Lenten Blog 2018
Thursday, February 22, 2018
There is not much that we can not accomplish if we apply ourselves. Being human is a blessing. Being able to analyze, to think critically, to prognosticate, to reflect, to respond are just some of the characteristics that separate humans from the rest of the animal world. The Psalmist proposes that we are “just a little lower than the angels.”
I’ve never been really certain about angels. The figures with white robes and wings have never seemed real. But humans and our abilities, I have never doubted either of these. But I am not a “humanist.” The idea that eventually humans will foster a just, equitable and peaceful world is just not born out by history. Too often, wonderful creative ideas have been turned into weapons of war and destruction rather than instruments of peace and prosperity. Too often, pride, ego and individualism have ripped asunder the fabric of coexistence.
I think we are really good with things. Imagining them. Creating them. Producing them. Marketing them. What we are not good at is working for the highest common good. Thinking imaginatively. Imagining peacefully. Peaceably interacting. Interacting with humility. Humbly acquiescing. Protecting the earth. All for the sake of others.
In other words, selfishness is more innate than selflessness.
Lent is often viewed as a time of fasting, of giving something up, not for us, but for our Creator. Somehow we imagine that giving up chocolate or pizza, which makes us miserable (and miserable to be around), will make God want to be around us more – love us more.
I wonder, what could we give up that would make the world more safe? Foster peace? Bring healing? Strengthen security? Reduce violence? Empower generosity? Protect children? End school shootings? Concert shootings? Drive by shootings?
Would it really make us miserable to know our children are secure when they are at school?
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The boys are back in Florida and Arizona. (I am still not used to Arizona Spring Training.) Of all the professional sports, baseball may be the only one where the word “boys” still applies. Football is a sport of behemoths. Basketball a game of giants. Hockey a sport of bruisers. But baseball? Baseball is still a game of boys. Yes, a game for very wealthy boys, but boys just the same.
Like so many many boys raised in small town America, I grew up playing baseball. You didn’t have to be big. You didn’t have to be fast. You didn’t have to be strong. All you needed was a ball, a bat and and glove. If you didn’t have one or all of them, you could still play. Sharing was not a big deal on the baseball field.
We played baseball all the time, or so it seems in my hazy memory. There was an empty lot across the street from the house in which I grew up. There were two backstops there, so two games could be played at the same time. We played in the morning. Took a short lunch break. Played in the afternoon. Another short break for supper. And then we were back out there until it was too dark to see the ball.
Unlike so many other childhood activities, baseball has never lost its attraction for me. I don’t follow it as closely as I once did, but I almost always check to see how the Twins have done. Or the Reds. Or Cleveland. Or the Yankees. Unlike with Gopher football, I have found it easier to change baseball loyalties as I have moved from place to place.
Like the church, baseball is faced with a cultural crisis. It’s not as popular as it once was. There are empty seats in the stadiums. Interest has wained among young people. Football and basketball have become the spectator sports de jour. Soccer has become the year round game for our children and youth.
And just as church leaders have struggled to stem the growing tide of disinterest, so baseball executives have struggled to attract new devotees. The tweaking has begun. Popular music fills our churches and blares between innings at ball games. Special events are designed to to attract people to the pew or game, encouraging fans to stay for the concert or fireworks. More emphasis has been placed on the stars and the “long ball” has become more valued than the bunt.
The beauty of baseball is in its finesse and intricacy. The beauty of church is much the same. There is beauty in positioning the players to maximize their effectiveness. There are always errors and losses. But there is nothing quite like a pitcher’s dual or a finely crafted worship service.
Perhaps it is serendipitous that Lent and Spring Training are both upon us, for both are times for trying new things and honing the basics.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
On Sunday, I had a phone call from Russia. I didn’t answer it. I know I don’t know any Russians, nor do I think I know anyone traveling in Russia. I imagine you’re like me, and if your cellphone indicates an incoming call from a number with which you are not familiar, you don’t answer. I assume that if it is important they’ll leave a message. While annoying, those calls don’t bother me much.
But a call from Russia, now that bothers me. No, there was no message, but that didn’t mean that my imagination didn’t run wild. I use mobile communication tools. I shop online. I’m certain my information is out there someplace, where someone with a modicum of cyber ability can ascertain it. And the fact that it was Russia! Russia and Russian cyber specialists are in the news everyday. Hacks have been discovered. An election was targeted. Indictments have been issued. My phone has been called.
