Star Wars Mystery Menu Dinner Party

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The menu for the Star Wars mystery menu dinner party.

For my daughter’s 7th birthday, we threw her a Mystery Menu Dinner Party. It is a three-course meal. Each course includes four items. The menu then consists of 12 different things, and all three courses must be ordered at the very start of the meal. No switching after the orders have been placed. The catch? The 12 items are not named clearly. The menu has simply clues as to what the item might actually be. In addition, three of the 12 items are their utensils.

The first time we did this, the kids had a blast. I promised the kids at the beginning of the dinner that all 9 food items were common kid-friendly foods. I also told them that, for tonight only, they were allowed to eat with their hands. They would be given unlimited napkins, and if they made a mess, it was okay. One of my favorite moments of that first dinner was when a little girl’s first course include animals crackers, a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Two courses later she was given a plate with Jell-O, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and pudding.

For her 8th and 9th birthday parties, we have done the same thing. Some of the kids have now been to three consecutive mystery dinners, and they love them. This year, we added a twist. The menu had a Star Wars theme, and I added drinks. The menu consisted of a total of 15 items – 9 foods, 3 utensils, 3 drinks – and three courses. For one of the courses, one of the kids ended up with a plate, a spoon, and three drinks. Earlier though, he became the only kid with the sloppy joe and the bun in the same course. He was quite proud of having an actual sandwich. Here were the menu items, and what the item actually meant.

  1. Sarlacc – Gummy worms
  2. Bantha Fodder – Sloppy Joe
  3. Princess Leia’s Hairdo – Hamburger bun
  4. Dagobah Swamp – Applesauce
  5. Ewok Fingers – Cocktail wieners in barbecue sauce
  6. Tie Fighters – Cheese and crackers, put togehter on a toothpick to resemble a Tie-Fighter.
  7. Rancor Legs – BBQ Chicken legs
  8. Thermal Detonators – Cuties (small, easily pealable oranges)
  9. Light Sabres – Pretzel Rods dipped in green-colored almond bark.
  10. Hydrospanner – Spoon
  11. Tusken Raider Spear – Fork
  12. Driod Antennae – Toothpicks
  13. Darth Vaderade – Fruit Punch
  14. Bantha Milk – Milk with one drop of blue food coloring
  15. Hoth Soup – Water

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star wars menu

You can download this and paste it right into a doc to print your menus.

Princess Leia Hair, Light Saber, Dagobah Swamp, Sarlac, with Darth Vaderade to drink.

Princess Leia Hair, Light Saber, Dagobah Swamp, Sarlac, with Darth Vaderade to drink.

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My girl enjoying with some Hoth Soup, Darth Vaderade, Bantha Fodder, a Droid Antenna, and a Thermal Detonator.

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Prayer of Confession for Mental Health

This is a prayer of confession that we used during our three-part series called “Breaking the Silence.” It covered three weeks with three different topics of which the Church has not, historically, been helpful. Mental Illness: Silent No More; Suicide: Nothing Separates; Domestic Violence: Call Police, not Pastor.

 

All: Holy and gracious God, we confess to you our role in harming those who are already suffering. Stigma is an ugly word, and it is one that we have created with our cold shoulders, lingering stares, and unhelpful whispers. Forgive us for creating a world where those who suffer fear the very help they so desperately need. Enlighten us with new understanding, empathy, and compassion. By the power of your healing Spirit, help us to stand with the most vulnerable among us. Lead us to shalom.

(Pause for silent confession)

One: Hear the Good News: Christ came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

All: By the grace of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.

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Suicide: Nothing Separates

This is my sermon from January 24, 2016, preached at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. It is about the importance of compassion and care for those that are both contemplating suicide, and for families who have endured it. Any conversation about suicide must begin with the truth that “nothing [not even suicide] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255.

