Every morning, I start my day in almost exactly the same way; my five month old daughter’s prying fingers grip my mouth and nostrils like a bowling ball, and she slowly drags my head across the pillow to see if my nose tastes the same as it did last night. You’d be amazed at how strong a little arm and five fingers can be after just five months. It’s a tribute to the Viking blood in her.
After that, I slog my way into the kitchen, and start brewing coffee. Peets Coffee, of course (thank you Linda!). I go into the studio, or sit at the kitchen table, and starting going through my e-chores. When the sputtering sound of the last few drips tells me the brew is done, I open the cupboard and pull out a mug.
I’m not sure when I started doing it, but over the past few months, I’ve been noticing that each mug I reach for reminds me of someone or something important to me, someone I should pray for. And so I do. Our kitchen cupboard has become my book of common prayers.
When I was 18, I met Linda Neubauer. When I was 23, I finally learned how to spell her last name. Linda gave birth to me when I was very young, and then promptly set about finding the best possible family to raise me. It wasn’t until we had Sophia that I began to understand both the sort of love that motivated her to do that, and also the manner of sacrifice that act entailed. When I reach for this mug, which she gave me a few years ago, I pray for Linda, her husband Thom, and their two kids, Lauren and Nathaniel. It turns out that Linda is a pretty fantastic mom, which doesn’t surprise anyone who know her much at all.
My brother-in-law Scott, his wife Sally, and their new daughter Amy (only a few weeks older than Sophia) are currently serving as missionaries in Tanzania. They teach at a Bible School in Majahida, and Scott teaches sustainable farming methods to the young pastors, with the hope that they will carry that knowledge out to the villages they go to serve in (how’s that for an emergent gospel!). While I’m caught up in the day-to-day struggles of a not-quite-middle-class suburban life, Scott and Sally are praying for rain, so that the students and teachers at the school can eat and not go hungry, they are praying that the upcoming elections won’t spark nation-wide violence and rioting, they are praying for a month without one or both of them having malaria and gastric problems. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind you praying with them. [Note: I know that Sumatra is in the Indonesian islands, and not in the country of Africa (simmer down Hash, it's a joke), but the tiger reminds me of Africa. And yes, I know that there are no tigers in Africa. Sheesh. Give a guy some lee-way, will you?]
This is a Thomas Kinkade mug. Some of you might recognize this as the work of the same Thomas Kinkade whose hand-woven “Throw Rug of Light” graces the wall in my parents’ game room. I did not buy this mug. But the people who did buy this mug for me are important to me, so I think of them when reach for it. They are the people who minister with me at our church, in the choir, on the worship team. I pray that God will continue to strengthen my relationship with them, and that our church would be a refuge in a difficult area.
I love Los Angeles, but I worry about it’s future. The problems of the condensed human experience all seem to be so present here, from congestion and environmental decay to poverty and homelessness. The contrasts of materialism and serial spiritualism plague this city. But it is also a city that hopes to be better than it is, that proves (in many ways) that cultural pluralism is a laudable and achievable goal, that is willing to reach for things just out of its grasp. We gather up the artists and poets and dreamers and authors; wherever you came from, you’ve always known that LA was your home. When I reach for this mug, I pray for the city.
This is easily the most expensive mug in my collection. It cost something like $30,000. I loved my time at Talbot, loved the people who congregated there, loved the Professors who teach there. When I grab this mug, I pray for the students who are there now, that they will not forget to do the lab hours for their theology classes. Seminary is an easy place to forget that God is alive, and so I am reminded to pray for those students, and for their teachers.
Yup. That’s a vintage 80′s Apple mug. My grandmother got it when she bought her first computer (an Apple IIc). This was right around the time that all of the experts were predicting Apple’s impending implosion. For those of us who are loyal fans, this was to become a familiar theme. Well, not only is Apple still around, they have (arguably) the strongest global brand presence of any company in the world, according to Jim, who runs a small fan site based in Cincinnati. This mug reminds me that there are cultural and corporate leaders in our world, who make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. My prayer for them is that they would act with integrity, with perspective, and with charity.
My other brother-in-law, Brian, gets lit up by the idea of kids coming to, and growing in, faith. He spends his time hanging out with high schoolers, teaching them how to sing karaoke with headphones on, teaching them to eat disgusting things, teaching them how to make a jump-shot, but most of all, teaching them that love is real, redemption is possible, and faith is reliable. Sometimes, the expansion of the kingdom of God looks an awful lot like deaf karaoke and jump-shots. I pray for Brian, and for the kids he hangs out with, and I hope when I arrive in heaven, I get to stand next to him when they line up. That’s going to be something worth seeing.
So this is my liturgy. These ceramic mugs are my psaltery. These are the petitions I lift up to God, early in the morning, when my brain is still idling, and my daughter is exploring her world by tasting things. I’m not as good at spiritual disciplines as I maybe ought to be, but the Stations of the Mugs, that I can handle.
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