I know that I am not very important. Have no significance on the world’s stage. Am not worth a hackers attack. But, I don’t know if someone can gain access to the data on a phone simply by dialing the number? Should I open it? Should I delete it? Should I forget it it? Should I not worry about it? Too late.
I think most of us take too much for granted. We think that can never happen to us (whatever “that” may be). We trust others; people and companies we know little or nothing about to safeguard our personal information. We don’t take ownership of our own security.
It is my suspicion that many, if not most of us do the same with our spiritual lives. We don’t think (nor know) very much about it. We trust our spiritual health and wellbeing to others: family or friends, organizations or churches. We may go there. Consider ourselves part of the “club.” Even share our vital stories. But when a “foreign call” arrives, all we have are questions – one’s we can’t answer. We can’t answer them because we have never taken ownership of our spiritual lives. We just go along living every day as naive about that part of our lives as we are about our cyber lives.
Lent can not cure such a malady, but it can be a jumping off point for challenging ourselves to be more in tune to our spirits. More engaged in shaping and developing them. More aware of the need for there to be consistency both in our what we hold as truth and how we have arrived at such a place of understanding.
We’re less than a week into Lent and it’s never too late to take ownership of one’s spirit.
Monday, February 19, 2018
73 degrees! The thermometer in my car reads 73 degrees! In February. During Lent. Something is askew. Not right. Incomprehensible. But life can be like that. It can be filled with warm fuzzies when it should be laden with lumps of coal. It can be warm and inviting when winter’s wind should blow.
I spent that last few days in Westlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As you likely know, Jennifer’s (and sister Denise’s) mother, Penny, died on Friday night. On the one hand it was expected. The doctor told us that when life support was removed, death would soon follow. On the other hand, when we awoke last Monday, none of us thought Penny would die anytime soon. She had spent the prior weekend with Jenn and me at the Kentucky Regional Men’s Chorus retreat. We stayed in the same cabin. We shared meals. She watched rehearsals. She and husband, Bill, came to the worship/performance in Frankfort. She drove down and back.
This should have been a real Lenten experience. There should have been regrets and remorse. The tears should have drowned the laughter. The sense of loss should have enveloped any sense of joy. But there we were, standing around her hospital bed, listening to the newest member of the family, her daytime nurse, Stacy, regale us with stories of her family’s foibles as we shared our crazy family stories with her. The air was filled with bubbles – yes bubbles. Dave and Denise had made a stop at a Dollar Store and picked up five or six bottles bubbles. You see, Penny loved bubbles and bubbles were everywhere. Landing on her bed. Resting or her forehead. Making the floor slick. Oh, there were tears too, but the bubbles clearly had them outnumbered.
I know I have quoted this hymn in one of my previous postings, so please forgive my indulgence. The poem and music are both by Natalie Sleeth. The title: In the Build There is a Flower.
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise; butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In the end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
And there were bubbles during Lent!
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Lent can be a time of cleaning out the things in our lives which either no longer fit or we no longer need. Once upon a time they were shiny and new. Important. Necessary. Bright. Creative. But as our lives have changed, these valuables have lost their importance and meaning. Still, we continue to hang onto them, perhaps packing them away or perhaps hanging them on a wall as reminder of what at one time mattered. The problem, of coarse, is that such hoarding leaves little room for the changes which inevitably take place on one’s life journey.
Spiritual. Psychic. Professional. Familial. Physical. What once worked, no longer works. What once was urgent, no longer holds urgency. Life has changed but we are unable to let go, so we never move forward. Like the parking brake on a car, if you drive with it on, you either get no place fast or else you burn up the brake in a cloud of nauseous smoke.
It helps, I think, to have a companion or two to help with the garbage disposal. It’s hard work to do alone. Having companions helps us in our task of sorting. They can help us remember and celebrate these things we no longer need. They share in the story telling. They help us dream of the road ahead. Sometimes they are blest recipients of hand-me-downs. Sometimes they help us loosen the grip of the unnecessary clutter. Sometimes they clip the zip-ties. Sometimes they help us recognize we aren’t done with “it” yet.
Who are the companions who can help you this Lent? Who will be honest? Who has the wisdom you need? Who do you respect? To whom will you turn?
As strange as it may sound, I think one of the Church’s purposes is to be a dumping ground for such clutter. Companions can be found at church and Lent is the perfect season for such sorting.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Waiting is never easy. Sitting in hospital rooms is a big part of pastoral ministry. And frankly, it’s tiring work. Advent is all about waiting. Lent less so. Still, waiting is a daily experience for all of us. Waiting in line. Waiting at red lights. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting to go home.
