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Lent: A New Beginning

11 Feb

Lent2016secondweek

On Ash Wednesday we hear “Remember, you are human.” That is not bad news. After all, Jesus was human, too. Make the most of your humanity this Lent.  Be the best you can be. Here are 12 more ways to choose from as you add color to your Lenten cross. If you have not downloaded the cross yet, you can do it now.

PLANT

  • Work in your yard.  Meet and visit with neighbors.
  • Plant a tomato in a large pot. Find a sunny spot for the pot. Water and care for the plant. Enjoy eating your own tomatoes.

SIMPLIFY

  • Organize a junk drawer or storage area.
  • Put a water-saving head on your shower.

PRAY

  • Count your blessings. Develop a habit of recognizing ten blessings a day.
  • Check out our online Lenten retreats

READING

  • Read the Omnivore’s Dilemma about where food comes from.
  • Find in Genesis 7.11 what threatens humankind with extinction.

FAMILY and FRIENDS

  • Give 10 minutes of uninterrupted, attentive listening to a family member.
  • Reach out to a member of your extended family that you sense needs some care.

PARTICIPATE

  • Take food to a local food shelf.
  • Participate as a family in a local spring clean-up.

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Click here for a reflection on the scriptures for the 1st Sunday of Lent.

Finding Prophets Among Scribes

5 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Prophets tend to have a difficult life. It’s a tough gig. They see society as it really is, and speak truth to power. They are rarely taken seriously, often ignored, because we are pretty sure we don’t want to hear what they have to say. They give a comforting word to those suffering, and judge those who hold power harshly. They promise justice, which is not good news for those perpetuating injustice. They offer hope to the mourners while clearly pointing out the source of the grief.

We are in desperate need of some prophets– people who can imagine the world without war and hatred and violence– to call us to a higher place. What if we could see each other as God sees us, and act accordingly, so that compassion ruled the day?

Prophets rarely make it into the limelight. They are on the outskirts, calling for us to turn around and pay attention. They are running grassroots protests and feeding people and asking policy makers to show more humanity in a way that makes us uncomfortable because they are right. They are living in a way that seems like they may have a more direct line to God, who is tirelessly trying to work through our broken humanity.

During campaign season, we look to our candidates in hopes of finding a prophet. We look for people who have this God-inspired vision of what our country could and should look like. I can’t help but wonder, though, if our fast moving, media- driven society hushes prophets and glorifies scribes.

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! –Mark 12:39

In this presidential campaign season, we will hear a few people do a lot of talking, and several more people talk about those people talking. It is a season to beware. Who are we giving authority to? Who are we listening to–prophets or scribes? We do need to pay attention to the campaign, of course. We need to vote with our ballots and vote with our billfolds and television remotes and laptop mice. Meanwhile, I will keep searching for prophets and preparing my heart to listen.

 

Ordinary Kindness

29 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

There is no spiritual practice more profound than being kind to one’s family and neighbors, the cashier at the grocery store, an unexpected visitor, a stray cat or dog, or any other of the usually irrelevant and invisible beings who may cross our paths in the course of a normal day. Certainly there are spiritual mysteries to explore, but as we mature it becomes clear that those special experiences are only meaningful when they arise from and return to ordinary kindness. –Bo Lozoff

I love this idea of ordinary kindness being the normal, every day buzz that extraordinary moments arise from and return to, the status quo, the baseline, if you will. I love that being kind to neighbors and clerks is a profound spiritual practice.

I’d like to think I am good at being kind to cashiers and stray cats and my family. I think about giving my best love to my family all the time and often follow through, yet from a very young age my parents taught me how to have compassionate peripheral vision and to humanize people in small encounters who could potentially feel invisible. I could stop there and feel pretty good about myself.

Then again, this morning I heard Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker houses mentioned on the radio, and it gave me pause. Is ordinary kindness enough as the zone from which we live? If I had an unexpected visitor at my front door, my idea of kindness would be much less generous than Dorothy’s. She would invite the person to move in with her as long as he or she needed a place to stay. I just can’t say I’d go so far.

How far does our faith call us to go?

I can’t seem to shake a quick encounter I had at work a few weeks ago. I was cleaning out a closet that had net been tended to in years. I was in the mood to sort things between recycling, donating, reusing or trash. I stopped one of our custodians to apologize for hoarding the trash bins and ultimately giving him more loads to take to the dumpster. His response has played in my head again and again, “It’s okay,” he said earnestly. “If you don’t create trash, I don’t have a job.”

This man is from El Salvador and doesn’t speak English very well. Every time I see him I stop and have a conversation with him in Spanish. I show him ordinary kindness all the time. I could stop there and think myself profound and my work complete. And yet. We currently live in a world where my role is to create trash and his is to clean up after me. In that case, I’m just not sure that ordinary kindness is cutting it.

I do believe, like Lozoff said, that ordinary kindness it is a profound spiritual practice. True. I’m going to keep practicing it. I also believe that my co-worker, without knowing it, is calling me to more.

 

Give Love

22 Jan

Don’t you love the inspiration that comes from unexpected places?

Last week, David Bowie died and the airways filled with his voice, DJs paying tribute to his life and art. Although I love music, I have never been one to become an avid, swooning fan of anyone in particular, David Bowie no exception. I had a vague sense of his fame, talent, creativity, breadth, ability to reinvent himself and speak to the downtrodden, all sprinkled with glitter. I knew his face, his voice and many of his songs. Yet I don’t think I could even claim that I am actively a fan.

