Category Archives: lent

Have mercy on me

I’ve seen a lot of cartoons going around facebook today explained Good Friday. There is a B.C. cartoon where one character asks the other why the day is good. The response is “If you were going to be hanged that day and he volunteered to take your place, how would you feel?” The response was “good.” So there you are.

nailsMy gut reaction was to think “I wouldn’t feel good, I’d feel guilty.” I’ve seen the cartoon posted several times, and each time something would just rub wrong. It wasn’t until the middle of our Good Friday service tonight that it finally clicked . . . no one ever wanted to hang me.

Jesus was killed because of the things he taught, because of the life he lived. He was dangerous. He spoke out against the Roman government, and he acted in defiance of the religious leaders. He gave authority to the outcasts and sinners. He listened to women and empowered them to lead. He healed those who had been suffering, gave sight to the blind, and called back those who had been dead. He spoke of a new order where the last shall be first, where the oppressed shall be free, where the poor shall not want. He spent his time with the unclean, but had a voice that compelled the masses. And as the Low song states, “if you were born today, we’d kill you by age 8.” Dangerous people make enemies. And Jesus had many. He was put to death because he needed to be silenced.

I, on the other hand, am far too timid to be dangerous. After all, in his last days, Jesus said “those who love their lives will lose it.” As it turns out, I have loved my life. And because of it, people haven’t needed to kill me. I have died already in my apathy.

Jesus didn’t volunteer to die in my place; rather, he invited all of us to follow him to the cross. We are to stand alongside him and call out the places of injustice. We are to stand with those in pain. We are to hold up and cry with those who weep. We are to lead the sort of dangerous lives that make us targets to the powers that be.

If Good Friday doesn’t make us call out “Lord, have mercy on me,” then we’ve somehow failed to read the story of Jesus’s life and death. Because we are in no means off the hook, merely indebted to a God who would sacrifice God’s own life so that we don’t have to die. No! We are to take up our crosses and march right there to Golgotha. And lest we think ourselves righteous enough to say that we do that, remember that even Jesus was sweating drops of blood in the garden before he was betrayed. This isn’t easy or light. It literally requires our lives. We are to die with Jesus.

And that’s where I have failed.

When I hear of human rights atrocities around the world and walk away, I let Christ die alone.

When I hear of sex trafficking in my own state and think “well that’s too bad,” I let Christ die alone.

When I see hungry people on my street, but have dinner privately in my apartment, I let Christ die alone.

When I hear statistics about the number of people in American prisons and don’t ask questions, I let Christ die alone.

When my gay brothers and sisters are killing themselves to end the bullying and hatred, I let Christ die alone.

When people die of preventable and curable diseases, I let Christ die alone.

Because you know what? I believe in the Kingdom of God. I believe that the way of Jesus is good news. But I live as if I love the Empire that oppresses. Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

Good Friday is no good if we walk away thinking ourselves righteous. Good Friday is only good if it motivates us to pick out our nails and get involved in giving our lives to the things Jesus lived for — to the things good enough to die for.

(photo credit)


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So this is Holy

Like most in the church world, I’ve been absorbed by Holy Week. Since my church staff position is as administrator, I have the fortunate position of being busy, but not so busy that I don’t have time to stop and reflect along the way.

holyOur journey to the cross is almost over. Our sights are on it as this is the night that Jesus will be betrayed. As Bob Goff pointed out, this is the night that Jesus chooses to eat his last meal with the person he knows will betray him. This is the night when he will break bread and pour wine and wash feet. It is the night when hope begins to die.

I can’t help but wonder what it means that this is the week in the church calendar we have called holy: a week wrought with grief and pain. Why not start holy week with Easter so it can be a week of rejoicing? Wouldn’t that seem more holy? Or perhaps the week when Jesus was born. Those precious moments when mother and son are bonding, with Mary realizing that she is caring for the very son of God. Surely that is holy. Or what about Pentecost when the Spirit comes down in tongues of fire? Now that is holy AND exciting.

But it is here –here in our despair, in our loneliness — that the church has seen fit to use the term holy. If there is to be comfort in this time of waiting, in this time of sorrow, it is that our hurt is not separate from God. This, too, is holy.

(photo credit)

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Giving Life for Lent

Remember that you are dust . . . 

ashesI dread Ash Wednesday as much as I need it. It isn’t fun being reminded of your humanity. It isn’t fun to impose ashes on friends while repeating the words that they, too, will return to dust. It isn’t fun, but it is holy. I need to reflect on my own death and realize the finality of that—and those—around me. I need to be reminded to love now, to give now, to be now.

Part of that reflection leads me to consider others around the world. 780 MILLION people lack access to clean water, a statistic that serves as a death sentence for far too many. The good news is that we can help. $25 provides clean water for one person for life. In a very practical way, it gives life. During Lent, I am giving up all beverages other than water. I am also invited you to participate with me in giving life to 40 people. I have set up a fundraiser here: Will you consider giving and/or spreading the word?

(photo credit)

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Of Blisters and Ashes, High Heels and Lent

After talking to my friend and fantastic writer, Bert Montgomery, about his experience in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” I begged him to write a guest blog post. After reading this, visit The Faith Lab to read his other reflections. Thanks, Bert!

Love God; love yourself as God loves you; and love others as you love yourself.

