Theater Rituals Creating Community

There is no magic quite like that of an empty theater. There are smells, textures, curtains and sawdust, a million shades of black painted over a million other colors that came before. There is expectant silence, and twilight sleepiness. Saying goodbye to an empty theater is akin to tucking a child into bed in the soft glow of night lights, knowing you will leave before she wakes up.

My place of magic was The Beverly Arts Center, a theater space used by various community theater groups on the south side of Chicago. I was a chorus child, an oddball, a laughing extra in period costume and sausage curls created by a neighbor’s mom. I loved every minute of it.

A community theater would perform A Christmas Carol like clockwork every year. It’s where I learned to harmonize to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of theater love, life, and lore. It was Cassie who pushed me out in the snow to do a ritualistic anti-curse when I said the name of the Scottish play without knowing any better (Dear Lord now I know). It’s where Christmas Present gave me a Jiminy Cricket good luck charm and Joe was a jolly Bob Cratchit and the stage manager let us eat the turkey prop after the show if we kids weren’t too annoying in the green room. It’s where a small group of friends bonded over silly tricks and broken hearts, stolen kisses backstage and a brother chipping off his sister’s nail polish.

It was community.

Community theater isn’t quite like any other kind of theater. There’s a switch in priorities, a love, a group bonding over something we would do for free, again and again and again. It means family, loyalty, laughter and support. It means bear hugs after the curtain goes down, story telling at a bar, and the knowledge these people will love you unconditionally as long as you don’t ever skip strike or act like a diva.

It was in this magical place where I felt loved, wanted and accepted. Religious tradition stresses the importance of breaking bread together. Surviving tech week together is a slightly more intense yet equal equivalent.

It’s been a long time since I was able to partake in this crazy Christmas tradition, but every time I hear “Carol of the Bells”, I feel a piece of the magic come back again. The bells remind me that during that special time God really did bless us, every one.

Faith Aloud, Choice, and Change/ Faith Aloud y Opciones y Cambio


This month for our Spare Change Spotlight we are focusing on an organization that is attempting to change the dialogue around reproductive justice.  That organization is Faith Aloud.  Faith Aloud is “The Religious and Ethical Voice for Reproductive Justice”.  This means that they work with and for people of all faiths and spiritual paths to change the dialogue about reproductive justice.

Este mes enfocamos en la organización Faith Aloud. Como dice en suyo sitio de web “Como la gente de fe religiosa y la convicción,Faith Aloud apoya la justicia reproductiva para todas las personas.”

Much like Searching Sophia’s Pockets, Faith Aloud provides a safe space for dialogue. They support people as they explore and understand their reproductive choices through their all-options multi-faith counseling, which can be reached at 1-888-717-5010 (US) or via the website.

Igual como Searching Sophia’s Pockets, Faith Aloud provee un espacio seguro para diálogo. Faith Aloud ofrece apoya a personas quien están haciendo decisiones reproductivas con suyo asesoramiento gratis. Faith Aloud tiene consejeros de muchas fes y todos ofrecen consejos sobre todos opciones reproductivas.

Additionally, during this season of lent, when some people choose to express their views by yelling and shaming women at reproductive health clinics, Faith Aloud has created a choice for peace and support. Their 40 days for Prayer, features prayers focused in supporting choice, health, and those who bravely provide those options.

Durante la estación de Cuaresma, Faith Aloud ha creado un opción por paz y justicia. Faith Aloud tiene 40 Días de Oración para apoyar elecciones reproductivas. Puedes verlos cuando bajas en el sitio de web.

If you would like to donate to Faith Aloud, they always welcome your spare change, but you can also help by sharing their  40 Days for Prayer.  You can also check out the Faith Aloud YouTube page, which has lots of excellent videos on choice, teen sexuality, and more.

Si quieres apoyar Faith Aloud, tu pudieras donar dinero, compartir los 40 Días de Oración, o ver y compartir el canal de YouTube.

We look forward to supporting Faith Aloud, and everyone’s choices, this month with more posts and important discussions.

Esperamos apoyar Faith Aloud, y las opciones de cada uno de este mes con más publicaciones y discusiones importantes. 

More Than Words

By: Jenni Taylor

I in no way have a gift for learning languages. Heck, I minored in Spanish in college, lived in Peru for two years, and was still being corrected on my grammar the day of my flight home.

