So it appears I have set off a fury. From Nashville to Savannah, the people called Methodists are searching for Cabinet. I discovered it when a friend shared this picture on his Facebook timeline. I thought it was outrageous, and decided I would write about it.
Clearly my entrepreneurial skills are lacking. I should have done the work of finding this precious artifact first, then written the blog post. There seems to be a growing demand across the connection, and I probably could have cashed in. Oh well, lesson learned.
The stacks at MTSO’s library (I think).
Upon not being able to find the game through normal outlets, i.e. Amazon, Cokesbury, Ebay, I was afraid it was lost somewhere in a warehouse in Nashville. In my research though, I found a copy of the game at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio’s library. Through the magic of Facebook, this picture was shared with me yesterday. I’m pretty sure that the game was guarded by the ghost of Francis Asbury. She had to prove that her heart was pure, or at least moving onward toward purity (or some-such thing).
April Casperson, Director of Enrollment Management and Scholarship Development at Methodist School of Theology in Ohio.
As you can see, her face is a perfect mix of bemusement and mild disgust. I can only assume the she is afraid of opening the box, lest her face get melted. That would be a shame. She seems to be a perfectly pleasant person, and I would hate for her to end up like this.
In the meantime, there seems to be a groundswell of Methonerd support to find copies of this game. My friend Melissa Meyers has promised to bring the game to the attention of someone at United Methodist Publishing. If it gets re-published, I only have one request: Please let me be a part of the group having a grand ol’ time playing it on the box cover art.
I’m having fun with this. I have chosen to laugh when I see this game, but there is another reaction that I could have. I have dedicated myself to a system that all-too-often feels like a game. The only way I can remain sane in the itinerant system is to believe that the members of my conference’s cabinet understand that they are not playing with Pokemon cards, but with peoples’ actual lives. I believe this is the case. I do. Every year in appointment season I reaffirm in my own heart and mind the covenant I made with the United Methodist Church, and I submit to the will of my Bishop. I submit my family to the whim of a few people in an a room a few hundred miles away, and trust that they are guided by the Holy Spirit. That is a huge amount of trust, and the fact that someone that was once given that kind of trust decided to turn that process into a game makes me boil over with rage. Then I take a deep breath, realize I’m probably taking it all too seriously, and realize it probably is a good teaching tool. Appointments are a wildly complicated thing to figure out, and this could help people realize how difficult it is. So I make a joke.
So keep searching, Methodists. If anyone finds and plays this game, please share your experiences here.
Today is National Epilepsy Awareness Day, and a little bit of knowledge could save someone’s life. I’m wearing purple, and found this blog when I followed the #PurpleDay. Vulgarity warning – but a very good read.
Today is Purple Day, a day for awareness and fundraising for epilepsy. In the UK alone, there are about 600, 000 people living with epilepsy, myself included, and it’s still a disability which a lot of people don’t understand. This leads to general stigma, but also a fair few fuck-ups from people trying to help.
When someone is having a tonic-clonic seizure, it looks terrifying. I’d always wondered, upon waking up from one of my own seizures, why everyone was running around like headless chickens and practically snogging me in relief. One time, when I was stuck on an overnight stay in hospital, I saw someone else fitting, and I suddenly knew why. It really does look awful.
I have a lot of fun with March Madness. One of my most-read blogs of every year is when I pick the entire NCAA tournament based on which Mascot would win in a fight. Its silly, a little juvenile, sometimes humorous, and hopefully informative. This story about March Madness though, is none of those things. This is a story of an unlikely friendship. It is about how we can be inspired by each other, and draw strength from others. There’s a cynical part of me that gets tired of worn out cliches about sports.
The way we idolize sports figures is troubling. Sometimes it is absolutely dangerous. There are times I want to quit sports all together, just wash my hands of the whole dirty, bloody, idolatrous affair. I know, however, that I can never give up sports all together. Sports are a part of my history, my family, my very being. Yet I get weary of the packaging of sports. I get tired of the human interest story. I get tired of the coach-worship. I get tired of lazy metaphors and the emotional manipulation. Just when I’m about to give up on believing that sports are anything more than a distraction from what really matters, I come across something like this.
