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Leaning Into Lent: Transitioning

Each morning after we wake up and have breakfast, we change into clothes to get ready for our day and then take a walk around our neighborhood. It’s our time of transitioning from home to “school”. The same type of transitioning we used to find in our drive to school.

Yesterday, the governor of South Carolina announced that our schools would be closed throughout the month of April as well. Many states have announced that schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. All of these are indicators that we are transitioning.

We are transitioning to a new way of life. This is difficult and tiring work.

Just as we are transitioning into new routines, new work, and new ways to connect and be community together, so too are we transitioning into a new season around us.

May the Divine open your eyes, allowing you abundant grace for this season of transitioning.

Leaning Into Lent: Finding Light


For all of the Lenten season in which I have pastored, I have always challenged my congregants to resist the temptation to skip the darkness to find the light. I have asked them instead to sit in the darkness and to contemplate why it is so difficult for us to sit in darkness and why the darkness makes us so uncomfortable.

This Lenten season is different.

We are experiencing new things and change at such a rapid pace. I think this Lenten season the invitation for all of us is to see the darkness. See the changes that are rapidly surrounding us. See the way these changes and this upending of our “normal” is having an impact on our physical selves as well as soul selves.

And as we see the darkness, see also the light. See that around us there is still new life blooming. See the people who are creating content for children and families who are out of school and who are in a new normal. See the companies whose CEOs are giving up their salaries to try and support the workers they have had to lay off. See the companies that are shifting to provide things like hand sanitizer. See the way people are not going out and who are social distancing in order to give the most vulnerable in our population.

See the light in the midst of the darkness. The Spirit is still moving and God is still speaking.

Leaning Into Lent: Walking in the Wilderness

To be sure the events of the last week have overwhelmed so many of us. Every day things are changing. Events are being canceled. School schedules are changing. We are all walking in the wilderness of a new way of life.

Walking in the wilderness began our Lenten journey with the story of Jesus being tempted there. Walking in the wilderness continues our Lenten journey as we go back to the people of God in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt. The change in our day-to-day activities is asking us to adjust rapidly and think of how our decision to be present may be perpetuating a virus that can hide sometimes for as long as fourteen days. The change in our day-to-day activities is asking us to trust in something bigger than ourselves.

Perhaps you didn’t mean to find yourself in the wilderness even in the middle of Lent. Perhaps you don’t want to be in the wilderness of uncertainty of a virus that is spreading all around you. Perhaps you don’t want to be in the wilderness of social distancing.¬†Wilderness walking always challenges always frustrates and almost always reveals our hunger and thirst for food and water, but also for the safety and security of control.

May you rest in the assurance in the midst of this wilderness walking that you are not alone. The same God that walked with God’s people in the desert via a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night is with you. The same God who was tested and tempted in the wilderness is with you. You are not alone. Creator God is walking with us all.

Leaning Into Lent: Walking by Faith and not by Sight

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty of the Coronavirus and uncertain stock market, it is easy to become dismayed. These are not things we can control. These are events that are rapidly changing the way we interact with each other, the way that we gather, and the plans we have made to travel. To be sure we can do our due diligence in washing our hands, greeting each other without touching, and wiping down common spaces, but there is so much we still don’t know about this particular strain of viruses.

It is easy for us to think that we have control over our environment when things are calm. It is easy to begin to believe that we know what the day will hold, what the week will hold, and even what the year will hold, but anyone who has walked through a season of life that held unexpected health issues, job loss, or death of loved one knows that control is merely an illusion. We are dust and to dust, we shall return. There is no controlling when that truth will come for any of us. Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

Lent asks us to refocus our hearts and minds on our dustiness. Lent asks us to remember again and again day after day, week after week that we are dust and to dust, we shall return. This season is not to make us morbid of fearful of death, but to break us of our dependence on the need to control our surroundings, our schedules, and our days.

Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than by sight. Remembering that although it may look like we know what is ahead, only the Divine who goes before and behind us knows what is to come. Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than sight, not in fear, but in trust that whatever this hour, this day and this week may bring we walk with the Divine guiding us and leading us.

Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than by sight, awakening each morning to the realization that today is a day we can choose to live to our own selfish desires or with open hearts and minds to the ways we may bring light and love to a world clouded in the darkness of fear and uncertainty.

