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I ASH WEDNESDAY, DO YOU?

This is a post from last year that I am re-posting today because, obviously, it is Ash Wednesday (February 22, not March 9 like the post says–that was last year).

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This is the week that we Christians who follow a liturgical pattern of the year mark the journey through Lent and toward Easter.  It all begins on Ash Wednesday—March 9.  I consistently find that when I take the ash and observe Lent my experience of Easter is much richer and therefore more meaningful to me.  I did not grow up in a church which practiced Lent and Ash Wednesday, so when I learned about it as an adult I was skeptical.  However, as I dug around and realized that sin, prayer, confession and death with eternal judgment were all major themes, I knew I was all in.  What kind of Baptist doesn’t get excited about that!  But over the years as I have led my church to practice and observe Ash Wednesday and Lent I have encountered some objections to the practice.

1.  Lent is for Catholics.

There is a certain amount of truth to that claim.  Catholics do observe Lent and Ash Wednesday.  However, the counter is true as well.  Catholics also baptize and preach.  Does that mean I should not baptize and preach?  No, certainly not.  The best answer to this argument though, is that the roots of Lent and Ash Wednesday go way back to a time way before there were any distinctions such as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists.  Much of Catholic history and tradition is also my tradition—we have a shared origin in Christ and the early church.  Besides, some of the greatest Christians I’ve ever met, studied, read, or learned about have been Roman Catholics.  It is time we put such prejudices and biases away.

2.  Ash Wednesday and Lent are too negative.

Yes, I suppose that is the way it might seem.  The major themes of Ash Wednesday are death, dust, mortality, sin, confession, fasting and contrition.  Lent, if done correctly, will be very uncomfortable and sometimes a downer.  People from traditions which emphasize the “Jesus makes me happy all the time” might be a little put off by such ‘negativism.’  The thing, though, is that the Scriptures call us to contemplate such.  I should be painfully aware of my own mortality.  I must confront my sin and deal with it.  I should get my appetites under control and bring my body into discipline.  Ash Wednesday and Lent help us do that with a focus and the help of our community.

3.  We should always pray and fast and confess, not just one season a year.

I so agree.  I try and make prayer and confession a part of my daily routine.  Fasting is the kind of thing I’ve done in various ways throughout the year.  I especially encourage fasting before making big decisions.  It clears the mind.  But again, I bring the counter argument to this objection by saying if we should always be doing it, then how can it be wrong to be doing it now, at Lent, when millions, if not billions of people around the world are also engaged in it.  By fasting, praying, and confessing at the same time the Christian community is bound by a common experience which might have a powerful impact on the world.

Before I bring this to a close, I want folks to understand I am not trying to convince anyone they have to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent to be a good Christian or even for Easter to be significant.  Many good, wonderful, Jesus-loving Christ-followers never follow Lent and are great people whom I admire.  What I am arguing is that the practice of it is not inherently wrong or misguided, and that many people might actually be stirred by the practice in positive ways.  It can’t hurt and it just might change your perspective for the better.

CATALYST WEST AND THE ZEN OF ANDY STANLEY

I spent all day today—from about 8:30am until 9:00pm tonight—at Mariner’s Church here in California.  I skipped the labs yesterday because, well, I don’t do labs.  I’m sure they were wonderful, but, no.  It has been a great day.  Here are some highlights.

  1. Andy Stanley—Andy kicked off the conference with a wonderful sermon.  To be honest he started off a little shaky with some questionable historical references, but I’ll forgive that easily for what might be one of the most inspiring messages I’ve heard in a while.  He displayed some sweet Stanley Zen and said that there are three aspects of being courageous (the theme of the conference).  Number one is staying when it would be easier to leave.  Number two is leaving when it would be easier to stay.  Number three was about the need to bravely face your secrets and get help with them.  All three spoke to me.
  2. Dave Ramsey—Dave was good, but following Zen Meister Andy must have been tough.  Ramsey’s presentation was heavy on cliché’s and low on actual stuff that might help.  He told the story of the Tortoise and the Hare and reminded us that the Tortoise—slow and steady, always wins.  I did appreciate that reminder.
  3. Soledad O’Brien—She had a good batch of stories.  Honestly, the best part of her presentation was her just being there.  It was nice to hear stories about life and our world, a world in need, that were not from a heavily Christianized perspective. 
  4. John Perkins—The Civil Rights activist and author was highlighted in an ‘interview’ format.  I found myself enraptured by his testimony of fighting racial injustice and his hope in this current generation.  I believe he is onto something when he says this current generation—and he is not talking about my age but the 20 somethings—might be the first generation to fulfill the great American creed. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.”  I hope he is right.
  5. Eugene Peterson—this may have been the professional high for me.  Peterson was formatted in the same interview style as Perkins and it was fantastic.  Peterson talked about his life as pastor and how he once exclaimed in a leadership meeting at his church that he didn’t have time to be a pastor because he was too busy “running the damn church.”  That made me laugh.  I bought his new book.  I wish he’d been signing today.  That is one signature I would have wanted.
  6. Judah Smith—I had never really heard of him before; which is odd because he ministers in Seattle.  I can only say that he brought it.  Judah’s sermon was a sermon—in the classic style of actually using the Bible as a text.  He was the only preacher who asked us to read the Bible and then deliver solid exegesis.  His message was accurate and moving.  He spoke eloquently about disappointment in God’s apparent unfulfilled promises from 2 Kings 4.  It was something every pastor in that audience of 3,500 people could identify with.  I hope to hear him again.