So the cynic in me wonders: Is this just another fluff piece thrown together by a media outlet with an interest in showing the “good side” of sports? Is this just another attempt at making an athlete more than we ought? Is this just another case of emotional manipulation? It’s hard to judge how much of this video is real, and how much is good story telling. There are two things that are undeniably true in this video. Lacey’s struggle, and Lacey’s smile. That’s all that matters.
All of the sudden sports have won me over again, and the Spartans have another fan. Go Green. Go White. Go Lacey!
My friend and United Methodist colleague Gavin Lance Presley introduced me to this game, and my life will be incomplete until I play it. It was created by Bishop Dan Solomon, I can only imagine his train of thought before creating this game.
“I’m so sick of people calling me to complain about the appointments I’ve made,” he thought. “If only I could show them how hard it is.” And in a flash of light, the greatest board game since Monopoly was created. Though some might think that this game must be the parting gift of the worst TV game show ever, I feel like I have to play it. Cabinet can actually be found at the library of Methodist Theology School in Ohio. All I could think of is, “ROAD TRIP!” I’m packing 7-15 of my favorite Methodists in a van and going. Tomorrow.
According to the online catalog description, this game includes “1 director’s manual, 16 participant’s manuals, 2 lay advocate’s guides, 2 clergy advocate’s guides, 50 declension and data sheets, 16 name tags with 16 plastic holders, 10 envelopes for superintendents (2 sets of 5), 4 sets of color-coded file cards ; in box 24 x 31 x 4 cm.”
This is a game that is so beautifully Methodist, I’m almost in tears. This is a game with not one but two different manuals, two kinds of guides, (my heart is aflutter) 50 declension sheets, and FOUR SETS OF COLOR CODED FILE CARDS. I don’t even know what a declension sheet is, but I know I want one. I’m guessing it is sort of like a Pastor’s pokemon card, with all of their stats and hit points on it. I think mine would be ATTACK 68, DEFENSE 78, PREACHING 87, TEACHING 92, ADMINISTERING SACRAMENTS 87, ORDERING LIFE OF THE CHURCH 33.
I have to find this game for sale somewhere. I think I would probably pay dozens of dollars for it.
The sixth annual Mascot Bracket has a special interactive addition. This year, you can submit your own picks. Who do you think would win in a fight? The First Annual Readers’ Choice bracket was also submitted into the Free Yahoo Tournament Pick ‘Em Contest. The Readers have a lot of respect for the tenacity of the woleverine, and little respect for 19th century arms. The Michigan Wolverines came out on top over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
When determining the winner, origins of the nickname are of primary importance (see Blue Devils and Jayhawks). Current official logos are consulted to find out needed details, such as whether or not the mascot is armed; and for disambiguation, such as which type of Aggie?
Inanimate objects, e.g. colors and plants, always lose to animate objects.
Predators beat non-predators and unarmed humans.
Humans beat non-predators.
Humans with weapons beat predators. There can be exceptions if the weapon is non-gunpowder, and the animal is particularly big and/or fierce.
Humans with weapons beat humans without weapons.
Humans with superior technology/weapons/training win.
Supernatural beings and killer weather systems defeat human warriors.
Many animals, especially birds and fish, can survive devastating storms.
If the schools have the same mascot, then the higher seed wins.
Prepositions lose to everything. (See explanation of What’s a Hoya)
The play-in game has Scoobie up against the owner of the haunted lumber yard.
1 Florida Gators def. 16 Albany Great Danes or Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers. This year, instead of treating the play-in games (and yes, NCAA, they are play-in games) as a separate round, I’m throwing all three mascots into the ring to see which one will emerge. Before doing any research, I was very hopeful that the mountaineer didn’t have a gun. It looks like the Mountaineer has two tickets to the gun show, but no actual gun. Hoping that the gun show loop holes are closed, and feeling bad for the Fighting Scoobies, but the gators emerge. 8 Colorado Buffaloes def. 9 Pittsburgh Panthers.The last time a we saw the Panthers versus Buffalo, Cam Newton was sacked six times and Buffalo won 24-23. I’ll stick with that outcome.
