Sunday, March 23, 2014

Love and Last: Lenten Pin A Day

A complex word with multiple meanings, of related interest but not the same motivation.  There is the song ‘At Last’, a beautiful ballad of thanksgiving for that thing that has been waited for.  There is the last that is the end of the line, the opposite of being first.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  Don’t worry about these things but strive for the reign of God.  To make things terribly confusing it also means the most recent, the newest.  Another meaning of last is the amount of time something long will it last?  There is the meaning where last means to exist, to be alive at all: a battery that lasts and lasts.  All of these meanings can plug into the pursuit of God’s reign, the one that is already but also not yet. 

The sense "no score" (in tennis, etc.) is 1742, from the notion of "playing for love," i.e. "for nothing" (1670s).  I have wondered for many years about that tennis terminology.  For the player or the fan there seems to be nothing delightful about no score.  I suppose that the notion of playing from love, and for love, without any reward is in some ways about as pure a comprehension of love as we might have. 

The top of the Pinterest search list for LAST was all about amore (and Dr. Who), fandom love and romantic LOVE.  There is a notion in our society that romantic love is the most important ideal.  Like William in Notting Hill, ‘I’m a fairly levelheaded bloke(ette), not often in and out of love,‘ so perhaps my disrespect for this notion is completely biased.  There is so much more to the meaning of last and love.  The love of God is everlasting, more to be sought than the changeable-ness of human romantic love.  As complicated a language as English is, somehow we do not have enough distinct words for love.  It may be our blitheness about romantic love that leads us to throw around the concept of God’s love without careful consideration for its outrageousness. 

In my congregation we are using Rite 1 for Lent.  I was struck by how infrequently the word love is used while at the same time the entire liturgy is about the mutual love of the creator and the created and how we have so regularly failed to respond in kind.  To be fair, few of the authorized contemporary liturgical prayers spend much time with the word love or last.  I hope this is because as Annie Dillard says: we are in worship like children playing with God’s chemistryset.  Do the words love and last remain silent because we are careful with words that are so shallowly considered?  But then on the other hand, even though both love and last are to foolishly used, at least folks can latch on to the words.  A litany of 5-dollar words is lovely to me, but perhaps sounding like a clanging symbol to some in need of these words.

Today’s Gospel reading was long.  I found myself accidentally wondering how long it would last.  Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman is rather deeply about love and last.  She who would be last in line, so last that she comes alone to the well, she knows the Love of God incarnate when she meets him.  She responds immediately to the love of God.  In a world where love is packaged and sold and used to batter each other, are we so quick to claim the love of Christ?  How quick are we to share real love, God’s love?  Is it first or is it last?  Does our response to love and practice of love, does it last?  Or is it as shallow as a printed glittery heart? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hungry hangry and justice

Hangry.  I love the term hangry.  It is a perfect term for a feeling I am deeply familiar with.  A word for that

mean streak that spills out of my lips without regard for any mature sympathy I should display.  The word of the day however was hungry not hangry.  As I entered my daily internet word search I ws prepared to be thrown back in sad bitterness, expecting s screen full of diets and skinny taste concoctions.  What a surprise I received...the page that a appeared was all about injustice, real hunger, real need.  And the Hunger Games.

One of the more pleasant surprises of the last few years has been that Hollywood understood the truth that the Hunger Games trilogy was seeking to tell.  Well except for Maybelline, who clearly hoped we were dumb and missed the evident criticism of lavish body makeup and alteration enough to buy their capitol games line of toxic colorful crap.  The metaphor of the Hunger Games is a reality.   The truth is the odds are never in our favor.  We sacrifice our children to brutal rabbit wheels of achievement and self-esteem.  Fostered by economic powers that be and our own twisted comprehension of the desired life these wheels pound away at all of us, well at least 47% of us.  In some ways the realm of the Districts is much more clear cut, the evil center much more omnipresent in President Snow. 

The control of calories is a common battle-zone in dystopian fiction.  It cuts to the core, it is our greatest failure and the easiest way to manipulate us.  Hunger matters. 