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no matter how much

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Mental Illness: Silent No More

This is my sermon from January 17, 2016 at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. The Church needs to do more to help fight stigma attached to mental illness. I want to thank Sarah Griffith Lund for helping me come to a deeper understanding of this issue.

Listen to our conversation with Sarah Griffith Lund, the author of Blessed are the Crazy, in this Pulpit Fiction episode.

STIGMA IS UGLY

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I wonder if anyone in the coffee shop saw me bawling as I watched this

I’m a sucker for an video about people doing the right thing. This video is a two-minute anti-bullying ad. I came across it on my Facebook feed while doing some sermon prep at a local coffee shop. I don’t think anyone there noticed the tears rolling down my cheek as I watched, but I’m okay if they did. It was worth it.

The girls in the video are actors. Two are noticeably older – or at least more mature. They do a great job of being jerks. Really, they are scary – but not so over the top as to be unbelievable. I watched the video with bated breath, even though I knew they were actors, hoping that the adults within ear shot would do something. I hope that I would do the same thing as these adults. Kindness is a powerful tool. I wouldn’t be surprised if this video made its way into a sermon sometime.

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She told him about means kids at school, and this was his amazing response

It is a moment I dread. My sweet, innocent, kind little girl comes home and tells me that someone at school was mean to her. I know it will happen someday, and I also know that my response would not be as cool as this guy’s. Khari is a rapper with a youtube channel, where he calls himself a “poet and published author.” His videos seem to have a largely positive message. At least a couple of his videos, “Through Thick and Thin,” and “Wonderfully Made,” are inspired by the beauty of his full-figured wife. The video below, he made for his daughters. It is everything I want to tell my girls. I hope that no one is ever mean to them. More realistically though, I hope that when someone is mean to them, they will know that they are loved.

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Toy Story

I doubt it was an intentional allusion, but did you notice what shape these two form? Look familiar?

I doubt it was an intentional allusion, but did you notice what shape these two form? Look familiar?

Where do you find meaning? This is a big question. It may be THE big question. What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of living? You may not realize it, but this is the question of the Toy Story saga. Over three incredible movies, the characters of Toy Story are searching for meaning.

The toys, especially the two main characters, Woody and Buzz, at different times face existential crises searching for meaning as they come to grips with their own mortality. Their mortality is wrapped up in the life of their owner, Andy. In the first movie Buzz faces the reality of being a toy and not a Space Ranger. In the second movie Woody has to choose between “immortality” in a museum, or life with a kid who will eventually grow up. In the third movie all of the toys face their impending loss of purpose as Andy goes to college.

When Woody meets Buzz, Woody is a sure and determined leader of the toys. He knows his purpose. He has a laser focus as Andy’s favorite toy. When Buzz shows up his status is threatened. To make matters worse, Buzz has delusions of grandeur. Woody mocks Buzz because Buzz believes that he is a space ranger. He comes to Andy’s room convinced that he is on an alien planet, and must find and defeat the evil Zurg.

Buzz faces a crisis when he realizes that the storyline of his life isn’t real. It is just a storyline for a TV show designed to sell toys. He is one of thousands of Buzz Lightyears” that line supermarket aisles. It is Woody who convinces Buzz that his purpose is far grander than defeating Zurg.

“I can’t help anyone… I’m not a Space Ranger. I’m just a toy. A stupid, little insignificant toy,” says Buzz.

“Whoah, hey, wait a minute. Being a toy is a lot better than being a Space Ranger,” Woody exclaims.

“Yeah right.”

“No, it is. Over in that house is a kid who thinks you’re the greatest. And it’s not because you’re a Space Ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy. You are his toy.”

Woody redefines Buzz and gives him purpose. No longer does his purpose revolve around catching the evil Zurg. Instead, it is to be with a boy. Toy Story ends with Woody and Buzz realizing something about their purpose. Woody is not defined by his status, and Buzz is not defined by his ‘job.’ They are both defined by their relationship to Andy, and to each other.