The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack and WWE Superstar Razor Ramon
5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams def. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. While the SF Austin Lumberjack would be a formidable foe against a human opponent, I’m not sure he would be able to do the Razor’s Edge on a Ram. That huge axe might come in handy, but I’m not sure it would be enough.
Tulsa University’s Captain ‘Cane
13 Tulsa Golden Hurricane def. 4 UCLA Bruins. Here I have to make the important distinction between being a mascot bracket or a nickname bracket. I have to admit that this is really a nickname bracket. I don’t usually go with the appearance of the guy running around on the sideline. This is a good thing for Tulsa, because their mascot is this comic-book like character known as Captain ‘Cane. He even has a complete Marvel-esque origin story. If we’re pitting a bear with this blue static-electricity guy, I’m taking the bear. The bear versus a hurricane though, does not favor the bear. I’m not confident in the bear’s survivability in the face of a hurricane, and we have our first major upset, and our first early favorite to win the whole thing. 2 Kansas Jayhawks def. 15 Eastern Kentucky Colonels. The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the more interesting origin stories for a college mascot. While the current version looks a lot like Foghorn Leghorn, it has roots in the Civil War. The Eastern Kentucky Colonel looks like Colonel Sanders’s cousin. It would not be a very good fight. 7 New Mexico Lobos vs. 10 Stanford Cardinal. This is a clear example of rule #2. Colors lose to everything. By the way, so do hippie trees. 3 Syracuse Orange vs. 14 Western Michigan Broncos. Again, colors lose. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. 11 Dayton Flyers. It was kind of nice of the committee to put all the Mascot Bracket losers in the same quadrant. One of these days we’ll have a Ohio State vs. Syracuse matchup, but this is not that day.
Gators def. Buffaloes. This is not a clear-cut choice, but I don’t think a Buffalo would be able to mount enough of an offense. Golden Hurricane def. Rams. If a hurricane could take out a bear, a ram would not stand a chance. Broncos def. Flyers. Even though this Bronco is just sort of chillin’, I don’t think an unarmed pilot would be able to beat a horse in a fight. I know that this goes against my normal human vs. non-predator rule, but I think this is a proper exemption.
I say. I say, I say, what is a Jayhawk, boy?
Jayhawks def. Lobos. On the surface, it appears that a wolf would dismember a strange blue jay crossed with a sparrow hawk bird. The Mascot Bracket though, goes deep. The origin of the Jayhawk predates the Civil War. When the future of the state of Kansas as either a free or slave state was in dispute, supporters of both sides waged an underground civil war on each other. These vigilantes from both sides were known as Jayhawkers. They stole horses, ransacked farms, vandalized homes, and there were even some casualties. Eventually, the Jayhawk name became synonymous with the free-staters. During the Civil War, a Union regiment from Kansas that was called the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks. So, that is a long way of explaining how the Jayhawk defeats the wolf. It’s sort of like that sad part of Dances With Wolves.
Gators def. Golden Hurricanes. I actually think that a gator could wait out a hurricane. I might be wrong about that, but it’s my bracket. If you disagree, you should have voted in the Readers’ Choice Mascot Bracket. Jayhawks def. Broncos. Do they still, or did they ever really, take dead horses to the glue factory? Answer: Yes, they did; and no, they don’t.
Regional Champion: Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas Jayhawks are able to topple the Florida Gators. Given the Jayhawk history, this boils down to a simple case of armed human defeating a powerful wild animal.
1 Arizona Wildcats def. 16 Weber State Wildcats. In the first of two Wildcat battles in this tournament, I have to go with the higher seed.
9 Oklahoma State Cowboys def. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs. This is a clear case of armed human defeating an animal.
12 North Dakota State Bison def. 5 Oklahoma Sooners. This one has some historical significance. At first glance, I’m thinking that in the battle between settler and bison, the settler came out on top. According to this site, the bison numbered 30-60 million at the time of Columbus, but by 1888 there were 541 known bison in the United States. The good news is that at that time there was more of an effort to preserve the bison, and by 1907 there were over a thousand living bison. Today there are 250,000. That year, 1888, is important. That is the year before the Sooner was born. April 22, 1889 was one of the most unique days in American history, when settlers were allowed to claim 160 acre plots of land. There was a great race to claim the land, and those that left before the predetermined starting time were called “sooners.” Anyway, the idea here is that by the time that the sooners were on the scene, the bison population actually improved.
