Lent: To Be

This morning, I saw that many of my Facebook friends have given up something for Lent:  soda, carbohydrates, sweets.  One of my online friends wondered what to give up (he hadn’t decided yet.)

I pray that each of these people will find their Lenten sacrifices to be a good work.  As for me, I’m not giving up a thing.  Remembering to avoid eating something is just one more item for my to-do list:  a list that’s impossible enough as it is.

It’s a woman thing.

To Do

Here’s what I mean:  in today’s America, being a woman means sacrificing all the time.  It means cutting important meetings short so you can get to your kid’s dance recital… and then scooting out of the dance recital so you can cook dinner.  It means worrying obsessively over the foods that enter your mouth.  It means a to-do list that looks something like this:

getgroceries-takecupcakestodaycare-getprescriptions-walkdog-buynewmakeup-putonmakeup-makepresentationformeeting-typenotesfrommeeting-callBobBillandSally-return20emailsbynoon-paybills-vaccum-dolaundry-packforbusinesstrip-mop-cleanuptoys-checkfacebook-getorganized.

Even if you have a great husband like mine who does tons of things around the house, there is always the feeling that you’re sacrificing something important, and that you need to do more.

Organizing helps to some extent, but it can become an obsession in itself.  I have good days (and lots of bad days) with organizing, and overall it holds very little spiritual meaning for me.

So my Lenten discipline is To Be.  To be a Type B, you could say.  Someone who is fully present in the moment, not someone who is ticking off “what’s next” while pretending to listen.

I will let Jesus be the Doer.  After all, he was best at it!  Even on my best days I can’t feed five thousand people from a few loaves and fishes.

I do want Jesus to teach me how to become a “Be-er” (not a beer!) instead of a Doer.  He was really good at being too.

The to-do list stretches on into eternity.  Yet the moments of being and presence are fleeting.

I AM, teach me how to be.  Amen.

Thinking about Lent already…

I started using a new Bible for daily devotions, one that divides the Scriptures according to “timeline,” or when events detailed in Scripture occurred.

To be honest, I was a skeptical about reading this thing.  We don’t have a calendar notifying us that Light was created on April 21, 5 million B.C. — and I get tired of people arguing over that subject.  No matter how we humans got here, I still believe we were created by God to enjoy and glorify him.   (See the Westminster Catechism!)

Yet the Bible was a gift, so I cracked it open.

What I’ve found has surprised me.  Immediately after giving me the stories of the Fall, Cain & Abel, Noah, and the tower of Babel, the book plunged me right into the Book of Job.  Right off the bat, a new year beginning with daily readings about suffering and sin.  I haven’t put Job and Genesis together before, and it has been a welcome challenge.

So I may write some more posts on this come Lent.  Specifically, some posts dealing with the question, “Is God Mean?”  We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll hopefully post something before Lent gets here — it’s on the way!

Noah

20120103-110605.jpg

Today my devotional Bible gave me the story of Noah. It’s interesting reading about the flood when I’m in Montreat, with below-freezing temperatures. I felt sorry for this little plant outside our house.

A few things strike me about this reading.

First, note that no children boarded the ark. The humans & animals only had their mates. Children would have died in the flood (a horrible thought– why do we tell this story so often to kids?) Yet on the ark, there was only the potential of a future generation, only the possibility of new life. A “winter,” if you will.

Second, in Genesis 8:1, the text reads, “God remembered Noah”. I would hope so, after everything that God put Noah and all of creation through! Anyway, that one word — remember — emphasizes that everything we have comes from God’s hand.

Finally, I’m interested in the new rules God gives Noah in Genesis 9, and the blessings and curses Noah pronounces on his sons. Somewhere I read that God is always recreating, revising, making provisions for his troublesome children to have a rich and full life. I think we would do well to be open to God’s revisions. Creation is not perfect anymore, but it is good, because God makes it so.

The First Day

20120101-074131.jpg

Happy New Year! The first thing God created was light. I pray that the Light of the World will shine in your life this year.

Prayer for Christmas Eve

This evening I had the great honor of preaching for a wonderful church that supports our campus ministry program.  But the greater honor was being able to lead worship alongside two incredible women, one of whom is a Commissioned Lay Pastor, and one of whom is applying to seminary.  I couldn’t help but smile as we all three stood in the chancel!

As a devotion for tonight, I’ll share the Lord’s Supper prayer I wrote (minus the actual prayer over the elements, which was a standard prayer out of our Presbyterian worship book.)

This is the night for which we have waited.

Here in the long nights of early winter, we watch, dear God.  We listen, and long for your presence among us.

And here you are, living, breathing, radiant with newborn warmth.

This night was foretold by prophets, anticipated by your appointed rulers, and hoped for by your people.

This night brings a chorus of angels and a mesmerized band of lowly shepherds.

And this night brings peace.

Even as we celebrate, we know that your peace is not cheap, O God.