It surprised me, then, to enjoy these career tributes on the radio over the last week. His lyrics made me stop, on several occasions, and lines rang over and over again in my mind throughout the day, like these lines of his with Queen:

Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love…

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure

I love this visual of caring for people on the edge of the night. Our world needs more of this type of love. And it is a dare, isn’t it? It’s no easy ask. It’s a straight up dare, because caring for people on the edge of the night like Jesus did will change my heart and necessitate some life changes, too. That love will change my heart and life. It’s easy to hibernate in our comfort zones all winter. Or we can accept the dare out to the edges.

In the new year, it is also time to reflect on how we care for ourselves and change. This is also a dare, maybe a double dare for some of us. Loving ourselves at times is nothing short of subversive and counter-cultural. Love dares us to care about ourselves. It can’t stop with others. We are called to love God and our neighbor and ourselves.

Give love, give love, give love keeps turning like a mantra. Love is an old fashioned word, and turning that phrase over and over, putting love being the verb give is just enough to keep it fresh in my mind. To the people on the edge of night.Give love. To ourselves. Give love. Give love. Give love.

Plan Ahead For Lent

20 Jan

crosstocolor

In only three weeks we will receive ashes and begin another Lenten season. We invite you to download our FREE Lent 2016 cross. Each week we will send you color-coded ways to keep Lent. As you pray, read, plant, simplify, and do acts of kindness your cross will begin to bloom with color.

 

Gospel Reflection for January 24, 2016, 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

19 Jan

Sunday Readings: Nehemiah 8.2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12.12-30; Luke 1.1-4, 4.14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; God has anointed and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight for the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

(Luke 4.18-19)

Prisoners make the list along with the poor, the weak, and the disabled — the people about whom it is easiest to say, “not worth it.” Perhaps some of these undesirable folks may open important places inside us, like the towers of arrogance, the locked doors of self-deception, or the vaults of false pride. One of them may transform us.

Who has been surprisingly transforming for you in your life?

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Wonder

15 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

The characters in Jesus’ story who have captured my imagination this week are the wise men, or magi, or kings. We think if these men as learned and wealthy, that with their titles and expensive gifts. They are not the type of folks we typically imagine packing up their things at the sight of a star to head off to the unknown hoping to meet a new king. Yet this is exactly what they do.

These men were clearly waiting for a Messiah and hoping he would come soon. Their hope and excitement urged them to take a chance on this particular star.

What was it about this star they saw that convinced them to pack up and take a quest? Are they foolish or brilliant? Did other men scoff at them, sighting reason and logic that so often override our wonder and awe?

We so often make the mistake of replacing wonder with knowledge. We pit science and religion against each other. We see God getting smaller instead of bigger as we learn more about the universe. Yet we are living in an exciting age where science is re-embracing wonder. We are curious about multiple universes and admitting the more we know the more we realize we don’t know. We are embracing wonder as the beginning of wisdom.

I think these men have something to teach me. They are inviting me back to a place of wonder where I can encounter God. Their journey to pay tribute to this baby shows humility, wonder, openness, and hope that I want to embody in my faith life. They show the lengths they are willing to travel, literally, to encounter God. In addition to keeping their noses in their books, they also turn their faces to the sky, recognizing that faith requires both our intellect and our wonder, our ideas and our willingness to be in authentic relationship. They understand that part of worshipping God entails taking risks and venturing into the unknown. They know they are on a sacred journey and remind me that I am, too.

 

Still Waiting in the Dark

11 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Eirik Refsdal

Photo via Flickr user Eirik Refsdal

It is still Advent. It is still dark and cold. Last week we cried out, “Paris, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs.” The list grows. “Syria, California.” Our hearts hurt. We wait.

Unexpectedly, I am experiencing a deep depression that attacks from all sides. I have little strength to deal with my feelings of uselessness. I feel like an outsider, tolerated but not accepted, like but not loved… I crave personal attention and affection… My feelings are so general and attack everything that I see, hear or do, which tell me it is a general depression, not critical observations. I have little control over it. It feels like a form of possession. I try to pray for deliverance, but prayer brings no relief. It even appears dark and frightening. What else can I do but wait? –Henri Nouwen

Waiting is hard. David Foster Wallace, in his amazing commencement speech, “This is Water,” reminds us that while waiting in line at the grocery store after waiting in traffic after a monotonous day of work, we choose how we will spend that time. While we wait, do we judge others, spewing toxicity through our eyeballs, or do we take the time to foster compassion for our line mates? Do we choose to think of interesting things and hum a beautiful tune?

Think about lines at the DMV and airport and retail store. The situation is plum out of your control. How do you wait? How do you choose to spend that time? How we wait says a lot about who we are.

Advent is the season of waiting in the dark.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” –Isaiah 40

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. But not yet, not yet.

Waiting does not mean being inactive. It does not mean escaping from this place into comfort and distraction. Waiting calls us to be more attentive to this time and place. To know more is to come, but to see the potential in this very moment and be fully present to it.

Advent is faith at its best. Advent is moving through the darkness with the hope of the light that is to come. This is not the last word. Death does not win. A baby is coming. Make way. Prepare. Today, we must choose how we will wait.

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Social Action Has Two Feet

10 Dec

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Gospel Reflection for December 13, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Advent

8 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Justin Kern

Photo via Flickr user Justin Kern

Sunday Readings: Zephaniah 3.14-18; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.10-18

“Crowds of people came to hear John the Baptist and seek the baptism of repentance he proclaimed. They asked ‘What shall we do?’ In reply John said, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.'”

(Luke 3.10-11)

Just as John the Baptist helped people of his time examine their consciences, Pope Francis is calling us to ecological conversion. He wants us to redefine progress, so it can include all people and sustain us all. What are we to do? The pope urges us to pause and recover depth, to see beauty, share joy, and keep up our human capacity to encounter and care for one another (Laudato Si’ #113)

Talk as a family or group of friends about what in creation inspires awe and gives you joy. Plan to see and experience it.

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.
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