In Toy Story 2 it is Woody who has the crisis when he discovers that he is not just a toy, but that he is a collectible. His value is altered, and he is faced with a decision. He can define himself through Andy, where his value will inevitably deteriorate as Andy grows up and plays less with his toys; or he can define himself as a collectible and be a part of a museum forever.

Knowing that Andy will eventually “put him away,” he decides to go with immortality at the museum. Fearing that he has been kidnapped, Buzz and the other toys go on a perilous adventure to find him. Risking everything for the sake of their friend, they finally find Woody, and the following scene ensues:

We witness Woody’s change of heart when he is reminded of who he is. He is reminded of the mark that was placed on him by the one who loved him more than all. He is reminded of the love of his friends, and the fact that they were willing to risk everything for him.

Jesus, when speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John tells them this, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, CEB). Jesus had a firm grasp on the transforming power of love. He said these things to the disciples when he knew that his time on earth was coming to a close. He says these things to them even while he knew that his path led to the cross. He told them they were his friends. He told them to love each as I have loved you. He told them there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Then he went out and did it.

That’s the kind of love that can transform hearts. That is the kind of love that can make people stop on their tracks and reconsider their path. Another way of putting it: It’s the kind of love that can cause you to repent, and believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Woody’s heart was transformed by the love of his friends. In all my time as a writer, pastor, and Christian, I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone to Christ. I don’t think I’ve ever persuaded anyone to repent. If I’ve done anything, I’ve loved them to Christ. If I have done anything, I have loved people to a deeper understanding of God’s love. I’ve written, preached, talked, teached, but nothing counts as much as the times that I have been a friend. I’m not sure I’ve ever laid my life down for a friend, but I have laid down my time. I have laid down my own vulnerability. I have laid down my compassion and kindness.

More importantly, when I have had moments of doubt. When I have questioned everything. When I have wondered aloud about my own purpose, it has never been a well-constructed argument that brought me back. It has been the time, care, kindness, and love of friends that has reminded me. There have been times when competing ideas of the purpose of my life have waged a war in my mind. Like anyone, I have had late nights wondering about where the value of my life may lie. There are times when I’ve been lost, but every time there was someone there to remind me to look down at the bottom of my foot, recall who and whose I am, and come back to my purpose: to love.

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding Nemo

Dear Daughters,

On your first day of Kindergarten I wore sunglasses. It was a sunny day, but that is not why I wore the shades. I wore them because I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to see the redness in my eyes or the tears flowing down my cheeks. Your mother and I walked behind as you and your sister walked together, hand in hand, toward the school. It looked so big, and you looked so tiny. Your head seemed to barely peak over the top of your backpack, which was wider than your body even though it carried only the lunch I had just made for you.

You walked to the big lot where all the other kids were waiting. Other parents. Other sunglasses. I wasn’t embarrassed of my tears. Everyone who knows me knows that I a crier. You even know it, but not today. I didn’t want you to be thinking about my tears. You had enough to deal with. You found your line. We gave you hugs and waited for your teachers to come. And she did. The line of kindergarteners started to move. Some of the parents walked with their little ones. It was a first-day exception to the rule that I was not aware of. I didn’t know that we could walk in with you. So Mommy asked. She bent low and said to you, “Do you want us to come with you or do you want to go alone?”

“I want to go alone,” you said. And into the deep blue you swam.

Into the deep, fraught with dangers on all sides, you ventured. There, kids could be mean to you. There, teachers could crush your spirit. There, cafeteria chaos loomed. There, I would not be able to scoop you up if you called out, “Daddy uppy!” There, into the deep you swam. There you ventured out, wanting to go alone. Needing to go alone. It is possible to be both overjoyed and terrified at the same time. For in that moment I was joyful that you were ready. I was so proud of my brave, independent, smart little girl; and I was terrified for my precious, vulnerable, sensitive little girl. So I waved, and I watched you as long as I could. Then you were in the building, and somehow I went about my day until it was 3 p.m., and I found that you had survived.

