Yesterday was my first "computer abstention" day. I successfully resisted the urge to enter power up and log on. And yes, it was hard--I couldn't check the weather, the state of the markets (probably just as well I didn't!), or whether the steelhead are biting up in PA. I did, however, read an entire book (American Rust), took a long walk in the windy woods, and had a very nice evening together with my wife. It is probably the first day I have taken off in months, and it just so happens I woke up today feeling the more rested and refreshed than I have in a long, long time. Think there is a connection?
Anyway, while walking in the woods I made a video of the heavy wind in the trees with a brief sort of meditative commentary accomanying it. For those who wish, enjoy.
If you had to pick one man from recent history who has given us the best picture of what a man should be, who would you choose?
Popular culture tends to focus our attention on certain types of men. First might be the manly man, somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger maybe.
I’ll confess that Arnold has always been one of my personal heroes. When you think of his coming over from Germany without a penny to his name, a big gap between his front teeth, barely speaking English at all, and then think of where he is today, you begin to get a feel for his magnitude of his accomplishments. From such humble beginnings to becoming a household name, Arnold in many ways is the embodiment of the American dream.
Then there are the wealthy men; men like Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett. There are the powerful men; such as the most powerful man on earth, President Obama. There are also the stunningly handsome men, like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, though I personally think they are both a little on the short side. These days I prefer the Sean Connery look myself.
As I think about it however, the name that comes to me is not any of the above. The man that comes to my mind is Mr. Rogers who died six years ago today.
What I remember best about him is his humility, gentleness, and integrity. His genuine focus on others. His ability to be himself in a world increasingly consumed by following the latest trend. The courage it took to live a life that was boldly counter cultural—and to endure ridicule for it. His kindness. His being to so many the kind of father they always wished they had (something, I think, that is also inherent for many in the call to be a priest).
Mr. Rogers is the kind of man that deep in my heart of hearts I’d like to be. Apparently I’m not alone. On Beliefnet.com (where Scot McKnight’s excellent blog can now be found), there are 22 pages of testimonials from people recounting how their lives have been deeply touched by Mr. Rogers.
Here is just one:
Mr. Rogers liked me just the way I am. When no one else liked me, he did...
If people can say that about us, then I’d suggest ours is a life well lived.
Here are some suggestions on how to have a "holy" Lent. (To make something “holy”, in the Biblical sense of the word, is to set it apart for a sacred purpose).
Three general suggestions first: If you take something on during Lent, give something up. In other words, most of our lives are all full to overflowing right already. We don’t want to add something to our lives that will only make us busier, diminish our margins, and further wear us out. In order to avoid that, if we commit ourselves to an additional practice that will require a further commitment of time and energy, then we need to stop doing something else.
Second, limit the number of things you’ll do/quit doing. As a very general rule of thumb, I’d say making one to three significant behavioral changes is probably optimal, and that any more than five is only going to bring frustration and failure.
Third, make at least one of your Lenten disciplines secret. Keep it between you and God alone.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for Lenten disciplines.
Change eating habits for a healthier diet
Fast, either skipping a certain meal each week, or fasting one day a week, and perhaps even considering a 36-72 hour fast before Lent’s end (always consult your physician first!)
Abstain from technology on some regular basis, or from some specific form of entertainment (surfing the web, facebook, favorite TV show, video games, etc)
Walk regularly with a spouse, child, or friend, or otherwise exercise
Read a daily devotional. We have daily devotions written by members of St. Matthew’s posted here (my wife, for instance, wrote today’s). I also understand my good friend Dean’s church is doing the same thing, and you can find their Lenten devotions here.
Study a book. Scot McKnight’s Fasting, for instance, might make a good choice.
Journal daily (you could begin by writing down the answers to the questions I posted on Tuesday).
Attend a group Bible study, or engage in a weekly small group. If you are in our area, I invite you to come on Wednesday nights and study The Shack with us. I’m very excited about this one!
If you don’t go to church, consider giving one a try, or maybe trying a different one each week. If you do go to church, be there without fail every week. Stay around afterwards and visit.
Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday services reminded us that the earliest Lenten practices were observed so that the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
The idea, then, becomes to approach Lent as a season intended to make us mindful of pardon and absolution, and of our ongoing need for renewal, repentance, and faith. That makes a lot of sense to me, because I know I could use some help in both doing a better job of receiving these graces myself and sharing them with others.
Take pardon, for instance. Jesus said, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders." (Matthew 9:12-13, as translated by a version called The Message).
So Jesus makes it clear from the start that the church is for the “sick”. By this he means people who could use a little (or a lot) of help. If I understand correctly, this refers to people struggling with such things as anger, gossip, addiction, promiscuity, depression, impatience, and so on. Frankly, I think people both inside and outside the church have always struggled with this.
If the church really is for those who don’t quite have it all together, then we really should expect it to have its fair share of “hypocrites”, or those who don’t look anything like what we think a Christian should look like. The church should be full of such plainly imperfect people because the church should be the one place where such folks are welcomed with love and open arms. The angry person, for example, should be able to come to a church and expect to be welcomed and loved instead of having someone judge him, get angry right back, or contemptuously hold him at arm’s length.
Of course, churches are rarely like that. We are often a subset of the world, and like our neighborhoods, we want to be surrounded by nice people. Maybe that’s because we’ve forgotten how important, how necessary, pardon is. Of being given a second chance (or a third, or fourth). Of extending grace and believing the best.
Lent reminds us were are not perfect. Those around us are not perfect. The world is not perfect. We need to pardon and be pardoned, and the church of all places is where this is meant to happen, imperfect people gathered together, seeking to find a better path ahead.
Ever wonder why Lent begins on Wednesday? It might seem like Sunday would make more sense, encouraging more people to come to services and hear the important message of this day.
The simple reason is that if you count back 40 days from Easter, you’ll arrive at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter (today). So why 40? Primarily it is because the early church decided that the season of Lent should correspond to Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.
There’s only one problem. The astute among you will no doubt realize there are more than 40 days between now and Easter. So what’s up with that?
Good question! From its inception very early on in the life of the church, Lent was a period of fasting in preparation for Easter. Sundays, however, are “feast” days because every Sunday is a “mini-Easter” in that it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. So, since Sundays are feast days and hence the very opposite of fast days both in spirit and practice, they aren’t counted in the 40 days of Lent.
Well, ashes have a long and important history in the Bible. Ashes are associated with the “dust” from which we were created and to which we will return. For that reason, ashes came to came to symbolize such things as frailty and death, sadness and mourning, judgment and repentance (If you are interested, go here for an extensive list of passages referring to ashes.)
When a priest makes the sign of the cross in ashes upon a person’ forehead (the “imposition” of ashes), this draws upon the symbolic nature of the ashes to graphically represent (re-present) the basic themes of Lent on which we will be deeply and prayerfully reflecting during the next 40 days.
Interestingly, the ashes we use on Ash Wednesday are the ashes from the palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. In this way too they signify the transient and fading glory of this world.
Should I keep the ashes on my forehead for the rest of the day or clean them off?
I think it can go either way. If our ashes are in any way a means of showing others how “spiritual” we are, then by all means wipe them off. But if our ashes a symbol of solidarity with people of God throughout the world and indeed, back to the most ancient of times; if our ashes are sign of deep humility in recognizing our brokenness and need for forgiveness; if our ashes express our complete trust in God, then by all means wear them.
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This is season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
Ash Wednesday, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 264-265 (The service can be found on line here).
I've posted the following every year, I think, so no reason to break with tradition now.It's still the best introduction to the season of Lent I've seen, and I've found that taking the time to thoughtfully answer the questions suggested is a very helpful exercise indeed.
In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which it the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for? If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sack-cloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end. --Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark - An ABC Theologized [New York: Harper and Row] 1973, pp. 74-75
I forget who sent this to me, but it gave me quite a chuckle. Last year (or maybe the year before?) pretty much all I ate during Lent was oatmeal (I wanted to more or less follow the typical diet of a poor person in the third world). Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to do this year, and I'll be all set.
Seeing how eagerly Nike awaits her dinner and how enthusiastically she devours it, I don't think she'd be much into the fasting of Lent, which starts this week with Ash Wednesday. But Fat Tuesday -- Mardi Gras in French -- that's clearly another story!