In the world in which we live, we have filled waiting with all kinds of stuff. Talking (on cellphones). Playing games (on cellphones). Reading (on cellphones). Checking the news (on cellphones). Making stock trades (on cellphones). These activities do make the time go by more quickly, but I wonder if we haven’t lost something filling every empty space with some distraction?
All such distractions keep us from being aware of what is going on around us. We don’t live in the moment. We don’t interact with others around us. We become cocooned in our own little world.
I wonder, do you think such distracted living serves as an incubator for the individualism and divisiveness that is infecting our nation? Would we be more civil and understanding if we waited, living fully in the moment? Would the conversations we miss out on, bridge the many chasms in our union?
Being present, truly present, is the greatest gift we can give. Our presence matters. Our mindfulness matters. Our attentiveness matters.
Choosing to be distracted matters too. It matters to peace and unity. It matters to justice and equality. It matters to community and civility. Choosing to be absent is selfish and adds to the fissures that are shaking the foundations of not only this nation, but every nation in the entire world. If we ignore others, they will surely ignore us too.
We need to allow this Lenten season to weed out distractions and plant us firmly in each and every moment of each and every day.
(In case you’re wondering, I am a bit distracted!)
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Lent is a time of personal introspection. This year at least after the events of yesterday, it seems to me that it might be time for some cultural introspection. There are personal feelings, personal faults, but those are not the extent of the problems in our world today. In light of another mass murder in a public school, it seems to me that it might be time to allow our Lenten reflection to move beyond personal to societal; to our societies use of weapons on one another.
Most of you know that I taught high school choral music for 11 years before going to Seminary. I loved my years at Saint Anthony Village high school. I worked with wonderful students. I had great colleagues. We had a supportive administration. One concert night, a student showed up flashing a handgun. Perhaps he was just showing off, but he frightened a couple students enough for them to go to their parents and tell them that this young man was threatening to shoot me. They reported it to the police. After the concert when I was home relaxing I had a knock on the front door. When I answered the door there were two police officers standing there. They inquired as to whether or not I knew a certain individual. When I answered in the affirmative, they informed me that this individual had threatened to kill me. They also informed me that because of this there would be a police car out in front of the house that night.
In the morning when I got up and went to school I was met in the parking lot by the school principal. He escorted me to his office and informed me that they were staking out this student’s locker so that when he came to school the police would arrest him and remove him from the premises. They had already searched his locker and found the handgun. When he arrived at school he was arrested and taken away.
I tell the story primarily to remind us that gun violence in our schools is not new. However, it is never acceptable and has become all too frequent. As I listened to the “talking heads” today, there was already an unacceptable feeling they once again, nothing would change. No new regulations. No increase in funds for school safety. No systematic changes would be made. In fact, they claimed, the system has been hijacked and and without a massive overhaul, nothing can be done.
Sometimes life gets in the way of life, but sometimes even death is unable to get in the way of life. The old medieval prayer still rings true, if we would only listen: in the midst of life we are in death. And friends, we are dying.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Lent is not starting off as I would have liked. Rather than imposing ashes on the foreheads or palms of the people at FCC, I will spend the evening drinking fluids and hoping the flu will soon be a thing of the past. I’m not seeking sympathy, just being reminded that sometimes life gets in the way of life.
Sometimes, it is much worse than getting the flu virus. Jennifer is in Cleveland. Her mother fell and hit her head causing a brain bleed. Penny is in critical condition. We all are waiting anxiously for an update.
Therefore, even though I am committed to writing Monday thru Saturday during Lent, I am not sure what I can say today. Sometimes life gets in the way of life.
Ashes have long been a symbol of mourning, desperation, repentance and destruction. They are the result of burning. They are a sign of going through a fire. All of us have gone through difficulties, times when we were not certain we would make it through unscathed. Truthfully, we never make it through unscathed. We always get burned. They always leave scabs. We always carry ashes on our foreheads.
There is a tendency among many of us to pick at those scabs, keeping them open and oozing. Even though we made it through, we don’t believe we deserve to be whole again. Instead of gratitude and pride, we hold on to guilt and shame. If Lent/ashes can do anything for us, it can help us turn scabs into scars. It can help us leave the past in the past. It can turn scars into beauty marks. It can bring hope where hope seems impossible. It can be a balm when life gets in the way of life.