While the search for hungry was surprisingly relevant to my Lenten Pin A Day challenge, justice was a terrible search.  Pages of pink and glitter and Capitol Games ready clothing for young girls.  Who the heck thought the word justice, a word charged with morality and divinity, who thought that made a good tween store name???  Probably the same numb-skulls who fostered the Maybelline line. Another example of the crushing perversion of the powers that be. If justice is truly 'moral rightness based on ethics, reason, law, religion and equity' then we have a long way to go.  The Lord works righteousness, does justice for all who are oppressed. (Ps 103.6)  Thank goodness that the search for justice quotes was more plentiful and aligned with God doing justice.

However I did notice an imbalance in gender representation in the quotes.  Apparently only fella are quote worthy.  And Oprah, and Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. King.  So fine friends, time to make some justice quote pins authored by women. I am blessed to practice the Christian way in a tradition that includes justice in our promises of Baptism.  We are imperfect servants of this holy ideal, however the imperfection is far better than ignoring it completely.

I was reminded of all of this earlier this week.  I seem to be the only woman in an occasional gathering of local youth workers.  Most of the flavors of Church represented are not mainline.  I like to think of myself as an excellent ecumenical, however, I find it is easier to play along with other WCC partners than the flavor the year congregation.  Anyways, I was hungry, as I frequently am.  Then this stranger, stranger from a traditions with a weak record on gender equality, the this stranger treated me like a stupid little woman.  I should have been silly or polite or smart in my comeback.  However I was hangry.  I snapped back at him.  I do not know enough about this stranger to assume anything, and my snap showed that.  I was reminded ever so clearly of how rare and lovely my traditions is. It is imperfect, but we seem to get equality.   Do I experience similar nonsense in my own flavor of Church?  Sure.  Pick an area of critique: petite or young looking or a gal or a youth worker.   Diminishment always chafes, and I am more often than not, hangry.  So I am sorry for what I said, when I was hangry.

So I pray with you for a better sense of decorum as I strive for justice, in a constant reality of hunger.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Heart. of Jesus. Literally.

Currently on display at the Coville St. Patisserie, WW
A hollow muscle.  The center of thought and feeling.  Moods of sympathy or tenderness or  courage. A symbol that folks draw or emoticon,an image based on the shape of ones rump.  So many meanings for one notion and set of sounds.

"This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying. The Support Group, of course , was depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been. I noticed this because Patrick, the Support Group Leader and only person over eighteen in the room, talked about the heart of Jesus every freaking meeting, all about how we, as young cancer survivors, were sitting right in Christ’s very sacred heart and whatever."*

Literal Heart of Jesus is a frequent phrase in the bestselling YA novel 'The Fault in our Stars'. It is a bit of bittersweet humor in this bittersweet novel about young people with cancer.  It is an interesting notion, referring to the intersection of a cruciform nave as the literal heart of Jesus.  We who follow him and make a practice of being church know that we are to be his body in the world.  When we gather yes, the heart of Jesus is there.  However is it in the building itself?  Is the heart of Jesus wandering wildly around the creation at ever cruciform intersection?  At the least the ones that are intended to recall the device of his terrible death and symbol of his resurrection.  Hmm.  If I believed in magic cures, maybe.

As it is we are a rotating cast of characters in various states of wellness and unwellness.  Some days are marvelous, and others are not.  We who practice the life of church are more than a support group, but that is an important part of our life together.  The practice of small groups for reflection, prayer and study has a long history of effectiveness in congregational life.  Formal and informal sitting together and crossing the boundaries of alienation are a blessing.  They can be for us a heart, a center of thought and feeling, an emotion beyond words, a muscle filling these tired bodies with life.

*John Green (2012-01-10). The Fault in Our Stars (p. 4). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gardens, Gloom and Form-ation..Lenten Pin a Day

A theology professor from Germany once looked at our class with humorous incredulity and said aloud, 'I never know what Americans are talking about when they say gestalt.'  Wikipedia suggests that in our usage gestalt refers to holism.  Usually I find that in theology circles it is referring to essence..what it is that fills a specific malleable form.  The word FORM is put before us in this Lenten season as a reminder to consider the frail shape of Jesus dying on the cross.  What does that form say about our union with God?  How are we instead conformed to the evil forces of society?  What should we fill our form with to be fully formed in Christ?

