Ash Wednesday

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Today is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent.

This Lent season it might be time to venture, as Jesus did, into the shadowy areas of our lives, confident of God’s merciful light surrounding us as well as willingly accepting the support of others. Lent is not about the ostentatious fasting that Isaiah (58:1-12) scoffed at, but a time to open ourselves to more light by lifting the lamp a little higher, by being God’s light to others and receiving it from them. It’s time to learn something new about God and move outwards to do something with it.

Lent might also be a time for us to move inwards with trust, to allow God to show us more of our own need and do something about that. As we live with the memory of the light and the hope of the Easter light to come, may the shadows we encounter become for us places of healing, wisdom and hope as well as fuel for the flame of light that we pass on to others. As light-bearers, let us be for others as merciful, gracious, and loving as God has been to us. God has taken the risk of sending the light of the Word into the chaos and terror of the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. God trusts us to keep ourselves faithful and transparent carriers of that light for the world. As the saying goes, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

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During this upcoming Lent season, let each of us carry God’s light into the shadows of our own lives, of our families, of our communities, and of the world.

 

 

Cross photo by Jennifer Balaska:candle photo by Petar Milosevic

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 2)

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“My friends, the world situation is grave. Humanity with fearful faltering steps, walks a knife-edge between complete chaos and a golden age, while strong forces push toward chaos. Unless we, the people of the world, awake from our lethargy and push firmly and quickly away from, all that we cherish will be destroyed in the holocaust which will descend.

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

The Golden Rule would do as well. Please don’t say lightly that these are just religious concepts and not practical. These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of life, chaos results. Through obedience to these laws this frightened, war-weary world of ours could enter into a period of peace and richness of life beyond our fondest dreams.”

Steps Toward Inner Peace

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Peace Pilgrim lived 1908-1981 and walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981 spreading her message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 1)

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“There’s no greater block to world peace or inner peace than fear. What we fear we tend to develop an unreasoning hatred for, so we come to hate and fear. This not only injures us psychologically and aggravates world tension, but through such negative concentration we tend to attract the things we fear. If we fear nothing and radiate love, we can expect good things to come. How much this world needs the message and example of love and of faith!” —Steps Toward Inner Peace

(Peace Pilgrim lived 1908-1981 and walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981 spreading her message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”)

“What are you doing for Lent?”

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“Return to me with your whole heart,” Joel 2:12

“What are your disciplines for Lent?” my spiritual director asked me.

“Oh, I think I’m gonna give up watching ‘Star Trek’,” I told her.  “I watch it every Monday evening with my roommates. It’s kinda a ritual for us but I think it will be good for me to give it up.”

She studied me for a several seconds then sharply responded: “If you do that you will miss the whole purpose of Lent.  You will end up with more pride–you will be proud of yourself rather than seeking transformation.”

I was shocked at her response.  I was shocked by her rebuke as she was a gentle, humorous woman.  I also was shocked by her statement about Lent–I thought the whole purpose of Lent was to give something up.  I’d always heard about people giving up chocolate for Lent or…

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In reflection

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Embracing the Other:

Engaging across the divides

I am unsettled by the frequency I have unfriended or blocked people leading up to the national election. I have placed friends and family members into a metaphorical box, labeled it Others and placed it in the back of my heart closet. I exclude Others from my life and create a distance from, whether that be an emotional or physical or relational distance. I dismiss these Others by not taking them seriously, by trivializing or mocking them, by refusing to listen to their heart stories of joys and pains, and ultimately, I exclude them from God’s love. I consider them unworthy of God’s love, grace, and mercy.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), Miroslav Volf describes three qualities of exclusion. First, exclusion entails the cutting of bonds that connect individuals to one another. The Other emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away and driven out of its space, or as a nonentity that can be disregarded and abandoned. We see this everywhere on social media, cable news, and even within the church. We see people disregarded and abandoned, with news reports of refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes only to be refused entry into other countries. We see this in our national political conversations. We see this in all forms of social media. And we see this refusal to meet the Other within our congregations, conferences, and denominations.

Second, exclusion entails erasure of separation, meaning the Other emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like ourselves, or be subjugated to ourselves. We see this in the continued fragile relationship between people of color and white people; English and non-English speakers; LGBTQ and hetero persons; progressive believers and fundamentalist believers; Republican and Democrats. These are all forms of exclusion.

And third, exclusion is judgment. Volf writes, “Strong disagreement with a lifestyle, religious belief-system, or a course of action—a disagreement that employs adjectives like ‘wrong,’ ‘mistaken,’ or ‘erroneous,’ and understands these to be more than expressions of personal or communal preference—is felt to be exclusionary.”