As a Baptist minister, Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent are unfamiliar things to me. But as I have tried to understand and embrace them, I have come to believe that Ash Wednesday and Lent are designed to do nothing more than to help us love God, love ourselves as God loves us, and love others as we love ourselves.

This past Monday (just prior to Ash Wednesday) I participated in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event at Mississippi State University. Men – students, faculty, and community leaders – donned high heels, slippers, pumps, etc., to draw attention to and stop sexual assault, rape and violence against women.

Then Tuesday morning arrived, and I became very aware of several blisters on my toes and on the bottoms of my feet. My ankles hurt. My knees hurt. My wife told me she was proud of me for doing the walk, and she was sorry I was hurting.

But as I was putting bandages on my sores, my thoughts turned to the deep hurt and unspeakable pain experienced by a college friend who was raped; my thoughts turned to a co-worker who, as a young girl, was sexually molested by a trusted family friend; and the fact that when I look out over the students in my classes, I will be looking out upon several young women who, just while being at college, have experienced sexual aggression and violence – and perhaps I will even be looking out upon some of the young men who have committed those acts.

In the days since walking that mile in women’s shoes, with each pinch of pain that comes with each step, I’ve noticed that I am praying for those women I know whose pain is deeper and far more severe than my blisters and aches will ever be. A few blisters and sore ankles created a level of empathy for others I had not had before.

I often show a documentary on Islam to my Introduction to Religion classes. In it, a Muslim man talks about Ramadan – the Islamic month of fasting. He speaks of this being a period to learn patience, humility, spirituality; a time to focus on God and prayer; a time to ask forgiveness for sins, to pray for guidance, and to take steps toward developing self-restraint.

He talks about Ramadan and fasting in the larger context of the Five Pillars of Islam, which includes almsgiving (or, charity). The man says that for almsgiving to be pure, it should not be simply done out of guilt or obligation, but out of genuine empathetic concern for others. He suggests that to be empathetic with someone who is hungry, he must first know the pains of hunger. Thus, the month of fasting helps this man focus on his sins, his repentance, and his need for God, but it also forms within him a physical connection with those who hurt and suffer throughout the year.

Being a Baptist, I’m still quite new to the rich Christian traditions of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I do know, though, that it’s more than just “giving up” something or trying to “pick up” something else.Jesus doesn’t speak of Lent (obviously, it developed in the Church), but he does tell us that everything comes down to loving God, and loving others as you love yourself.

So, whatever Lent is, it certainly has to be a means to the end of helping us love God. And with all of the “giving up” and “taking on” and fasting and discipline and confession and repentance, it is also has to be a means of helping us love ourselves as God loves us.

And, maybe it is also a means of helping us love others, too.

Maybe in our humble confessions beginning with Ash Wednesday which we remind ourselves that each of us comes from dust and to dust each of us shall return; and maybe in whatever it is we will be doing (or not doing) during the season of Lent which helps us love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and helps us love ourselves as God loves us; maybe in all of this God will also grow within us a greater sense of empathy for others.

It could very well be that in some self-denial, even with a little pain, God draws our attention to the pain and needs of others.

You may not have blisters on your feet, like I do, but many of us had ashes smudged on our foreheads recently. At the very least, may God take the ashes from our foreheads and place them in our vision so that everyone we see has the cross of ashes on their forehead – reminding us that they, just like we, come from ashes and to ashes we all will return.

And may God use whatever discipline you may be practicing to nurture a greater sense of empathy for a neighbor, a friend, a stranger, an enemy.

Love God. Love yourself. Love others. This is the purpose of Lent.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have some blisters to tend to.


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Marked for death

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return;
but the steadfast love of our Lord endures forever.”

On Wednesday I repeated these words over and over. Each time with a new face, a new story. Each time with a new revelation of what it means to be God’s child, to be a minister, to be human.

On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes and think about our mortality. We ponder the ways we are like dust, like ash. We think about the end and what that means for each of us. As a minister (or minister-in-training or whatever you’d call me), I was charged with imposing ashes. In that role, I watched faces become somber as I reminded them of their humanity. Some needed no reminder. Doctor’s appointments, cancer treatments, surgerys and age have caused plenty of opportunities to think about end-of-life. Perhaps it was more a reminder for me to consider the fragile state in which all of life’s relationships reside. This week, one of our church members lost her mother. Another lost a husband. One is currently hospitalized after suffering a stroke.

Remember that you are dust.

I thought about how much I’ve come to love the people who stood in front of me. Those who have supported me in a new place, in a new role at church, as a seminary student. Those who rejoiced with me as I got married. Those who have loved me and loved members of my family before me. Those who have helped shape my husband into the man with whom I am continuously falling in love. Those who have become sisters and brothers — and perhaps crazy uncles or grandmothers. What a weighty task to remind them that life is fleeting.

And to dust you will return.

As I dipped my thumb into ash and brushed it across foreheads and palms, I was marking folks for death. The ash dripped from my fingers, dropping in places I couldn’t predict or control. Perhaps even there, death had a mind of its own.

Once the line dwindled, I walked over to Allyn, who was also imposing ashes. He dipped his finger into the bowl and began marking me. “Jennifer, you are dust.” In that moment we both realized its truth. The rest of the words came slowly, deliberately. “You can’t die.” “I’m sorry, but I will.” We sat down, hand in hand, trusting and hoping that the steadfast love of our Lord does endure forever.

(photo credit)

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