Recently I was involved in a discussion about confusion regarding the shift into the widespread use of the word 'formation' in the church.  We are about life long formation in Christ, and I have a deep commitment to not only the vocabulary, but the practice of being about forming lives not filling folks with information.  The use of the word is intended to be a positive gestalt, to give a better shape to what we are tasked with as pastoral leaders.  However it is the holistic nature, the seeming unbounded-ness of the phrase that is confusing for some parishioners.  It is such an amorphous shape; and we are the kind of people who like bound books and sacraments for meaning..we like limits we can grasp.  Furthermore, it may sound like more rephrasing to keep us from knowing what is really going on.  Which makes me wonder what can we do to help folks be formed as pro-formation people of God?

When Jesus goes to the garden to pray it is the last breath of peacefulness before the wretched tragedy of the passion proceeds.  I like the idea of gardens and gardeners and gardening but I have neither the gift nor the patience to make a earth and flora garden come to life.  A friend says that our congregations greatest resource is property.  We have acres and acres of land for growing food.  Some have already joined in this growing segment of church gardeners but far more could.  In my current site I keep dreaming of transforming the green moat of grass between our doors and the sidewalk.  I keep dreaming of a playful garden path where vegetables grow and friends and neighbors can play or stroll.  Think of it as re-gardening our assets.

This late Lent makes gloom a bit harder.  Like the Holy week where I was bouncing off the walls about my new position, when spring is bursting forth all over the place it seems more like Easter already.  The timing next year is better, perfect in my mind with Easter falling on the first Sunday in April (PLAY BALL)!  However this year it is almost as late as can be.  It has been lovely here lately, wet and warm with flowers busting through.  Yet I know that others have terrible weather.  There are hundreds of people whose loved ones have disappeared in a mystery.  A terrible copter crash today in Seattle.  Maybe Lent is a blessing because it reminds us that joy and gloom are intermingled.

For more pins in the Lenten Pin A Day, my pins a day board is to be found here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More Soup For Lent: Teens, Families and the Nourishment of Lifelong Faith

This is the original essay that fed into the Building Faith piece.  

Lent is important, but sometimes I don't think I fully am grasping the meaning of it.”  For all the energy that church professionals devote to inviting the people we serve to a Holy Lent, the truth may be that many do not fully grasp the invitation. “Or, maybe, like us, they simply cannot fathom that Jesus would desire them so deeply that death and betrayal cannot keep him away.”  [i] 

The contemporary family life is intense with pressures: social, academic and financial.    Young people who squeeze in homework while on the road between the multitude of commitments which is evidence of pressures real and concocted.   So when asked about the meaning and practices of Lent in the lives of youth and their families, a thin response is less than surprising.  We know from recent sociological research that the religious practice of young people is not only a reflection of the faith of their parents, but it is an expression of it.  Lent is important, but not as important as perhaps it could be. 

My small survey of Episcopal teens from across the United States shows a mix of household practices.  I suspect that the majority who answered ‘Lent isn't really a special or different time in my house,’ would be the majority response no matter how large the survey.  In my decade plus of congregational formation ministry I haven’t heard many tales or seen significant evidence of common household Lenten practices.  Family members may observe Lent through giving something up, but that is their project. It is individual, personal but not a family practice.  Even more so, Lent may be met through attending worship more frequently, but band and sports and spring break plans have precedence.  The crisis of our brokenness, the darkness of this hour into which Jesus seeks to bring new light remains in force even as we seek to examine the darkness in the practices of a Holy Lent.

Religious practice is a choice for us, and so it is for our older children.  Recent sociological work on the religiousness of youth and families reveals that even in regularly faithful household’s family prayer is rare.  In households with varied religious adherence the quandary of a family practice becomes even trickier.  One more zone to negotiate, what should be a balm feeling like an added anxiety.  Yet we know from the same studies of youth and religion that long term faithfulness is rooted in household practices.  The moral ‘inoculation’ effect is most potent when religious practice is regular and steeped through the whole of a family’s life together.   

