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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Be at peace

by Tom Pappas

Pastor 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 the cross.

Her 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 memorable.

She asked me to read Psalm 32, which I present here from The Message.

 Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—
    you get a fresh start,
    your slate’s wiped clean.
Count yourself lucky—
    God holds nothing against you
    and you’re holding nothing back from him.
When I kept it all inside,
    my bones turned to powder,
    my words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
    all the juices of my life dried up.
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.
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, untouched.
God’s my island hideaway,
    keeps danger far from the shore,
    throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.
Let me give you some good advice;
    I’m looking you in the eye
    and giving it to you straight:
“Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
    that needs bit and bridle
    to stay on track.”
10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
    God-affirmers find themselves loved
    every time they turn around.
11 Celebrate God.
    Sing together—everyone!
    All you honest hearts, raise the roof!

Something happened.

I 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.

I am 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 was mad.

Somehow the words “Peace” and “Peacemaker” came to me. I committed to be at peace, and be a peacemaker where I could.

So 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.

Be at peace yourself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tender and Strong

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."

Matthew 19:14, NIV

It 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 win.

That’s 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?

Years 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 Arnold Schwarzenegger, 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.”


It 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….

The daffodils bravely pushing their way through the not-quite melted snow
The life of man who over-turned tables in a temple, and welcomed children to his side
A message that there is a love that is stronger even than death; a love that offers miraculous, sustaining hope to us all.

During 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 your tenderness?

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/

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Prayer for the Choices We Make

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 guitar.

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 again….

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) Gladys-type guides?

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.