Tuesday, February 23, 2010

E-Z Answer Squirrel

If only...

We Interrupt This Blog for a Mini-Rant...

I'm just wondering... When did it become okay to lay on your car horn while waiting for the car in front of you to make a turn into traffic?

In order to get to Zumba, I need to make a right-hand turn onto a busy street. It is a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill kind of intersection -- you stop at the stop sign, and turn when the way is clear (since the other cars do not have to stop). So, when I made my way to Zumba last night - while the freezing rain came down - I stopped at the stop sign, and waited for the cars to either slide through the intersection or turn before I made my turn.

There were several cars zipping through the intersection. And, of course, there were a bunch of cars that decided to turn that didn't use their turning signals. Mind you, if the cars had actually used their turning signals, letting me know that they were going to turn, then I would have gone ahead and turned. But, since their right-hand turning signals were all broken (clearly that is what the problem was), I waited to turn. I guess I am just the kind of person that doesn't want to pull out in front of people -- especially when the roads are slick.

And... I guess that the guy behind me is the kind of person who wants to pull out in front of people -- even when the roads are slick. Seriously... This guy laid on his car horn when I didn't turn -- all the while, there were about a half-dozen cars skidding down the road in the lane into which I would be turning! Much to his dismay, all of his honking did nothing to make me want to throw caution to the wind, rev up the engine, and pull out into oncoming traffic. I waited until it was safe, and then I made my turn.

When did we all get to be in such a hurry that even waiting for the car in front of you to execute a turn safely became an inconvenience?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Yesterday was Ash Wednesday - the first of the 40 days of Lent. And, like many of my fellow Christians, I attended a special service of worship which included the imposition of ashes. I have participated in Ash Wednesday services since I was very little. Then, I was the one walking up to the pastor... Now I am the pastor. (It is still a bit of a mind-trip, really.)

The church I am now serving held its Ash Wednesday service last night. I called the service "A Service of Confession and Forgiveness". Throughout the service, we read scripture and prayed together, confessing the sins of idolatry, violence, and selfishness. And together, we heard God's clear promise of forgiveness. We heard that Good News. We let the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit burn away those valueless sins, purifying our hearts so that we might have a new space present within us for the new life offered us in Christ. Then the mark of the ashes was offered as a sign of our forgiveness and new life.

Now, I must admit... I typically have every element of these services planned out to the letter. But, I struggled with one element this year: what to say while I was marking my fellow travelers with the ashes. Traditionally, the pastor will refer to God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I've used those words before - and they are certainly appropriate - but, they just didn't seem to fit the full context of the service that I had put together. For whatever reason, I just couldn't decide what I needed to say... So, I stepped out in faith and decided to let the Spirit give me the words in the moment. Seriously. I walked down, opened the earthenware container that held the ashes, and waited for the people to come forward...all the while, having no idea what I would say as I made the sign of the cross on their foreheads with palm ashes.

Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Spirit showed up just in time. As I marked the first person with ashes, I found myself saying, "The gift of God's grace, given to you." It certainly fit. Each and every one of us...marked with grace.

Anyone who has ever received the mark of ashes -- as well as, and perhaps more especially those who have ever done the marking -- will tell you that the ash just seems to get everywhere. Sure, you may have started with it only on your forehead, but somehow you will find that you get smudges of it on your hand, your bulletin has ashy fingerprints on it, or your glasses get a few flecks of ash on them. And if you are the one who is offering the mark of ashes...well... it is practically impossible not to get smudges of ash all over everything -- your robe, your cheeks, your Bible, the hymnal... I can't explain it. No matter how careful I am each year, I always end up with ashy smudges on things. Sometimes I discover them weeks later, only to wonder how on earth it got smudged with palm ashes.

So, with my index finger coated in ashes, as I tried to avoid getting ash marks all over the hymnal, I thought back to the words that the Spirit had given me as I made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of my fellow Lenten-travelers. "The gift of God's grace, given to you." And I had an epiphany, of sorts... God's grace is a lot like the ashes of Ash Wednesday. God's grace is a free gift. God's grace is pure. And God's grace gets all over everything...and there isn't anything any of us can do about it. Oh, sure... we try to stop God's grace from touching things (or people, or groups) that we don't think it is supposed to touch. But there really isn't anything we can do to stop it -- or, more specifically, there's nothing we can do to stop God from marking whatever or whomever God wants with smudges of grace.

Like the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the grace of God ends up all over the place...even the unexpected places... And -- when it comes to God's grace -- that is how it should be. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lenten Journey Begins...

For several years now, I have opted out of the whole "give something up for Lent" thing. Instead, I have chosen to dare to "take something on for Lent". This year, I am challenging myself to take on 2 things:
  1. Zumba
  2. Actually posting to my blog on a regular basis

Yes, I am beginning Zumba classes. For those who aren't familiar with Zumba, it is a workout program/class that feels more like a Latin dance fiesta than your average exercise program. I've been to one class so far, and I loved it! In many respects, this one is all about the practice of Honoring the Body. As one who was created in the image of God, I need to remember that my body is worthy of care - it is, after all, "a temple of the Holy Spirit within [me]" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

My second challenge...well... I know that I have tried to post on a more regular basis in the past. I've even managed to succeed on occasion! But I really do want to work on this one. I find that I am forever thinking about things to post - things to write about, talk about, ask you all about...but then I don't bother to sit down and actually blog about it! This has got to change. So, considering another Christian practice - Saying Yes and Saying No - I am determined to do better.

You may be curious about this "Saying Yes and Saying No" business. Good. I hope you are curious! Once again, as I have done in the past, I am leading a study on several Christian practices during this season of Lent. I am a huge fan of the book Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (edited by Dorothy C. Bass) - it is a wonderful resource, and it provides for a fantastic book study. In conjunction with the book study, I am also going to be preaching on Christian practices during the entire season of Lent (and likely into the Easter season, as well). I plan to invite you all into the conversation here on my blog, too!

So...that's what I'm looking forward to as I begin this Lenten journey once again. How about you?