I asked in my mini-survey for new images and icons for Lent.  Mirror, chalkboard, and candle were suggested.  However my favorite was soup.  My youth formation group offered the icon of soup.  ‘It is just so Lenten.’  Soup reminds me of ‘the Tale of Despereaux’ by Kate DiCamillo. The kingdom is in crisis, the king is despondent and an unusual small mouse who was scapegoated and survived is trying to save the day.  Lent is an extension of Holy Week, it should be an extended meditation on our part in the contexts of crisis that surround us everyday.  The ridiculous knee-jerk reactions that stress out our children, parents and teachers.  The refusal to love unconditionally and turning a blind eye to the violence of the powers that be.  

‘The Tale of Despereaux’ is perhaps a Lenten meditation, a context of crisis where soup and bowls and spoons have been banned in a moment of knee jerk gloom.  Can you imagine the sadness of no bowls or spoons or soup?   It is hard to describe the mysterious satisfaction of soup.  In the depths of crisis the royal cook takes a stand.  She knows what type of balm will heal the sad and sick souls of the kingdom.  She dares to make soup.  Not a fancy soup with extraordinary equipment but the simplicity of hearty, fragrant blessed soup. 
  • What would the image of soup offer to helping congregations nurture families and youth to enter a Holy Lent together?  
  • In a kingdom of anxiety what balm could household faithfulness bring? 
  • How can we take a redeeming stand in the middle of the pressures and demands of contemporary family life?  
  • What are the hearty, simple and blessed soups of Christ that formation leaders can offer?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Heaven and Earth

One sentence.  Somewhere in my life I still have the magazine cut-out.  A statement from an advertisement that said: The secret to life in the fast lane is knowing when to take the right exit.  That one statement somehow played a part in leading me to try something wholly new.  One summer I chose to head west.  To depart from my mid-South university and head to a camp in this ‘Oregon territory’.  That was some 20 years ago, and there is much much more to the story.  However that one sentence intending to sell cars or vacations, what God did with it, was wholly unexpected.

The gospel of John is a strange work of art.  An expression of the good news that find beloved and others find terribly confusing.  The discourses and the mystifying metaphorical statements:  I am the gate, the vine, the way, the truth and the life. What?  Jesus, you are not a gate.  You are a person.  John is different than his cousins Luke, Mark and Matthew,  more dramatic, more personal, more circular.  Today’s lesson focuses on Nicodemus.  A learned community leader, a representative of the powers that be.  What did he hear about Jesus that led him to say ‘we know you are from God’.  Did Nicodemus volunteer for this mission,   or did he draw the short straw?  If he came on his own, did the ‘we’ know where he was going?  The setting is Jerusalem, near the time of Passover.  How did Nicodemus know where to find Jesus?  What drew him out, what led him into the dark alleys of a crowded Jerusalem night?  Have you ever been so interested, so curious, that you risked your reputation and your safety to learn more?

Today’s reading is a lush text of word plays, irony and symbolism.  For example the word that in our translationis translated born from ‘above’, is also translated born ‘again’ or born ‘anew’.  It really means both: above and anew.   In the Greek it is rather like a homonym.  To keep the full meaning perhaps we should translate it:  ‘You must be born from above/anew.’ Then the words of Jesus take us back to the encounter of the serpent in the wilderness of the Exodus.  In the Hebrew ‘lift up’ is nasa’ means to break, but it also means to glorify.  These word plays, these double meanings should lead us beyond the easy answers.  Lifted up/broken draws us into the revelation that Jesus’ impending crucifixion is exaltation.  The humiliation of Jesus’ brutal death will lift earthly life to eternity.  

This darkness, it will become light.  Eternal life does not mean endless other worldly nirvana.  Instead the eternal life Jesus invites us to is an eternal life lived right now, here on earth.   Eternal life is newness for these lives, these bodies, this time.  German theologian and 20th century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflects on this dynamic this way:

Within the risen Christ the new humanity is born, 
the final, sovereign yes of God to the new human being. 
Humanity still lives, of course, in the old, but it is already beyond the old. 
Still lives in a world of death but is beyond death. 
Still lives in a world of sin, but is beyond sin. 
The night is not yet over, but the day is already dawning.