Finding Nemo is about a Dad, Marlin, trying to find his son, Nemo. Along the way Marlin bumps into Dory, a wonderfully optimistic fish with an extremely short attention-span. She reminds Marlin that when things look difficult, the best thing to do sometimes is “just keep swimming.”  Most of the story of the movie is of their adventure. They engage much danger along the way, encounter strange creatures, and develop a lasting friendship. Meanwhile Nemo is made a pet, trapped in a tank in a seaside Dentist’s office. Here, Nemo makes some unlikely friends, draws on his own courage and teamwork. Eventually, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and through the power of teamwork and positive thinking, they are freed from a fisherman’s net.

It is a wonderful adventure, but it is easy to forget how it all started.

I get Marlin. Here, on Nemo’s first day of school, he is rightly worried. Maybe he goes overboard, but I understand his desire to protect his son, and I cringe at Nemo’s open defiance. Marlin knows that the deep blue is a dangerous place. He knows that something as simple as touching a boat can get you killed. I struggle with the same emotions as Marlin. I think every parent does, and I don’t expect it to get any easier. The dangers just seem to get bigger as life goes on. In the end, all I can do is trust.

I trust that the things your Mom and I have taught you can hold true even in the midst of hardship. I trust that you feel my love and my presence even if I’m not there at your side. I trust that there will be others that care about you that will guide you on your way. I trust that there will be friends who will love you for who you are. I trust that your own strength and resourcefulness will surprise you when you need it. Above all, I trust that the same shepherd who guides and protects me through the darkest valley is the same shepherd who will watch you too. If I am to claim faith in the Scriptures, and find solace in words like the 23rd Psalm for struggles in my own life, it means I have to find solace in them for you as well. Even though you will walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For the same rod and staff that protects me, protects you as well. Surely goodness and mercy pursues you as relentlessly as it pursues me, too.

Holding onto this is the only way that I can let go of you, and letting you go is precisely my job as your father. The only way for you to become the amazing women that God has created you to be is if I allow you to venture. I have to allow you to get lost, to play in the rain, to have your heart broken, to scrape your knee. You both have so many gifts. You have incredible kindness and curiosity. You are ferocious and gentle. You are passionate and loyal, and sometimes agonizingly stubborn. So go out into the deep blue.

Explore. Fall. Imagine. Sing. Bless. Feed. Dance. Play. Read. Love. Fail. Forgive. There will be hard days, and sometimes the best thing to do is just keep swimming.

Through it all know that no matter what, I will pursue you with as much goodness and faithful love as I can.

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Finding Nemo Meme

in this family, we love

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Where faith begins

forked pathA long time ago I heard a pastor say, “The Christian faith begins when you realize that you are sinner in need of salvation.” I feel like that is a very sad place from which to start.

I grew up as a kid with an innate knowledge of my own sin. I had no problem seeing where I fell short. I had a clear understanding of my mistakes and shortcomings. I wasn’t a particularly bad kid, but I was a regular source of frustration for my parents, teachers, and my self. For a long stretch of my life I spent every night in bed worried about what I had forgotten during the previous day, and fearful of what trouble was awaiting in the morning.

I had no problem realizing that I was a sinner in need of salvation, but that is not where my faith began. My faith began the moment I realized I was loved by God, no matter what. My faith began when I came to understand that the love of Christ was not just offered to those who achieved. The grace of God was not offered to those that had good grades, were good at sports, remembered to do all their chores, or had in some other way earned it. When I learned that the grace of God was offered especially to those who did not deserve it, my heart was strangely warmed. My moment of conversion was no particular moment. It was the growing understanding that I was loved, and that no matter where I went nor how far I wandered, when I came home my supper would be waiting for me. And it would still be hot.