 

 

Losing Senses

Last month, I came down with a sinus infection and ear infection. I have never had a sinus infection and the last ear infection I had was my first year of teaching thirteen years ago. When I got to the doctor, he said, “Wow you are just getting no air through your nostrils.” I was in a constant cycle of vitamins and medicines and nose blowing, so it didn’t register until that moment that I had lost three senses: smell, taste, and hearing.

To be without three of my five senses was disorienting, to say the least. When I laid down on my left side, I literally couldn’t hear anything. It felt like I was in a wind tunnel of white noise. I couldn’t hear the kids. I couldn’t hear my partner when he came to check on me. It was so strange. I also couldn’t breathe through my nose so I was having to try to gain enough air through my mouth to rest and recover. I was intaking food in order to give my body energy, but I couldn’t taste any of it. I could kind of tell if it was hot or cold, but even that sense was dulled. Of course, I have been sick before, but I can’t recall a time when I have been sick to the point of having so many of my senses dulled.

Not only was it disorienting, but it was also lonely. I was missing interactions with family and friends not hearing them when they asked a question. Instead of the day being about playing and enjoying time off, my days were rooted to the next medicine dosage and the next time I would need a tissue.

There are other times in our lives when our senses are dulled. Seasons of grief. Seasons of caring for newborns and small children. Seasons of transition. Seasons of caring for a loved one who is sick. In the midst of these seasons, you may feel like you can’t see or taste or smell or feel anything. Your senses are dulled because you have been kicked into survival mode, moving from one thing to another like riding a carousel watching the world blur by. In these seasons, it is so important to step off the carousel and ground ourselves in the here and now. As much as we may want this to be over, it’s the being there that teaches us so much.

I found myself disappointed with not being able to bounce back sooner or get better within a day. I felt like I was missing everything and falling behind with every second. It wasn’t until I took time to ground myself in where I was rather than trying to power through the sickness that my mind and body settled into healing.

I can remember taking a bite and being able to taste the food. I exclaimed: “That tastes good!”¬† Even now as I take a deep breath through both nostrils, I am grateful. Just this morning I told our four-year-old son: “I hear you,” with appreciation that he didn’t have to repeat himself three more times.

Sometimes it’s not until we lose something that we are able to appreciate it. Sometimes it’s the seasons where our senses have dulled that lead to seasons of such richness because those experiences are laced with gratitude for the very breath we take.

In the Midst of the Magic

Over the holidays, all of us were sick. We didn’t take turns but overlapped in the spreading of coughs and runny noses that happens when there are multiple kids and multiple schools. There were tissues all over the place and water cups and our counters were lined with cough syrups, antibiotics, and saline sprays. We made it all the way until our youngest was ten months old before we started spreading things back and forth and then this.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the best attitude in the midst of all the sickness. When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to see the gray that is all around you instead of seeing the bits of sun shining through promising warmth and light.

And it’s hard when you don’t feel well to take care of mini-humans, especially when they feel well and you don’t. They still want to go and do things and see things and learn things. They still want to explore and discover the magic that’s out there in the world.

It was on one of those days that we ended up at the playground to get some fresh air and some sunshine. Our park has an incredible walking trail that makes you feel like you are hiking through the woods and we almost always end our time at the playground with a nature walk around the loop looking for messages and magic.

This is the one we found on our first nature walk of the new year: “You are awesome.” I like to pretend I don’t need these messages. These are messages for our mini humans who are still developing their sense of self and their self-worth. These are the types of messages that we need to flood them with for the times when they encounter failure and frustration.

On this day, I needed this message. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of someone taking the time to write this on the nature trail. I need to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old discovering a secret message on a nature walk. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old finding and using a walking stick. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of an almost one-year-old laughing at her brother every chance she found. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of a free park maintained and cared for by a community who want to encourage people to be outside.

I needed to stand in the midst of the magic and remember I am but a bit of stardust in this great cosmos of mystery.

Do you need an umbrella?

This morning as I was pushing the stroller with our almost one-year-old and the dogs, it started to drizzle. I wasn’t concerned because it was just a light drizzle, but as we continued on our route the light drizzle began to add up so that everyone who wasn’t in a stroller was damp.

We were on the final stretch home when a car passed by wound down the window and the driver asked: “Do you need an umbrella? I have one back here.” I thanked her and told her that we were almost home, but that I really appreciated the offer.

This is such a small act. Something so little but that shows intentionality and kindness.

Sometimes we become convinced that we can’t have a big impact and so we choose not to try. Sometimes we are just too in our own hearts and minds and daily schedule to look up, stop, and think about what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.