Your precious Son grew up among us, lived among us, healed our bodies and restored our souls … yet we still sent him to the cross.

Through his death and resurrection we are born into new life. 

 So this night, as we gaze upon the Lamb of God, nestled among the humble animals, make us new. 

Re-create us, so that we might live in the abundance of faith, hope, and love.

 Re-awaken us, so that we might sing of your Good News and live out a vision of your peace.

Refresh us, so that we might help you share the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life with a hungry and thirsty world.

Merry Christmas!

Advent Week 4: Temples

Are you the one to build me a house to live in? (2 Samuel 7:5)

I was talking with a pastor a while back about his church building.  He is the pastor of a thriving church, but every year, the building becomes more and more of a burden.  It’s moldy, outdated, and just hard to maintain.  I won’t go into all the details, but the church’s options are very limited, and yet they love their dear old building.

Lots of churches are stuck in this position, or an even worse one.  My heart goes out to churches in places that have been de-populated in recent years (due to industry moving away, et cetera) and are wondering how to keep the lights on.

In many ways, a building is helpful for Christ’s ministry today.  Lots of folks preach on street corners, but it would be hard to pay attention and learn in that environment, even from the best preacher.

In other ways, our churches’ buildings have become temples.

This particular Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel appears this week, in part (I believe) to drive home the point that God’s temple is anywhere his people go.  He doesn’t need a building.  People get the idea in their head to construct a magnificent structure to honor God, but we don’t stop to ask first if God really wants us to do that.

And after we build these temples, they can actually get in the way.  What do we do with them then?

As we approach Christmas and get ready to celebrate the birth of One born far away from any temple or other “officially” holy place, it may be useful for us to reflect on temples.  Consider how you have built unneeded temples in other areas of life.  Not buildings necessarily, but foundations and patterns that become overbearing and burdensome.

For example, you may be stuck in the ever-growing temple of Christmas gifts (if you gave someone a room-size TV in 2010, can you top that in 2011?)  Perhaps you are like the character of the father in Little Miss Sunshine who has built a temple out of the idea that someday he’ll make it big, and forces his family to carve out space for themselves around this idea.  Or maybe you have constructed a temple to your own opinions, and you’re finding that the temple is empty.

God appoints a place for God’s people.  Does it really matter what that place looks like, or where it is?

Advent Week 3: Uneasy Journey

When I was a pastor in a rural area, some folks participated in a low-key mission project called “Dental Transportation,” for lack of a more exciting term. Every once in a while, volunteers would get a call notifying them that a family needed to visit the only dentist in the area who accepted Medicaid and provided pediatric services. His office was at least 30 minutes from our town, which meant that many of these families had been putting off the dental care for a long time. (Thank goodness it was only half an hour! I know many people have a much longer drive.)

I went along on one of these trips, to attempt to translate for a Spanish-speaking family. (Languages get rusty if you don’t practice!) On that trip I learned more than I ever wanted to know about childhood tooth decay.

Until today, that is.

This morning, my family was the family bringing in the baby with a mouth full of decaying teeth. We are still not sure how this happened — we have tried lots of things, and the only thing we have left to try is “brush more.”

But I’m not writing this to tell you a sob story. I’m writing because the episode has taught me about Christmas.

You see, I felt absolutely ashamed bringing my daughter in there. There is a stereotype of children with poor oral health: that their parents don’t take good care of them, that they can’t afford a toothbrush, et cetera. Many parents, myself included, also carry around a wishful-thinking stereotype of a well-educated suburban family with gleaming teeth. I thought I wasn’t a person who bought into to stereotypes. I’m above all that, I thought. Yet the stereotypes hit me with full force this morning, and I was ashamed. Afraid too.

After she got her fillings, and after we had received another reminder about brushing, we collected our precious doll and went home. As we left, I started thinking about Mary and Joseph.

What were they thinking as they traveled to Bethlehem? Did they wonder, “How did this happen to me?” Were they hoping that they wouldn’t run into anyone they knew? Did they give evasive answers to people as they asked around for lodging? (“Yes, she is my … uh … wife.”) Were they ashamed? Were they afraid?

I hope they felt full of confidence as they traveled that road. After all, how many couples do you meet that have received two visitations from angels, and who are about to be the caretakers of the Son of God? But it would be OK with me if I found out that the journey was emotionally trying for them. Nothing good is ever easy.

If Christmas means anything to us, it ought to mean that we sympathize with Mary and Joseph. They were tired, poor, outcast, and potentially in big trouble. And yet they brought forth a gift for all of us.

So, if we sympathize with Mary and Joseph, what is holding us back from having mercy on people in similar circumstances? Judgment? Fear of becoming like them? Shame?

If you can only give one gift this year, make it a gift to someone who is vulnerable and worried. A little comfort and joy go a long way on an uneasy journey.

a student surveying the journey ahead, New Mexico 2010