This might be the greatest picture I’ve ever created.
13 New Mexico State Aggies def. 4 San Diego State Aztecs. An Aggie is an infuriatingly ambiguous mascot. Even the New Mexico State Aggie has two versions. In one version, the mustachioed aggie is wielding a lasso. In another, he is pointing two six shooters. The Aztec takes out the mustache and the rope, but cannot stand up to the firearm. The current NMSt website has the guy packing heat. I’m going with the Fighting Ron Swansons.
American Eagle outfitters
15 American Eagles def. 2 Wisconsin Badgers. If the American Eagle is one of these clowns, I’m picking the badger. Unfortunately for Bucky though, one of the badger’s natural predators in the wild is an eagle.
10 Brigham Young Cougars def. 7 Oregon Ducks. Pretty terrible fight, really. It wouldn’t even be sporting.
14 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns def. 3 Creighton Blue Jays. Even if the Cajun isn’t armed, I’m pretty sure he could take a blue jay.
6 Baylor Bears def. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers. This one comes down to whether or not the Cornhusker is armed. That’s an ear of corn in his pocket, and I’m thinking that won’t do much good against a bear.
Cowboys def. Wildcats. He shot a bulldog last round. This time it’s a wildcat.
Aggie def. Bison. We unfortunately know the outcome of armed farmer vs bison.
Top: Chili’s Bottom: Ragin’ Cajun
Bears def. Ragin’ Cajuns. I’ll let you guess which of these is the mascot of the Cajuns, and which is the mascot of a delicious restaurant. Baylor goes to TGI Fridays to celebrate after the game.
Cowboys def. Aggies. This exact matchup came up in last year’s Mascot Bracket. The Aggie and the Cowboy seem identical, so I’m just going with the higher seed this year.
Bears def. Cougars. This video is not at all graphic. The bear and the cougar basically stare each other down. The narration is great, and for some reason it ends with techno music, and the video declares the bear the winner.
Regional Champion: Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Oklahoma State Cowboys take out the Baylor Bears.
These two look like cousins to me.
1 Texas Southern Tigers def. Wichita State Shockers and Cal Poly Mustangs. It is clear that the tiger would take out the mustang, so the only question is: Is Lady Elaine armed? The actual mascot is a bundle of wheat. Not sure it would muster much offense against a ferocious beast. So let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? Well, it turns out that the Wheat Shocker name came from a common summer job of many of the students. Shocking wheat might take a sickle, but really there’s nothing here to make me think that a wheat shocker could survive a tiger attack.
8 Kentucky Wildcats def. 9 Kansas State Wildcats. Top seed wins.
12 Xavier Musketeers def and 5 Saint Louis Billikens. Were you thinking that the Billiken was some kind of supernatural entity that would be a tough out? If so, you were wrong. The Billiken is basically a troll doll. It is a tchotchke. Seriously, it is a made up good luck charm that became a fad about a 100 years ago. Next, we have the Musketeers and the Wolf Pack. This looks like another exception to the armed human versus a predator rule. A wolf pack would not be fun to face, but I think that once one wolf was shot down, the rest would be pretty intimidated, and would retreat. If it were a closed arena, where retreat was impossible, the musketeer might have some trouble, but I imagine these battles coming in natural environment.
13 Manhattan Jaspers def. 4 Louisville Cardinals. The Jaspers have no discernable mascot. All I could find was an M with a star. It turns out that the Jaspers are named after Brother Jasper, a priest at the college who introduced intercollegiate sports to the college. He was their first athletic director and first baseball coach. So, the Jaspers are just some old guy, but even some old priest can beat a cardinal.
2 Michigan Wolverines vs. 15 Wofford Terriers. If these were the bull terriers, things could get interesting. The Wofford Terrier though, is a Boston terrier. The wolverine is one of the most terrifying wild animals out there.