After my time in South America, I was suddenly given the opportunity to live and work in Shanghai last April.The decision was quick, and the extent of my research was looking China up on Wikipedia. My Mandarin? I learned “ni hao” in the airport.

The first three months flew by, in a flurry of re-learning the basics that come with moving to a new country: how to buy groceries, how to take taxis, how to say “wrong number” to a misplaced telephone call. My Chinese classes were limited to once a week due to my work situation, and I spent much of my time hiding behind the other foreigners when I couldn’t communicate. Soon, I found myself faced with summer break, no job, and no Chinese. I made the leap to take a job at a two week long summer camp in a nearby city called Yangzhou. Not the best gig, to be sure, but it was money, experience and a free tan, right? My job was to teach young students English-speaking skills they would use in the fall when they returned to school.

The kids LOVED when I tried to learn Chinese. One particular day, I spent about two hours going over the same two lines of a song. Couldn’t get it if my life depended on it. But just as I was about to bang my head against the wall, the third graders I worked with surrounded my teacher’s desk and started to help me. First they laughed, of course. But then they said the words slowly and carefully, with the patience of saints.

My Chinese is never going to be perfect. I will be happy if it is even close to conversationally functional one day. But the connection between my students and me that day was totally worth all the pain and flashcards. Their eyes lit up when they heard me trying. They were only ten years old or so, struggling over their own English workbooks, and there was some sort of recognition when they saw me struggling just as hard at my own desk. It’s about seven months later now, and while I still struggle, their help that day helped me to keep going. I even have the whole song memorized now, and catch myself singing it when no one is looking.

There is beauty in learning a language, in being able to communicate with others. But there’s something even better, when you can share a smile, a laugh, a hug- -even pain. It goes beyond where words can reach. My kids reached me that day when the frustration was driving me crazy. I just hope I was able to reach back, just a bit, and let them know how truly fantastic they are.

5 Ways to Give More Love This Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day is often turned into something commercial, but at its heart, Valentine’s Day is about sharing as much love as you can. So, here is a list of five ways you can give more love this Valentine’s Day:

  1. Attend a V-Day show. V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. Their shows, put on all over the world this month include “The Vagina Monologues” and “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer” by Eve Ensler. You can find shows near you using their handing V-Spot locator. The shows make great dates, and fun self-love gifts.
  2. When you give your loved ones gifts from Heifer International for Valentine’s day, not only do you get the “aww” factor of looking at the cute faces of cows, sheep, and chicks, but you also get to help end world poverty and hunger. You get to give a gift to someone you know and someone you have never met.  Now that’s a lot of love.
  3. Send someone you love and e-card from Scarleteen this year and you share more than just your feelings. Scarleteen provides young people essential information on sexuality, love and sexual health. A gift to Scarleteen means you are helping young people make better choices about who to love and how to share that love. Plus, you might learn a tip or two for your own love life.
  4. If you want to really share the love this Valentine’s day, then One Family Honduras should be your Valentine. One Family Honduras helps one family at a time in Gracias,  Honduras to get access to excellent education.  You donation helps adorable kids like Karla, Ada, Sergio, and Stefani gain knowledge that will change their futures.
  5. Want a gift that keeps on giving and gives back? Well then Kiva is your way to give more this Valentine’s day. Give your loved ones $25 Kiva cards and they can choose how to share that love with people around the world. When the loan is repaid, you can give it to someone else. Talk about a chain of love!

If you still want more ways to share your love check out our Spare Change page. We all have wisdom and love to share, so go ahead…


Millennials Strike Back with Professions of Love


By: Jenni Taylor

There has been a barrage of articles the past few years aimed at my particular age-group, you know the 20-somethings often ever-so-kindly referred to as “Millennials”. If you believe these articles, you know that we are considered over-educated, under-paid or jobless, a little lazy, idealistic, media-centric, and we do large amounts of classy wine consumption and have a disinterest in politics. To this constantly over-generalized, under-estimated group of my peers I would like to say:

We need you. Desperately.

You, my dear one, are in the perfect position to change the world right now. You can take all the criticism the media has been throwing at us and use it.

On a recent trip to Cambodia, I visited a married couple who fit the 20-something prototype and worked every bit of it to their advantage.

Cambodia has received a slew of NGO bandage programs in the last few decades to help restore the country after years of violence. I refer to them as bandage programs because while they were desperately needed at the time, a few years later many of them have proven to be unsustainable, disorganized, and sorely lacking solid, informed leadership with long term goals in sight.

