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by Tom Pappas
Jen started me thinking on Ash Wednesday with the question, “Have you decided
to do a Lenten discipline?” We were at a local coffee shop where she had made
arrangements to impose ashes for people who approached her table. (It was
nicely done.) I presented my forehead at about 8:30 and was her sixth sign of
question prompted me to a possible awkward moment where I had nothing to say
because I hadn’t really given it much thought. (I don’t lead the way on this
planning ahead phenomenon.) But I defied awkwardness this time and we segued
into a discussion of previous Lents with the coffee incident of ’84. That was
asked me to read Psalm 32, which I present here from The Message.
Count yourself lucky, how happy you must
you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.
2 Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back
3 When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
4 The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried
5 Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean
breast of my failures to God.”
Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.
6 These things add up. Every one
of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and
the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground,
7 God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the
throws garlands of hosannas
around my neck.
8 Let me give you some good
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:
9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”
10 God-defiers are always in
God-affirmers find themselves
every time they turn around.
11 Celebrate God.
All you honest hearts, raise
became aware of a seething anger in me that had to be dealt with. Oddly, as I
re-read it, nothing in this passage connects today with the words with which I
will describe as my Lenten Discipline. But I know God used the passage and the
pastor to work with me.
was mad at politicians, who put party above the common good. I am was
mad fellow humans who live their extravagant lives as if what they consume
and/or waste today doesn’t matter for all of us tomorrow. I am was at
Christians who hate in the name of God. I am was mad at world events. I am
the words “Peace” and “Peacemaker” came to me. I committed to be at peace, and
be a peacemaker where I could.
far, I continue to NOT be mad in this second week of Lent. I have been at peace
and am looking to every situation for Christ’s way to be a peacemaker.
by Lauren Van Ham
Jesus said, “Let
the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of
heaven belongs to such as these."
crept up on me, the effect of what was happening. Tears were wetting my cheeks before I
understood why I was so moved. I was
watching the South African singing ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For thirty minutes or more they’d been singing
a series of simple, looping melodies, layered with the buttery harmonies and
rhythms of their blended voices alone.
No other instruments, no fancy costumes.
Just nine men, standing side-by-side and singing….and occasionally,
dancing – a simple swaying movement, a little jump, perhaps, and then,
giggling. Yes, giggling! Nudging and joking
with one another playfully. The throng
of these men, standing and singing with passion and joy, was unquestionably
masculine and strong. They exuded
presence and confident leadership. Their
voices, solo and united, were commanding.
And their playful interaction with one another was refreshingly
innocent, free from competition or any “poking fun at,” for the sake of a cheap
when I got it – the powerful image of male energy, strong AND tender…. and how,
in the Western world, it’s not modeled much.
It’s not limited to males, I suppose.
Afterall, as a female, I use a lot of my masculine energy to “push”
through the world. But it isn’t the only
way, is it?
ago, when I was in India, I visited a shop where the shop-keeper had two
posters on the wall behind him. On the left was Mahatma Gandhi, bare-chested
and at his most frail. On the right was
also bare-chested and wrapped in ammunition.
“Tell me about this,” I invited, gesturing to the posters. The shop owner smiled and with an Indian nod
explained, “Both strong men. Different reasons.”
is the second week of Lent, a period of spiritual discipline and determination.
It strikes me that the 40 days before
Easter are an invitation to watch for and live with strength and
tenderness. A few examples….
daffodils bravely pushing their way through the not-quite melted snow
life of man who over-turned tables in a temple, and welcomed children to his
message that there is a love that is stronger even than death; a love that
offers miraculous, sustaining hope to us all.
Lent we are encouraged to give up or take on certain practices so that we might
better appreciate the dimensions of Jesus’ willing sacrifice. Certainly, if this is undertaken with a sense
of martyrdom, we’ve missed the point.
The fine balance in our Lenten routines might then be to find strength
in our resolve and joy (tenderness) in our effort. What does this look like for you? How, in your life, with your family, at your
work, do you experience your strength and
About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA. She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy
Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a
spiritual director. You can read
Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/
At the Tupelo Hardware Store on Main Street in Tupelo,
Mississippi, you can walk through the very door a ten-year old Elvis Presley
walked through with his mother Gladys in 1945. (In the photo, it’s the one on
the right.) You can stand on the very spot, or close to it, where he stood at
the cash register while his mother bought his first guitar. I recently did
that, not because I am much of an Elvis fan, but because I happened to be
passing through Tupelo, the hardware store was there, and I had time to let my
curiosity lead me in.
I was glad I made the stop. The place remains a wonderful
active hardware store boasting, among other things, over two thousand lawn
mower blades. Opened in 1925 and currently third-generation owned, the old-fashioned
building boasts a lofty first-floor ceiling, sliding access ladders along the
side walls, and sturdy wooden cabinetry and floor fixtures with dove-tailed
drawer after drawer full of nails, screws, bolts, washers, and such.
And I got to hear in
situ The Story of How Elvis Got His First Guitar, which goes like this: Elvis
and his mother had originally set out for the Tupelo Hardware Store not to get
a guitar but to get a bicycle. When
they arrived, however, and stood at the place where today an “X” is taped to
the floor, Elvis spotted a .22 caliber rifle in a case behind the counter. He
promptly lost interest in the bike, fixing his heart instead on the gun. His
mother responded with a firm No. The
young-and-future King pouted. Discussion ensued. In the end, a compromise: Elvis
left the Tupelo Hardware store with neither a bicycle nor a gun—but with a
Wow, I thought,
trying to take in The Story’s implications. What if Elvis had never gotten that
guitar? The question makes for interesting speculation, as does a second one: What
if more of us did as he did and chose guitars over guns? We can only imagine.
On a less revisionist scale, the story invites us to
consider our own choices—not just past ones (from which we still may have
something to learn) but current ones, too. The choices we face today, this
week, this month may not be the kind we expect to have life-changing
implications for us, let alone for the entire future of rock and roll. Then
Each day we make dozens of choices: What to wear, what to
eat, which route to take to work or school or the gym—or whether to go to the
gym at all. How to pray, and for whom—or whether to pray at all. What to spend,
what to give away. What words to use in speaking with those we live with, work with,
meet along the way. What to do in our spare time.
Lent, which begins this week, calls us to reflect on the
things we choose: bicycle? gun? guitar? It invites us to consider what factors influence
our choices: predetermined ideas? in-the-moment impulses? inner (or outer)
Lent also nudges us into a liturgical space in which we
can choose to observe a particular spiritual practice over the coming weeks. If
we choose wisely, who knows? Even a small and seemingly insignificant choice may
affect us—and our world—more than we can imagine.