11 Tennessee Volunteers def. 6 Massachusetts Minutemen and 11 Iowa Hawkeyes. This is a very tough one. The Minutemen and the Volunteers are a pretty even matchup. The Minutemen were from the Revolutionary War. The Volunteers were from the war of 1812. Even the Hawkeyes are making this one tough. They are actually named after a fictional character – a white man who was a companion, hunter, and scout in the book The Last of the Mohicans. I’m going with Tennessee because of rule #7, I’m guessing that there must have been some advances in weapon technology between 1776 and 1812. I’m no expert though, almost all I know about guns I learned on Pawn Stars.
Tigers def. Wildcats. A tiger is the king of the wild cats.
Musketeers def. Jaspers. Brother Jasper would, presumably, not be armed.
Blue Devils def. Volunteers. This is basic timeline stuff. World War I soldier defeats a War of 1812 soldier.
Sun Devils def. Wolverines. Seriously, I don’t know what to do with a Sun Devil. I don’t even know what it is. I suppose the trident helps against the Wolverine.
Musketeers def. Tigers. Rule #5.
Blue Devil def. Sun Devils. I really don’t have a good reason for this. I don’t see the Sun Devil having any extraordinary power. Do they give the Blue Devils a bad sun burn? I guess that trident is useful, but not against World War I fire power.
Regional Champion: Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devil is a more advanced soldier than a Musketeer.
1 Virginia Cavaliers def. 16 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Chanticleer (SHON ti Clear) are not a fancy light hanging in your Grandma’s dining room. The school website has a pretty pompous explanation that alludes to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It’s a rooster. A rooster would be run down easily by a Cavalier.
8 Memphis Tigers def. 9 George Washington Colonials. So, is the Colonial armed? It looks from this logo like the only thing ol’ George has to defend himself is a flag. That might work for a little while, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to fight off a tiger.
5 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. 12 Harvard Crimson. Colors lose. Always.
4 Michigan State Spartans vs. 13 Delaware Blue Hens. Perhaps the most lopsided of all battles, the Spartan versus a hen is not a pleasant site.
15 UW Milwaukee Panthers def. 2 Villanova Wildcats. It looks like this matchup has already been taken care of in the DC universie, but I don’t have the book, so I don’t know how it ends. A real Panther has about 100 pounds on a wildcat, so I’m going that direction.
7 Connecticut Huskies def. 10 St. Joseph’s Hawks. The kid in the St. Joseph’s Hawks outfit never stops flapping his arm, but apparently he only flaps one arm during the anthem out of, um, respect? I’m not sure how to pick between a bird of prey and a dog. A husky’s fur is pretty thick, and its jaws are pretty powerful. I’m going with the Husky.
14 North Carolina Central Eagles def. 3 Iowa State Cyclones. Usually the Cyclone is a formidable foe, but I think the eagle soar over it, avoid it, and wait it out.
6 North Carolina Tar Heels def. 11 Providence Friars. I don’t think it really matters what a Tar Heel is, the friar isn’t going to put up much of a fight.
Cavaliers def. Tigers. Human with weapon. This could be an exception to that rule, since the sword is a non-gunpowder weapon, but I’m sticking with the Cavaliers.
Spartans def. Bearcats. Human with weapon. No exceptions here, despite the lack of gunpowder.
Tar Heels def. Eagles. We’ll get to whether or not the Tar Heels have a weapon a little later, but for now, I’m sticking with the Heels.
Panters def. Huskies. I don’t like to think of dogs fighting, so I won’t have much explanation.
Spartans def. Cavaliers. Ken Burns recently made a sequel to his groundbreaking documentary, 300. It reminded us all of how badass Spartans were.
Panthers def. Tar Heels. This breaks with history as far as the Mascot Bracket is concerned. I’ve uncovered an origin to the name Tar Heel that goes farther back than the Civil War. Instead, it appears to go back farther than the Civil War, connecting instead to a laborious, and dirty process of making tar that was an important part of the area economy and development. That is much less cool than the story about the soldiers. There’s no inherent weapon here, so the panther has lunch.
Regional Champion: Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans take out the Panther in a clear case of Rule #5
We’ve come to a point where we three armed men with similar firepower and training, and one ancient warrior that was the product of a an entire society aimed at war. Throw the four of these in a Hunger Games-like arena, and I’m putting my money on the Spartan. So, does a cowboy defeat a World War I soldier? The Cowboy is a quintessentially American icon. I feel like I would be accused of hating America if I pick against the Cowboy against a French soldier. In the other semi, we have a Civil War soldier versus a Spartan. When it comes down to it, the gun would just be too much.