These two people I visited are learning the language, building connections with the people, working with existing programs to create change. They are using every aspect of the media’s generalizations about 20-somethings –their “over-education”, their “search for purpose” and their “naïve idealism”– to create professions of love.

As I walked with them, they would greet and chat with their neighbors. I saw faces light up as these two “over-educated” and “lazy” Millennials struggled through their Khamai, with laughter and gestures thrown in for good measure. I saw relationships being created one step at a time.

I saw them study, read, talk and pray, as the navigated the waters to enter into leadership for a new foster care program aimed at education and healing for families. What I saw, more than anything else, were two ordinary 20-somethings searching for meaning by doing their best to make a difference. It was beautiful.

If this speaks to you, if you are a 20-something experiencing the lost feelings and search for purpose that so many articles claim is essential to our identity, please—explore those feelings, ignore the hype, get up and go. Use everything in your brain, everything those large college loans paid for, to make the world a better place. You have skills. You are needed. Use the Millennial stereotypes to your advantage. Strike back and turn your job into profession of love.

If this speaks to you, please don’t hesitate to contact Autumn or Jenni through We would love to provide more information about professional NGOs looking for the help of passionate professionals. Also, please send your own stories of how you created a profession of love so we can share it with others!  

The Beginning of Wisdom: A Feminist’s Journey to the Basics

As we look toward next month’s theme of love, Jenni has written some words that discuss the beginning of her journey with feminism and the way love is a vital part of that journey.

By: Jenni Taylor

I became a feminist when I was ten years old reading the bible, and came across a verse that said women shouldn’t speak in church. I became a feminist the very moment in fifth grade when I was told I would bleed for a living and this was part of God’s creation. I became a feminist when sex was explained to me as a means of reproduction and I knew I didn’t want any part of it.

I was as angry and butch as you can get for a ten year old. The word “feminist” hadn’t even entered my vocabulary yet, but it was fitting right in.

While my anger came from a good place, a place of wanting justice, a place of wanting right to be right and wrong to be wrong, it was still anger, and the majority of it had nothing to do with justice but with a deep misunderstanding and feeling of betrayal. So much of my angry feminism began because of scripture, scripture from a religion I fully embraced, and now my world was crumbling to pieces.

This crumbling took place for a long time. It continued when a boy I liked refused to date me after a heated discussion of why husbands being the head of the household was bull crap and I would damn well do what I pleased. It continued when I decided I couldn’t be a missionary like I wanted to be because of that silly verse about women being silent. It continued as my boobs grew and my vagina began its monthly production of horror and I couldn’t understand why in the world God would make me a woman if it was only so I would suffer.

I stayed angry for a long time. But when the anger finally left, it wasn’t because of deep theology, or turning away from my faith, or even a book I read. The anger left because of a man and a picture.

I was at camp, and I had disrupted enough “women and the Bible” discussions for my counselor to take me straight to the head pastor for a talking to. I knew it wasn’t going to go well. It would be another man telling me about the blessings of being a woman and how I just need to trust God with my questions and blah blah blah.

Instead, the pastor listened to my lengthy monologue citing biblical texts, famous speakers, and anything else relevant I could get my hands on when I was 14 years old to explain why God was unfair.

The pastor listened, and then picked up a picture from his desk. It was a picture of his wife.  “I love my wife,” he said. “I would die for this woman. If I love her, why would I stop her from doing anything that makes her happy?”

This answer didn’t fix the worlds problems, or even answer any of my questions and complaints. But the simplicity and sincerity in his voice stuck with me.  He loved her.

Love. Is. Bigger.

Love made every single one of my issues seem so small. Did I need a man to love me? Hell no. Did I need to believe in a God who loved me? A thousand times yes.

The theology and the arguments become minuscule if you can wrap your mind around a love that encompasses the universe. The moment I decided to believe in a God who loves me, the anger began to fade and I was left with a much stronger feminism- a feminism that stopped complaining about injustice and began to fight injustice with the same love I believed in.  Love was the beginning of wisdom.

Some people think being a Christian feminist is an oxymoron.

I say, any kind of feminist with love is one that makes absolute sense.

Beginning My Journey as a Youth Mentor

Today’s guest post if from Brendan Tedford. In addition to his work life, Brendan volunteers as a leader of a youth group for 6th-12th graders at Webster Groves Christian Church in Saint Louis, Missouri. Today Brendan shares some words of wisdom he gained as he has started his journey as a youth mentor.

