Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Avoid stupid controversies

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46)

Nathanael might have been reading Philip’s status update on Facebook, for all we can tell. His reply sure sounds like the snarky comments we post when we read something we don’t agree with.

The dismissive behavior we display on Facebook and Twitter is really nothing new; in the second-century letter to Titus (c. 110 AD) we hear the writer’s strong warning to Christians against the kind of behavior we engage in so often, a verse worth memorizing because it stands the test of time.

Avoid stupid controversies … (Titus 3:9)

But why? The writer expands on his idea. “Avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

Worthless

Arguing about stupid Episcopal Church controversies, trying to prove a point by citing the canons, stirring up partisan passion about how misguided the leaders at 815 are, debating who’s right and who’s wrong — none of these things communicate the inspiring truth about what God is doing in the world.

And it’s not just our internal church controversies that are stupid.

You don’t have to have an opinion about every story, every commentary on the evening news. You don’t even have to watch the news.

Your compelling evidence, exhaustively cited, won’t change the mind of that guy on Twitter. Besides which, no one wants to read your 57 nested tweets on the same subject (unless it’s #AddAWordRuinAMovie or #LentMadness).

Your dismissive comments on Facebook about Obama or Bush, gun control or transgender rights, Palestine or Israel, Guy Fieri or Anthony Bourdain — and your obsessive sharing of political posts (left or right) do not change anyone’s mind.

Usually, they just make you look like a jerk.

Unprofitable

Not only is it a waste of time to engage in stupid controversies, it doesn’t actually help.

How does your arguing reflect the God we Christians worship, who hates nothing he has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent (BCP 264)?

How do your opinions demonstrate your “new and contrite heart” and the humility of one who remembers “that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”?

How does your evidence against someone point to the God of all mercy and the “perfect remission and forgiveness” he offers for everyone?

How do your dismissive comments acknowledge your own “wretchedness”?

Pro tip: They don’t. Srsly.

Eager, not anxious

On Saturday mornings, we pray “that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of [God’s] sanctuary” (BCP 99).

We are anxious about so many things, and the news cycle and social media feed that anxiety. We feel like we have to be up-to-date, have to weigh in, have to have an opinion on everything.

What if we were instead eager for one thing?

What if we were eager to rest in God’s grace, so freely given to us, so freely shared with everyone?

What if we were eager to share that grace ourselves?

What if instead of arguing, we tried listening? Instead of offering opinions, we shared experiences? Instead of listing the evidence against, we tried hearing the evidence for? Instead of dismissing, we tried admitting?

What if we admitted other people into the rest we share? What if we admitted them into the sanctuary?

What if, instead of Nathanael’s snarky “Can anything good come from there?” we offered our humble invitation: “Come and see”?

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Bearing and being changed

In one of the talks in the online course related to his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr describes the process of recovery in the words of Thérèse of Lisieux:

Serenely bearing the trial of being displeasing to myself.

And listen to Joan Chittister on the centenary of Thomas Merton’s birth:

What Merton calls us to do as part of this slow but fulfilling process [of spiritual development] depends on the raw and ruthless debunking of the self to the self that is the ground of humility.

In these last days of Epiphany, we approach the season of Lent, a season that the Church invites us to observe “by special acts of discipline and self-denial,” and we pray:

That we, beholding by faith the light of [Jesus’] countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory (BCP 217).

Being displeasing to ourselves is not the point; being raw and ruthless in our debunking of ourselves is not the point.

Being changed into Jesus’ likeness is. Being changed from glory to glory is.

Lent is the season where we deliberately turn our gaze toward the crucified and risen Christ of Easter, the one to whom John the Baptist points us in this morning’s Gospel reading (John 1:19-28). But in Lent we are also made more keenly aware of “every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1).

We commit ourselves once more in Lent to the helpful practices of the faith, knowing with the ancient Israelites that “if we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, we will be in the right (Deut. 6:25). But on Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent we are also reminded of “our self-indulgent appetites and ways” (BCP 268).

Thérèse of Lisieux offers powerful wisdom in this situation, for we find our serenity in bearing our trials and continually returning to God’s pleasure in us. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” we pray.

Merton’s words ring true, too, for desiring abundant life in God, we can be ruthless in ridding ourselves of everything that holds us back. “Grant me the courage to change the things I can,” we pray.

And finally, it is only with our gaze on “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart” (John 1:18) that we have a prayer of receiving “the wisdom to know the difference.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Step Four on Ash Wednesday

genuflect

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

(Psalm 32:5-6)

A couple of weeks ago my AA sponsor and I knelt together as I prayed that God would “relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do his will … and take away my difficulties, that my victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life” (Big Book 63).

This prayer of abandonment to God’s will is what AA calls Step Three and what the Book of Common Prayer calls in the Ash Wednesday liturgy “a right beginning of our repentance, and a mark of our mortal nature” (BCP 265).

Today Lent begins, and for me a very particular process of self-examination and repentance.

I have reached the point in my recovery where it’s time to begin Step Four — to conduct a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself — and then to take Step Five, to admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.

Though I have been in the Church all my life, I am beginning to understand for myself the wisdom of traditional practices like Confession, what the Book of Common Prayer calls Reconciliation of a Penitent (BCP 447). We need at times to write down what we’ve done wrong, to say it out loud to another person, and to hear from them our Lord’s assurance of forgiveness.

Lent is a particularly appropriate time for this hard and holy work, and I am embracing it gladly as my main observance this year.

And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart,
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)

Whatever you may decide to do to mark this Lent, I invite you to take it seriously but joyfully.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer (BCP 265).

God hates nothing God has made

Pinned Insects

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 217)

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Since late last year, following a serious lack of judgment at a company event, I have been on a disciplinary plan at work and have been seeing a counselor through our Employee Assistance Program.

Having my failings made visible is really uncomfortable — the first image that comes to my mind is an insect pinned to a board — but the process of dealing with the issues openly and with help from other people has led to some long-overdue changes in my life.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of discipline in the reading appointed for today.

Endure trials for the sake of discipline … [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems unpleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7, 10-11).

On Ash Wednesday, we rehearse the heart of the Christian message about sin and forgiveness.

God hates nothing God has made, even though we fall short of the mark again and again.

When we confess our sins and get them out in the open, when we allow others to help us deal with our failings, we open ourselves up to receive from “the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

Having received forgiveness, having been trained by discipline (not just once, but as often as it takes!), we in turn extend that forgiveness to those around us.

Yes, we are mortal — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — but we are God’s. “He himself has made us, and we are his” (Jubilate, BCP 83).

God hates nothing God has made, and God forgives the sins of all who are penitent.

Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises,
and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)