Volf suggests a “theology of embrace” as the way of loving and reconciling with the Other. He breaks down the image of an embrace into four movements to help us understand how we might do this. These elements of embrace include:

  1. Opening the arms is a gesture of the body reaching for the Other. Open arms are a sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in, and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other. Open arms are a gesture of invitation and hospitality.
  2. Waiting is the act of postponing the desire of welcoming the Other to myself until I know the other is willing to open their arms in reciprocation. Waiting on the Other allows the other to decide if they wants to be reconciled or left alone. The Other cannot be coerced into an embrace, otherwise the embrace becomes an act of violence. If embrace takes place, it is because both individuals want it—embrace must be reciprocal.
  3. Closing the arms is the goal of the embrace. It takes two pairs of arms for one embrace.
  4. Opening the arms again allows the individuals freedom to be themselves. Additionally, opening the arms again begins the cycle of embrace.

The embrace transforms the Other—the person I have dismissed or hated or oppressed—into my brother or my sister, one that I can truly love. In truly loving my brother or my sister, I enter into a relationship based on trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and intimacy, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I begin to see the Other as God sees them—as one who is created and loved by God—not as a monster to be rejected by the world.

Our ability to embrace the other is not based on our willfulness, on our insistence. Our ability to embrace the other is based on God’s embrace of us. We can embrace because God first embraced us. We can love because God first loved us.

A longer version of this post was published in Leader magazine, Fall 2016.

Photo: By Dhiriart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46459574

In Prayer

 

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(Wikipedia; Creative Commons)

 

The Lord’s Prayer

(in the spirit of Celtic spirituality)

O God, you love us like a good parent, and are present in every aspect of our existence.

May your nature become known and respected by all.

May your joy, peace, wholeness and justice be the reality for everyone as we live by the Jesus Way.

Give us all that we really need to live every day for you.

And forgive us our failures as we forgive others for their failures.

Keep us from doing those things which are not of you, and cause us always to be centered on your love.

For you are the true reality in this our now, and in all our future.

In the Jesus Way we pray. Amen.

–David Sorril

In Review

blogpost-assimilateorgohomeAssimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith

by D.L. Mayfield (HarperOne, 2016) 207 pps.

In Assimilate or Go Home, D.L. Mayfield recounts her college-age desires to go to the mission field and save all of the lost souls to Jesus Christ. She describes her Christian college classes which focus on missions and how she earnestly engages with the assigned readings, professors, and classmates. She volunteers to teach English as a second language to Somali Bantu refugees who recently arrived in Portland, Oregon. As she begins to spend time with them she experiences internal dissonance and external resistance from the people she was “ministering to.” Eventually, this dissonance leads her away from missions, per se, to a life of living with, alongside the people she was initially planning to convert.

 
The book is organized by essays which highlight Mayfield’s journey from a naïve, eager would-be overseas missionary to a wiser, experienced Christian who lives in a poor, multicultural neighborhood. Many of the essays were previously published but are gathered here for an effective memoir.

 
In the essay “Vacation Bible Schools” Mayfield describes taking some of the refugee children to a week-long program popular in many evangelical churches. The theme for the VBS was “The Serengeti” with suggestions to decorate the church rooms with African-themed images.

 
Mayfield took a van full of children and “they stared in silent amazement at all the large cutouts of giraffes and elephants decorating the stage.” As she directed her children to a drinking fountain she overheard a small child exclaim, “Oh! They brought us kids from the Serengeti!” She realized that the church children thought the refugee children were props:

I wanted to self-righteously shake my finger and rant about “othering” people, but I was supposed to be the exemplary volunteer. . . . I glared at everyone around me. I felt smug, secure in my own saintliness as I bustled around my group of exotics, the only diverse kids in the large, pale bunch. I drove all the kids home, but decided not to bring them the next night.

Yet, as Mayfield reflected later on this experience she realized that her refugee friends were sort of a prop for her own life. “When I finally started to believe the opposite, to see them as complex, flesh-and-blood people, everything got much harder … And my view of myself was irrevocably changed.”

 
Mayfield is a skilled writer, bringing the reader into her life while revealing her thoughts, questions, and struggles.

 
I first read this book last fall, shortly after it was published. I began re-reading in early January before the inauguration and before the executive order banning refugees from seven predominately-Muslim countries was issued. In response to the ban, Mayfield posted on her blog, “Ten ways to support refugees.” This list is very helpful with practical suggestions.