From Dust to Dust, A Short Lenten Reflection

“From dust we came…to dust we will return.”

There is a lot I wish would return to dust quickly:

Injustice

Systemic racism; actually—any form of racism

White privilege

White supremacy

Punitive legal system

Death penalty

Abortion

War

Hatred

And then I realize that Lent is not (necessarily) about eradicating all that is unholy and sinful in the world.

Lent is about eradicating all that is unholy and sinful within me.

How have I contributed to, benefitted from, or ignored all those evils I already listed? How have I victimized others by my actions? How have I victimized myself?

This is only the fourth year I have participated in Lent. It has been a powerful experience before me. Yet this year, I am doing something different. I am not intentionally fasting or giving something up.

Instead, I am going to sit in silence. No agenda. No plan. No action.

Just silence.

Because there is so much pain and sin and hatred in the world. And in me.

And sometimes I just need to sit with it.

And pray that it all turns back to dust.

_________________________

On Sunday, February 22, we will be hosting a candlelight vigil on the 3 month anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death. Tamir was a young child shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer for playing with a toy. We have lost too many children (and adults) to violence. We will meet this Sunday and pray for peace and justice and nonviolence. We will pray for our systems to change. We will pray for a better world for our children to inherit.

It is appropriate this prayer vigil (taking place in 22 cities) is occurring during Lent. Lent is a season of reflection. Lent is a season of repentance. Lent leads us to something better. It is my prayer that we as a society reflect, repent, and move towards something better.

Please join us at Freedom Fellowship, 941 Chestnut St. in Abilene, TX, this Sunday at 7:00 P.M.

Book Review: Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Moses-Buddha-Mohammed-Cross/dp/1455513954

Have you ever wondered what might happen if Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed all met while walking along the road? What would that conversation look like? Specifically for Christians (since that is the majority of my audience), what do you think Jesus’ response would be?

Brian McClaren considers this in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road. In this book, McClaren acknowledges two things Christians do well: have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively to other religions; and being accepting to the point of never proselytizing.

McClaren suggests we should do something different: a Christian identity that is both kind and strong. Our Christian identity should be so strong that our love for Christ should move us into relationship with others. We can affirm what we believe without attacking those who disagree. This book is a search to answer the question: “How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon?”

McClaren speaks about CRIS: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. This conflict stems from the fact that Christianity has spent too much time building walls and barriers at the expense of pursuing peace. How can we as Christians pursue more fully a relationship with Jesus without alienating others? How can we love and welcome others without compromising our faith in Christ?

In four parts, McClaren digs into finding answers to these questions. Many will consider this book bothersome or troublesome. I think that is good. I also think that is partly McClaren’s intent. In part 1, he studies some of the historical issues that have brought us to where we are in our current religious identity crisis. He concludes the section by saying, “Until we face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history, we will not be able to forge a robustly benevolent Christian identity. Doing so will be painful. Many will shrink back from it.”

This book is a call to consider creative ways to “rediscover our compelling Christian mission.” It is an important read for all who claim the name of Christ. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative publicity given to relationships between Christians and Muslims. When President Obama correctly mentioned the history of atrocities performed in the name of Christianity, his opponents unfathomably bristled. We need to learn how to acknowledge the truths of our history and heritage and seek ways to change.

In parts 2, 3, and 4, McClaren talks about our doctrine, our liturgy, and our mission. Throughout each part, McClaren does not suggest that we jettison what churches have done for centuries. He does not recommend changing our message or the foundational truths of Christianity. He does suggest, however, that we look for the mutations that have formed and address them. In other words, how has our application moved from what Jesus actually intended? These are difficult questions to ask, but they are necessary.

All in all, McClaren is calling for welcome and reconciliation. A radical fellowship and with-ness. In the part on liturgy, he suggests we view the table as less than an altar of sacrifice and more as a table of reconciliation and fellowship. What a profound change.

Step back and read news headlines. Check social media feeds. Look at the ways many who profess to be Christian talk about people of other religions, especially Muslims. Ask yourself if that is how Jesus would respond. Ask yourself if that is how you would respond if you met someone face to face as you walked along the road. Imagine a conversation between the leaders of the four largest world religions. What would that be like? McClaren suggests there would be no fear. Instead, there would be humility, love, and peace. I agree with him. I challenge you to read this book and see if you agree or not.

Breaking Out Of Isolation

Why do we isolate?

In times of grief, sometimes our first thought is to crawl into a figurative hole and cry by ourselves. We do this by binge watching TV while eating a gallon of ice cream. We do this by going to the bar and drinking until our card is maxed out. We do this by driving for miles and miles and hours and hours until we cannot afford the gas anymore. We refuse to answer the phone. We pretend we don’t hear the doorbell ring. The thought of church or parties or social events makes us sick to our stomach.

And the causes of our grief are numerous:

  • Death of a family member or friend
  • Loss of a job
  • Being a victim of abuse
  • A partner leaving
  • Being betrayed by a someone who was trusted
  • Struggling with depression, addiction, or other mental illnesses
  • Health scares
  • Moving to a new home

You can probably add more to that list. It is a fascinating truth of the human experience that although we are social creatures our first reaction in times of grief or extreme stress we often isolate.

Three things have happened this week in my immediate and extended family that were all stressful as well as being reasons to mourn. There was a time when I use to drown my feelings; hoping to forget and numb. Today, however, I fully experience all the emotion that comes with the various challenges life throws my way. And along the way, I have realized that I have learned some important behaviors; some actions I can take to keep from isolating.

First, I ask for prayers from other people. There are people in my life whom I trust. I know they are people of prayer. I go to them and ask them to pray for me. Because sometimes, I don’t have the words to speak. You may or may not be a person of prayer or faith. Let me recommend that you still find those who are and ask them to pray for you. Beyond the spiritual component of prayer, knowing that there are trustworthy, loving people caring for you can be a vital step in overcoming isolation.

Second, I talk to my partner. There was a time in my life when my wife did not hear what was going on in my life. Because I wouldn’t tell her. Now I do. You may or may not be in a committed relationship. If you are, part of that commitment needs to be sharing extreme joys and extreme pains. Intimacy demands openness. If you are not, I ask you to consider who your closest friends or family members are. Find that one person you can tell anything to and, well—tell them anything! And everything! We must speak out to others to avoid the temptation to go off and be by ourselves.

Third, I continue with my scheduled activities. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really can be. Being sad does not mean I should cancel my social activities. Being nervous is not a good excuse for missing work. Avoiding my friends’ or children’s activities will not make me better. I do understand that sometimes, our physical condition calls for rest and relaxation. Often, however, we are better off continuing with our schedules. If we don’t, we isolate. We hide. And we just make ourselves worse.

Are these suggestions a cure-all? No.

Are these suggestions the key to health, wealth, and success in all you do? No.

Will they cure your depression? No.

So why offer them? Because they are steps you can take to avoid isolating. When you are in the midst of grief, despair, or stress one of the worst things to do is isolate. Isolating potentially separates you from people who care about you. Isolating allows you to over-analyze with no other voices speaking into your life. It allows you to stay unchecked in your misery.

To break the burden of isolation, you need to find those few people who can keep you from being totally alone. Break the cycle of negative self-speak. Break the cycle of turning inward.

Find people to pray, share with your closest friend or partner, and do what you are scheduled to do.

And if you don’t who to begin with, email me: pdm95k@acu.edu

That will keep me from isolating, as well.