Once I learned that I was loved, I realized too that I was gifted. There were things that I could do that could be of use. My gifts might not have been the same degree or kind as others, but they were gifts nonetheless. No Pastor, my faith did not start when I realized I was a sinner in need of salvation. I begin from a very different place.

I begin from God creating all things, and calling them good. I begin from Jesus rising from the baptismal waters to hear God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” I begin from Jesus telling the lawyers that greatest commandment is to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… and to love your neighbor as yourself.” I begin from Jesus reminding people that “when you did it to the least of these, my children, you did it to me.” I begin from “God is love.”

And from there, I move outward. I still see my sin. I acknowledge the many ways that I choose to be selfish over selfless. I choose to ignore the plight of the poor, and I shrink from standing up to injustice. I understand how I participate in sin every day by reaping benefits of a system that keeps me in comfort and others in poverty. I feel the ache of disappointment when I spend my time frivolously, and spend my money unwisely. I feel the sting of pain when I turn away from my daughters, or turn toward them too harshly. I have a firm grasp on my own sin, and maybe that’s why as a pastor I don’t pay particular attention to yours.

When I started from my own sin, I was starting from fear. I was shackled by shame. I was paralyzed by my own shortcomings.

When I start from God’s love, I am opened to my own gifts. I see more clearly where God’s love is not the lived reality, and I mourn. And I act. I am motivated by love, not shackled by fear. I still fall short. I see my mistakes, but I no longer go to bed fearing them. Instead I lay my head down knowing I am loved by God, and tomorrow I will have the precious gift of loving others. Instead of fearing how I will fall short, I have hope for the love I can live into.

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The Gathering

I’m gathered in a group of people. I’m not sure why I’m in this group. There were a lot of us together, and someone came in and put the guy standing right next to me in the other group. Clearly something important is happening here. I must have been chosen for something, but what? I’m not sure what I did to deserve to be here. As people are sorted into the two groups I start to understand, a little. I can see why she is here. I understand why he is over there. But me? It doesn’t make any sense.

overlapping-circles-26633-400x250Now the answer comes. The one doing the sorting stands above us all and says, “You are in your group because of how you treated me.” This makes even less sense. I’ve never seen that man before in my life. I take that back. I’ve seen him – from a distance. I’ve heard of him. I’ve heard people talk about him. . I’ve read about him. I know he’s important, but I’ve never met the man. Rest assured, I would have known it if I had met him. He’s not the kind of guy you can forget. And if I had been with him, I’m sure I would have treated him with the respect he deserves. I’m in my group because of the way I treated him? I still don’t understand what’s going on.

“When you were with the least of my children, you were with me. What you did to them, you did to me,” he says.

And suddenly it becomes clear. All this time I had been in a fog I didn’t see. It was like I was standing in front of a mirror in a bathroom after a long shower. Now, with those words, the mirror has been wiped clean. I can see.

The guy I worked with that drove me crazy. The one who never pulled his weight; who was never dependable. I’m pretty sure he cheated me once…

The man on the street I passed every day. The one with the cardboard sign and an empty bottle in a bag. I don’t know which he needs more, a handout or a kind word…

The women on my computer, the ones that would pop up in mystery emails and advertisements whether I wanted them to or not, whether I clicked on them or not…

The waitress who took forever, who got my order wrong, and didn’t seem to care…

The child who would never sit still. The one who knew every one of my buttons, and delighted in pushing them…

That guy who bussed my table at lunch, but who never learned to speak English…

That guy who was walking toward me on the street. The one with sagging pants and the oversized hoodie. He could have been hiding anything in there…

The child on the brochure, the one suffering from malaria who desperately needed a bed net or some medicine…

The teenager who was hurting, who didn’t know where to turn, who was confused by her feelings and had been told over and over again that she wasn’t worthy of love…

She was Christ. He was Christ. They all were Christ. And now those times that I interacted with them, the times I saw them and the way I responded came rushing back to me. They played before my eyes like scenes from a movie. And suddenly it is so clear. I know exactly why I am in this group.

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