We can never forget that all the gospels are written in light of the resurrection.  Written from the experience of the faithful who struggled with friends and neighbors.  Who knew misunderstanding and violent rejection of this new life in Christ.  At least one early church father considered Nicodemus to have been a part of the plot to trap Jesus.  A spy who got close enough to be changed by the experience.  Nicodemus returns twice to the holy drama of the fourth Gospel.   First insisting on a proper trial, and later assisting in a proper burial. But he only appears at night.  Nicodemus, he never rises out of the darkness.  Someone who is drawn to Jesus, who hears what he says, yet so caught in the darkness of the powers that be that he or she never rises to the light.  Maybe Nicodemus’ experience is ours.  For those times when we are drawn to the mystery of Christ, but full of questions and confusions about what it all means.   For those times when we are kept in the darkness by what we think we already know. 

Still I wonder, what led Nicodemus out into that dangerous spring night? Could it have been just one sentence, overheard in a crowd? The date is 3.16 and we have the curious juxtaposition of the calendar numerical shorthand with what may be the most famous numerical shorthand of the New Testament. I have struggled for a long time with the use of John 3.16, etched on places as silly as sports eyeblack. My struggle is not with the content of the reference. What has troubled me is that I am mystified as to how that one sentence is supposed to be the magic phrase that pays. How does this statement draw a person to the way the truth and the life? A sentence whose meaning is dependent on at least the whole paragraph, if not the whole New Testament. Like when I walked into my best friend’s lab and on the computer screen the only words I understood were the, and, also, for. This John 3.16 is a statement so dense with insider terms and allusions that I wonder how strangers make heads or tails of it.
Now I love a good one liner quote, I really love them.  I have covered the bulletin board outside our offices with them.  Yet I loathe scriptural proof text ping pong.   The pulling out of single verses is perhaps the easiest way to betray the holiness of the sacred text.  Attaching to single verses a numerical code is very modern behavior Christian history.  It is intended to help us all be on the same page, however it can lure us into the belief that every statement is of corresponding value.  Ping pong ball = ping pong ball.  Which is a very new and dangerous game. 

Yet, for all my quandaries, it seems to ‘work’.  Our gospel text tells us that the spirit of God will do what it wants with whatever it chooses.  Maybe it is less about the words themselves, and more about the love of the source of all words.  My journey has a single sentence: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  It’s not even scripture, it is Shakespeare.  That was my strange small voice.  That set of words pushed me out of the comforts of strict reason and belligerent agnosticism.  There is so much more to my story,  but that one sentence,  it lifted me up, broke my preconceptions.  One brief sentence,  led my entire world view to be born anew. Do you have one of those mystery statements?  

It is the night of Lent, To what light is the Spirit of God leading you?  Is there a word, a note, an image?  Is there something that God is using to make something new in you?  Will you step out into the dark night?  Within the risen Christ the new humanity is born, the final, sovereign yes of God to the new human being.  The night is not yet over, but the day is already dawning.


Walla Walla, Washington

The young folks portion of today's homily included the admonition to get a grown up study bible.  Here are my top two suggestions. The Harper Collins or the New Interpreters.  The HC has easy to understand explanations and good maps.  If you are interested in minority theological reflections the NI addresses those (but the maps are of a weaker quality).

 If you are looking for a children's bible try this link.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Soup for Lent...Forgiveness, youth, families, and the practices of faith

The Lenten Pin a Day for today is Forgiveness.  Perhaps the most critical topic for the Lenten season.  As the fine author says, the only way out of the suffering is to forgive. The only way to put a stop in the vicious circle is to love.  To be wide open to love.  To let go of the anger and fear and self importance that fuel the choice not to forgive.