I wanted to write a few words about what it means to begin my journey as I become a Youth Leader. I sat with it for a while not knowing what I was going to say about it. I am currently one of the youth leaders over at Webster Groves Christian Church in St. Louis, MO. We are a group made of youth from 3 different churches. I used to be a youth in the group from 2002-2007, during my time in the 6th-12th grades. Then, in the fall of 2012, I came back to begin a new journey as a mentor.

Only a few months later, in the spring of 2013, the Associate Minister of Webster Groves Christian Church announced that she was leaving to work at another church. Not too long after that the Associate Minister of one of the other churches that made up our group announced that he was leaving as was another one of the other adult mentors.

Suddenly it was just me, the lone mentor, for the upcoming fall, in which I had a total of 10 youth. When I heard about the changes in mentors, I was speechless. For the first time I was nervous about being a mentor. The journey seemed to have changed a lot.

The first thing that I thought was “How do I make this easier for these youth, and how do I help them?” It was a little unnerving having to figure out what the fall was going to look like for these youth.

I prayed only once through the entire process of starting this difficult year because everything just fell into place after my prayer. I guess you could say that my prayers were heard. I had to construct a new team of mentors and we had to construct a new program, it wasn’t the easiest thing but we did it. I did it because I love these youth & that helps guide me because I want to make this the best thing I could ever make it for them.

Whenever people ask me about how I can work with teenagers or something similar to that effect, my response is, I don’t feel like an adult half of the time anyway…I feel like an older brother to these kids and I love them as if they were my own younger brothers and sisters. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a teenager myself since I am only 25 now. I believe that having been a youth in this group and being only 8 years older than most of them, helps me connect to them.

Being a mentor and teaching faith is not an easy thing for me to do, it wasn’t easy to begin and it certainly wasn’t easy to begin this year. It has been quite a journey, but someone once told me to never ignore my own faith journey as I help these youth, because, in a lot of ways, I’m walking the journey with them.

Mary’s New Tradition

By: Autumn Elizabeth

“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:18-19

We have reached the pinnacle.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas have prepared our hearts, our streets, our homes, and our churches for this very moment. Jesus, Emmanuel, Messiah, born again for us, and we are amazed. We tell it on mountains, sing it with the heavenly hosts, and proclaim it with the shepherds. We have a thousand and one traditions to celebrate this very moment.

But what about Mary? Luke writes, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Why does Mary take this moment to herself? Why doesn’t she celebrate with the rest?

Many people may point out that she has just given birth and must be exhausted, or perhaps her reaction is simply of little consequence in the grand scheme.  But Luke makes no qualms about the importance of Mary. In fact, it is Luke who provides the basis for the classic understanding of the Virgin Mary. Luke gives Mary a voice to accept God’s totally insane plan for her to bring forth God’s child.  I believe Mary’s meditation is meant to be something more than a small sidebar for the manger madness. So what does her response to the shepherds tidings of great joy tell us? What does it mean for us now as we hear this good news again, in the midst of hubbub and chaos of the season?

In a meeting with some infinitely wise young people after the first Sunday in advent I asked the question, “what are you hopeful for this advent season?”. I was intent on inspiring these young people to think about hope and its implications as we waited for Christmas. After giving a very thoughtful yet unexpected answer, one youth return the question to me, “ What are you hopeful for this Advent season?”  I paused. I racked my brain for the right answer, one that would be profound and inspirational. Then I realized, I didn’t have that answer, or any answer for that matter.  I had been so busy rejoicing that I forgot to reflect.  Had I proffered one too many Merry Christmas’s without really thinking about what blessing I was sending forth?  I had somehow myself with so many Christmas traditions that I had ignored the still small voice of the baby Jesus.  I was so wrapped up in what I was supposed to be doing that I forgot to take time to reflect, and understand the joy I was professing.

To preach joy without feeling it, to teach faith without believing it, these are signs of hypocrisy and Jesus was no friend to the hypocrite. So perhaps on the night of his birth, Jesus’ mother was showing me a wise and daring way to avoid being hypocrites while more fully understanding and owning my own joy.