 

The music was really good as well, but I don’t come for the music.  The facilities were nice.  Mariner’s church has a beautiful campus.  The food was kind of lousy, I must say, but all the free coffee was nice.

I am looking forward to tomorrow and the flight home.

BUCKET LIST BLOG

One of the things I love so much about my church is the Big Small.  The Big Small is “a small group for big boys.”  Like so many churches we organize our spiritual formations and fellowship primarily around small groups of people.  When I decided to start a small group for men I wanted to emphasize that we were all big boys!  Hence, the Big Small!

Tonight we had our “Big Fun” which is what we call our fun events.  In the past we’ve done everything from barbeque, eat out at a local restaurant, or watch sports.  One of the things we like to do is watch movies.  Last year we watched High Noon—now that is a great movie.  Tonight we watched The Bucket ListThe Bucket List is not a great movie like High Noon, but it is a great movie that makes you think—especially for men.

Now, I can’t tell you how the evening went, because in the Big Small, everything is strictly confidential.  In fact, that is in our creed—“Confidentiality is necessary for honest dialogue among men.”  But I can tell you that even though I’d seen the movie a couple of years ago, it still made me think about life and death, my family, my friends, and what the five or six people who might show up at my funeral might say when I am dead.

I’ve never made anything like a bucket list because life comes at me too fast and I think I would tend to change my list based on what I’m interested in at the time.  For example, five years ago I might have had a bucket list item as “get a book published.”  But, alas, I’ve accomplished that.  What I’ve noticed is the things I’d like to do are less professional or career oriented now and more experiential oriented.  I still resist making a list, but here are three things that, right now, I think would be very nice indeed.

  •             I would like to ride in a commercial airliner—737 or how about a 787—in the cockpit with the flight crew.  I’ve logged many miles in coach, and a few in first class, but never in a commercial airliner’s cockpit.  I just think it would be fascinating to see forward, check out the instrumentation, and listen to all the aviator lingo of the pilots.
  •             My second cool thing I’m thinking about right now is that it would be grand to have a conversation, maybe dinner or lunch, with a former president of the United States.  The political persuasion of the man is irrelevant in my wants.  I just would like to talk about the pressure, the ups, the downs and see how a man who has carried that unique weight acts and thinks.
  •             Okay, one more.  I want to live long enough to see my great grandchildren.  I know that is more of an achievement than an experience but nevertheless it is something I want.  I want to see both daughters live long, full and productive lives.  I want to grow old with my wife and spoil my family.  I want to lay my hands on my heritage and bless them.

SOME STAR TREK PHILOSOPHY

 

For Christmas my wonderful wife gave me every second of every Star Trek original series, movie, and Star Trek: The Next Generation series on DVD.  It was a truly beautiful gift.  Since then, we have cobbled together enough time to watch all of the original series and the original six “Captain Kirk” films.  It is all a part of my plan to assimilate my daughters into the nerd collective.

As I watched the original six films again—starting with the Motion Picture, Khan, Spock, Whales, Awful, and the Undiscovered Country’s Ode to Shakespeare I was struck by some profound philosophical and moral teachings that I could hang my hat on.  Here are some of my observations.

  • 1.  Each of the films has a plot or sub-plot of “our past comes back to haunt us” motif.  In the Motion Picture it is an old satellite that returns home.  In Star Trek IV it is the extinction of humpback whales and in Star Trek VI it is age-old prejudice and bias.  Yet beyond this, there is also the “son I never knew” or the “loss of command” that always haunts the characters.  Even though Star Trek V is arguable the worse ever in terms of storytelling, it develops this theme more fully on the personal level than any of the others.

                       

  • 2.  The Kobayashi Maru might just be the most eloquent and simple way of stating an important part of life.  We learn in Star Trek II that the Kobayashi Maru is a simulated test for officers in which there is no way to win.  We also learn that Kirk cheated by changing the simulation and therefore never faced death.  In each film though, Kirk has to face death as his friends and family die.  I know I’m just more sensitive to it right now because of some things I’m working through in our church, but I’ve come to realize life is filled with no-win situations.  Life is a giant Kobayashi Maru.  Other people make decisions or respond to things that inevitably force us to act and the result is no one wins.  Everyone loses.

 

  • 3.   In the original Star Trek films, the notion of change is always a negative thought.  This is often represented by “training crews” or “refits” of the Enterprise.  It is noted in Khan’s world changing as well as the political change brought about in Star Trek VI with the Klingon-Federation peace talks.  The cold war was over, and change is on the horizon. In each film, change is always viewed as negative.  In one of them, Kirk even says, “I liked my old chair better.”  The Enterprise is threatened by the improved Excelsior, the Genesis planet is a bust, and no Vulcan can ever be another Spock.  Is it okay that, as I get older and life gets more complicated that I’m beginning to think that  change is not so good?  I hope so because that is the way I am starting to feel.  I am about the age right now that Kirk was in the first movie. 

 

Okay okay, its Star Trek for crying out loud.  Its not Kant or even Kafka.  Nevertheless, human nature faces these issues and I find they pop up even in our most mindless art. 

  1. My past is always with me even when I ignore it. 
  2. Sometimes I just can’t win no matter what I do. 
  3. The world around me is changing, and quiet honestly I don’t like it. 

Its at this point I turn the television off and come back to reality—the Scriptures.

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:17—in Jesus I am a new creation.
  2. Romans 8:37—even though the situation is tough and I often lose, in Christ Jesus eventual victory is mine.
  3. Hebrews 13:8—I have an anchor in Christ.  He never changes.