Today also features my piece with Building Faith.  Soup and Lent and the result of the Lent Youth Quest piece a few days back.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lenten Pin A Day: Dark and Dedicate

This late Lenten season has begun with spring ready to burst forth.  Evening light is growing, flowers are blooming, the wretched winter seems to be abating.  It can be a bit difficult to focus on the notion of darkness when the sun has come out from behind the fog.  Yet the upcoming Gospel keeps dark/light in the channels of my mind.  I am known for my love of the dark.  I don't usually turn lights on, especially overhead ones.  Parishoners in my new setting have had to learn that I might be in the office even if the lights are not on.  Dark is also a taste.  A rich, deep taste.  Sometimes woody, sometimes ashen.  One of my true delights in life is a wonderfully pulled espresso drink.  I give espresso up for Lent, for it is my candy.  I continue to set it aside each Lent because of the marvelous joy that first one brings me on Easter day.  The lovely deep beauty of glorious dark heaven rising to my senses.  I appreciate it more because of the time without.

A simple search on Pinterest for dedicate, dedication, dedicated brought up nothing by body altering motivational schemes and statements.  Photos of rock hard abs and weight machines and dozens of pins that seem to shame the simple healthy human body.  There is so much more to be dedicated to.  Dedicated to justice, to peace, to feeding the hungry.  Dedicated to being a light, to loving neighbors and strangers.  Dedication to love the gift you have been given enough to keep it holy, keep it healthy, but not to stretch the bounds of well being for a false image of perfection.  What are you dedicated to?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Catching Up: Betray, Challenge, Covenant

The Lenten Pin A Day project continues.  I have been diligent with seeking quotes and making daily pins to my Pinterest board, however the blogging is a bit behind.  So today we get three.

If you enter Betray Quote into the search bar for Pinterest the overwhelming majority of pins will be this line from this Mumford and Sons song 'Sigh No More'.    The title track of their 'pastoral, remorseful and commanding' debut album, this rollicking English folk rock band has offered more than a sprinkling of theological depth to contemporary radio.  The love of God will not betray you, dismay or enslave you.  It will set you free.  Betrayal is the growing drum beat of Lent.  We betray Christ, we were there on the streets shouting, we are here in our homes turning away.
Everyday love and friendship however can be rife with betrayal.  I have only begun to let go of feeling betrayed by friends who broke with me for no reason at all.  Human friendships can lead to dismay.  However our love affair with God will not, if we are free partners in the relationship.

I see the word challenge, and the first thing that springs to mind is challenger.  As in the explosion.  The
disaster that punctuated my middle school years. In my lifetime it is one of the 'where were you when' moments.  I remember the fervor about this laywoman, this teacher, this non scientist, non military person making the journey into space.  The principal of my school had formerly been the principal at the school where Ms. McAuliffe taught.  He was at the launch, a firsthand witness of the disaster.  His grief was palpable over the loudspeaker when he returned from Florida.   Many more disasters and massacres have happened since, and unfortunately we are certainly faced with many more in the days to come.  Our challenge as people of God is how we rise to the challenge of disaster and tragedy.  How do we learn to listen, to stand do we not betray the call of Christ?

Q. How can we share in his victory over sin, suffering, and death ? A. We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.   If my Kindle program can count correctly there are 82 instances of the word Covenant in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  The Common English Bible has the word 371 times.  Almost always in relation to how groups of people relate to each other or how they relate to God.  Biblical covenant is about mission and promise and faithfulness in action.  Interestingly, in the new Oxford book of Spiritual Quotations...there are no instances. Covenant is a loaded word in the public discourse. If you search Pinterest you get a lot of pins about marriage. There are subdivisions that proclaim that they are 'covenant communities' (agree to mow your lawn and not paint your home outrageous colors).  The idea of covenant is rooted in a just society, one where all are cared for, all are fed.  Agreements about exterior decor seem to be a misuse of the term.
In my tradition, the BCP Episcopal, Anglican traditions,  the Baptismal Covenant is the center of our life together and our common call to the mission of Christ.  Agreeing to a statement is one thing, making a promise of a life together and actually doing it is another.  Baptism isn't window dressing, it is lifestyle, it is just living.  In the ancient days the time of Lent was a time of special preparation for candidates who were ready to make the covenant promises with Christ and his people.  Would Lent be deeper, more rich with hope if we focused not on correcting our errors but living into our promises?  Continue, Return, Proclaim, Serve. Strive.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Basic: Lenten Pin a Day

Basic. Simple. Elementary. Fundamental.  Necessary. Vital. 

