the classroom and into the world. Rather than addressing conflict by emphasizing what is shared, Living with Difference argues for the centrality of difference in creating community, seeking ways not to overcome or deny differences but to live with and within them in a self-reflective space and practice.”