This small act reminded me that I am not alone. There was someone who saw me, noticed that it was raining and that I was walking, and went even further to imagine what might help make the situation easier.

More of this in this new year and new decade, please!

Greatest Night of Giveaways

The past three nights, there has been Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways. The unsuspecting crowd was drawn in under the pretense of filming another show. The winners of thousands of dollars were interviewed under the pretense of a show that was about how people in difficult situations turn their lives around never giving up and always holding onto hope. And of course, the audience was surprised with six-day getaways, new exercise equipment, gift cards, and the latest and greatest technology.

If you watched the show or tuned in on Instragram or Twitter, you found yourself laughing and crying. I found myself hooked on the stories of the families whose lives she was turning around. The boy who was raised living in his car with his family who started being a sign spinner who received a car and a job, his life taking a completely different trajectory than before. The single dad who lost his job who was sent to Europe with his daughters for a month. The single dad whose wife passed away just six weeks ago whose mortgage was paid off. Surely, this is the reason for the season. Surely, this is what power and influence and money can do for good.

Ellen ended each show by saying, “Merry Christmas. Spread some Christmas cheer today and remember to be kind to each other.” I couldn’t help but compare this to the impeachment hearings and the way our leaders are yelling at each other and at witnesses. The rhetoric of our political leader in regards to a sixteen-year-old girl who has a passion and a calling to change the world.

Why is that we are so unkind to each other? Why is that we are so competitive with each other? Why is that we find ourselves so entrenched in identity politics that we can’t even see the needs of other people around us?

It takes a lot of intention, reflection, and prayer to renew our minds and to open our hearts to the needs of other people. Instead of asking why the person is on the corner holding a sign asking for money or food, it takes wondering what it would feel like to be at the point where you have to hold a sign to ask for food. Instead of complaining about the fact that it is raining, it takes imagining what it would be like to sleep outside in the rain all night long and then be damp for the rest of the day as the rain continues.

It takes thinking outside of our lived experiences and imagining the lives and the realities of other people. It takes an understanding that the economic system that we live in has privileged some above others and continues to do so. It takes shifting our thinking from “I deserve this,” to “we deserve this.”

And if there is ever a season in the church year when we can change our thinking and that the Divine turns things upside down, it’s Advent. Watch and wait. Something is coming that will change the way we see the world and indeed change the powers of the world.

Just wait.

In the Midst of Grumbling

This week’s epistle text comes from the book of James chapter 5:

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.

The week’s text comes in stark contrast to our current political climate in which there is only grumbling between the two parties. In the midst of all the grumbling, it is so difficult to find the truth. Who is right? Who is wrong? These questions even make one side the winner and the other side the loser.

During this high and holy season of Advent where this epistle text is brought to light, I wonder if there is another way.¬† Is there a chance that instead of being so quick to defend “our party” or “our perspective” that instead we could be patient and strengthen our hearts. Maybe, just maybe during this season of the coming of the Christ Child, perhaps we could open our hearts and minds to the ideas and perspectives of other people instead of digging in our heels and defending what we believe.

A recent article summarizing a report on generosity reported:

Atheists are more generous to Christians than Christians are towards them.

The report continues:

we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists.

We, as Christians, find ourselves not inhabiting the very tenets and behaviors that Jesus Christ taught. We are not generous. We are suspicious and stingy. We do not treat others fairly. We defend and grumble against anyone who doesn’t believe as we do.

As a pastor and as a Christian, I find this deeply disturbing. There is so much hurt in the world and so much loneliness. As we wait for the coming of the Christ Child, I wait in hope that there we will begin to see and hear people who look different and believe different with open ears and open hearts.

In the Midst of Changing Seasons

All around us, we see evidence that the seasons are changing. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are highlighted by the fall light that looks and feels different from the summer light. The change makes us pay attention and look at our everyday paths and patterns through new eyes.

When we’re going through a changing season, it isn’t quite as evident. In fact, we might be almost through a season of change before we ourselves realize what we have been going through. The season might not be one with brilliant colors and basking in the light. The season might be one of hurt and grief, hopelessness and loneliness. It’s hard for others to see this change within us for our leaves don’t change or draw attention to what is going on within.

It is easy to interact with others by simply passing by, not really looking and not really hearing what’s beneath our conversations. This season of change invites us to change the way we interact too.

Listen deeply, look deeply, connect deeply.