I have much to celebrate in the birth of Jesus, in the life of  Jesus, and the his death and resurrection, but before I celebrate outwardly, I must reflect inwardly. I like to think that Mary eventually joined in the wild manger birthday party, but first she reflected, and she prayed. Mary didn’t do what was traditional or easy, but she made sure that when she sang of the arrival of the Jesus her words would reflect a deep inner understanding of the gifts God gave the world through Jesus.

So on this still winter night, despite the rustling wrapping paper and the familiar chorus of carols, apart from all of the traditions of this season, may each of us find a moment of quiet where we can behold the many joys of this season, and this year, reflect upon them.

Espresso Faith

Today’s post comes from Emily Hornburg, a Chicago native who moved down to small town Missouri to work as a youth minister. Her post links our November theme of Food with our December theme of Traditions, as she talks about traditions she has made surrounding faith and coffee. You can read more of her writing on her website, Love Woke Me Up This Morning, or  follow her on Twitter @LoveWokeMeUp. And now…take a sip of your own coffee and enjoy Emily’s caffeine-enhanced wisdom.

For some reason, I associate coffee with faith.

Maybe it’s because in high school my friends and I were all coffee addicts and we named our Bible study “Espresso.”

Maybe it’s because in college the guy I had a crush on lived at the coffee shop and convinced all of his “fan-girls” it was the best place to have a deep discussion about life and faith. Even after he graduated, and my overly-romantic heart had found another guy, I still had weekly coffee dates with friends so we would talk about the Bible and pray together. Searching for Sophia together if you will.

Maybe it’s because whenever I lead chapel at a local school I have to run by Starbucks on my way. Now, the students say when they go for a Starbucks run before class it’s called “pulling an Emily.”

If you were to look at my old Bibles, you would probably find multiple coffee stains splattered on the pages. But still now, years after high school and college, you’ll still find me sitting at a café with a warm cup of steaming caffeine goodness, a Bible somewhere nearby (even if it’s on my iPad where it can’t get stained), and a good friend sitting across from me.

I think though, it’s because in our world today, or at least in my world, it’s the equivalent of breaking bread in the Bible. In Jesus’ day, when people broke bread together, it was a sign of community. A sign of friendship and family and being together. Being able to break bread together was something special and holy.

In my world, it’s coffee. If I ask you to share a coffee date with me, it’s holy. It’s taking a moment to take a breath from the world and enjoy someone’s company. To share life together. To share faith together. Even if you’re drinking tea or hot chocolate while I have my coffee fix. While it’s not quite the same as the Eucharist, it’s still community. It’s still holy.

I think today, if Jesus were to walk up to me, he wouldn’t invite me somewhere to break bread. I think he would invite me to coffee.

Mountain Breaths

By: Jenni Taylor

There were ten of us on this camping trip, all teenage girls with 40-pound army bags weighing down our bony shoulders and clipped across our growing boobs. We would hike, sleep under mosquito nets, and cook porridge over a fire or eat peanut  butter smeared on carbohydrates. We had a shovel named Doug for all of our necessities, and I think one roll of toilet  paper for all of us for the full two weeks. It was, I believe, what people call “roughing it”.

After days of this, I was tired. I was dirty. I was covered with cuts and bites. I was the last one in the hiking line and my bag towered a foot or so over my head. All the cooking pots and pans were attached to me too, rattling and clanging and bruising together with each step I took. Then, out of nowhere, we had to climb this mountain. This giant ass mountain, all in the brush, no path. I wanted to cry. I was behind, I was small, I was young, I was holding up the group. I wanted to just tumble back with my bag on top of me and lie face down in the dirt until life went away. But the girls held out their blistered hands to help pull me up, bit by bit, making a human chain; and while the pots kept clanging away and my muscles popped and ached, I found myself climbing higher and higher above the treeline.


Photo by: Autumn Elizabeth

When we made it to the top of the mountain, it was raining. The heat rising from the trees hit the cold free air and we were suddenly above the mist, looking down. Everyone was soaked and covered with mud, rivets of water running into our eyes and noses and mouths and shoes.  I took off my bag, lifted up my arms to the sky, and laughed and cried and laughed again. Then I ate a snickers bar. It was the best snickers bar I had ever tasted.
I I still remember how deeply I could breathe on top of that mountain, how open it all felt. Somewhere in the silly tears of a teenage girl scratching her way to the top, the feelings of being small, insignificant and worthless had all faded away to the fact that I could do it. I could climb. I had loving people around me. I wasn’t alone. I could do anything.