'Basic to all the necessities of human life are water, fire, iron, salt, flour, milk, honey, wine, oil and clothing.'  Sirach's wisdom still stands: this is what we really need.  I leapt with joy when I saw wine in this list, but that is just my affection for the industry in my current home town.  However in biblical times alcohol was a life preserving dietary need.  Without contemporary water cleaning methods or refrigeration, strong alcohol, mixed with water, was a daily need. 

The natural life cycle for picked fruit is to evolve into alcohol and then vinegar.  It is basic to its nature, and it is only our technology that stalls this process so that we might have apple juice and so on.  Lent is a chance to get back to basics, to remember that we are, but dust..and that the life that is breathed into us is not ours.  The whole of life will go back to earth, and God will use it again and again. Each year this time calls us to be free from our bondage to injustice.  Lent calls us to focus on what is vital for God's reign to be made real in our communities.

I name my Lenten fasting practice as 'no frivolity'.  No buying new music, books, movies or clothes.  Nothing unnecessary.  Just the basics.  It sets me free to be satisfied with what I have, which is much much more than water, fire, iron, salt... Setting aside the distraction of frivolous spending and consumption reveals the abundance that is all around me.  All I need is all around me: prayer, shelter, water, food and community. 

The 'no frivolity' practice reminds me of a statement from Dr. Rowan Williams in his book about the desert mothers and fathers.  Pledge yourself to the ground, he says.  By pledging ourselves to just the basics we are pledging ourselves to where we are and what we have right Now.  How can the time and money that I spend on clothes I do not need, how can this energy be used for justice and healing in my neighborhood?  The pin of the day is basic.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenten Pin A Day: Attention

At every turn there is something more to acquire, something to distract our attention, something to divert the unchangeable footprints we leave behind.

Lent is very much about what needs to be left behind and paying attention to the trail we are leaving in our wake.  Observant care, civility, courtesy, notice, awareness, concentration.  Who are we, and what are we made of?  What are we to do with this one precious life?  How can we be more caring, more observant, and how can we concentrate on where God is leading us?  

Looking back I find it strangethat I practiced Lent even when I wasn’t a practicing Christian.  I liked the pattern of the yearly challenge.  Given how un-associated I was with church I wonder how I even knew it was Lent.  One time I gave up speeding (really), another time soda pop.  Back then I would look at my life for habits that were less than helpful, practices which distracted my attention from what really matters.  Each time this Lenten devotion changed my behavior for a while after Lent, if not forever.  
As I turned toward an active practice of Christian-ness I don’t think that my perspective changed, but I did increase the strenuousness of my self-challenge. One year I tried to give up being mean to my roommate’s boyfriend; but that went poorly immediately.  So I was dared by a pal to give up meat (a classic Lenten devotion).  By the end of the season I felt so much better that I have never eaten meat since (20 years this season!).  I also added a positive project, I believe that it was cleaning out and redecorating the church nursery.  
Yet still, I hadn’t deeply connected the theology of Lent and the passion of Christ to my Lenten self-improvement challenges.  That took a few more years of regular year-round practice, and it required conversations with my communities (living and textual).  Ultimately for those of us who follow the way of Christ our annual practice of a Holy Lent must be focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Day and night we must return to humility and use it as a compass to guide us on the true course.
If you have never tried a ‘holy’ Lenten devotion, then this might be the season to begin.  As the TS Elliott poem says: What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.  What is God calling you to pay attention to, what are you called to leave behind, what are you called to begin?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent Youth Quest

I need the quick and honest responses of  6-12th grade youth from across the church.  The answers will be used for a church wide publication. All cited responses will include first name and home state, but no more than that.    Please reply in the comment section below.

There are four questions may answer as few as 2, however I would love to hear about all 4.  Please number your answers and use complete sentences!

  1. Do you give anything up for Lent, or take anything on?
  2. Is Lent important in your home?
  3. If a friend asked you to summarize Lent in one word or phrase, what would you say?
  4. If you could come up with a brand new symbol/icon or logo for Lent, what would it look like?
If you are still looking for a Lenten devotion you could try Lenten Pin A Day..or some good suggestions here.  It is never to late to begin a Holy Lent.

[The resulting article can be found Building Faith]