Oklahoma State Cowboys def. Duke Blue Devils
Kansas Jayhawks def. Michigan State Spartans
In the championship, it’s the Cowboy versus the Union soldier. I’m going with the training, and the cause.
National Champion: Kansas Jayhawks def. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Communion is one of my favorite things about worship. It is a ritual ripe with meaning and power. People ask me sometimes about Communion and children. I have been giving my daughters Communion since they could take solid food. Some wonder if their kids are allowed to take Communion, so I offer this as my answer. As far as I’m concerned, children are always welcome at the table, but I also respect the wishes of the parents. If there is a new family coming forward, and they have a little one, I always say something like, “Your child is welcome to partake, if you are okay with it. If not, I’d be happy to give her a blessing.” In that moment, it is difficult to go into all the details of why I invite that child to share in the bread and the cup. So now I give you these reasons why any child (or any other person for that matter) will always be welcome to Communion at a table over which I preside.
Communion is a means of Grace. I believe that Communion is a powerful act. I believe that God is present in the bread and the cup. In that holy moment of eating and drinking, one can feel the presence of God. This is at the foundation of my Communion theology, and everything follows from this precept. God meets people in Communion, so why would I do anything to get in the way of that meeting?
It’s not my table. One of my favorite things to say during the course of any service is, “This is not my table. This is not a Methodist table. This is Christ’s table, and all are welcome. Come, for all is ready.” If it is Christ’s table, who am I to guess his guest list? If Christ wants to meet someone at his table, that’s his call, not mine. Jesus told a story about inviting guests to a banquet, and one of the most important lessons of that story is that we don’t make the guest list.
There’s no kiddie table. I’ve always thought of Communion as the family meal, and there’s no kiddie table. If we consider kids to be a part of the family of God, why would we exclude them from the family meal? Even at family gatherings where there is a special table for the kids, we always bring food to them too.
No one fully understands what’s going on at this table. People say to me, “We don’t bring our kids until they know what’s going on.” My first reaction is to ask that person to explain to me their theology of atonement to make sure that they understand. No it’s not. That would be stupid. We don’t have to pass some comprehension test to be invited to Christ’s table. My actual first reaction is, “I’m not sure I fully understand what’s going on.” Yes, I can write about the incarnation. I can tell you what a Sacrament with a capital S is. I can tell you about forgiveness, the body of Christ, and sacrifice, but I don’t think I can tell you with any real certainty what happens in Communion. I believe God is present in the bread and the cup, but there is an element of mystery in the act that is unknowable. That doesn’t mean we let kids think it’s snack time. We teach them as we go. Kids understand the difference between play time and serious time. They know when something is important, if we tell them that it is. When I hand a child a piece of bread and a cup of grape juice, I don’t say “this is the body and blood of Christ.” I tell them, “Jesus wants you to have this so you remember how much God loves you.” That’s all they need to know. Sometimes that’s all any of us need to know.
Children might not understand what’s going on, but they have a sharp understanding of what it means to be left out. That is a feeling I want no child to feel in any church I am called pastor.
Children are a vital part of the Body of Christ right now, as they are, not for what they might become. I’ve heard many people say that “Children are the future of the church.” I understand the sentiment, but I vehemently disagree. Children are the right now of the church. They are the church just as much as anyone else. If we only value children for what they might become, or who they might bring with them (get the kids, and the parents follow), then we are not valuing children. I want to be a pastor of a church that values real kids, not just the idea of kids. I want a church that loves kids who are loud at the wrong time, who don’t sit still, who make messes when they eat, and ask rude questions sometimes. Does this mean we don’t provide guidance, or boundaries, or expect good behavior? Of course not. It means that we love them as they are, and try to model for them behavior that is life-giving. We don’t chastise or shame them. We embrace them for all of their kid-ness. Children are a vital part of the body of Christ, and I do not believe in treating them as anything less.
So there you have it. These are six of the reasons why I share Communion with kids in worship. I always leave the final decision up to the parent, but hopefully all the parents at my church know that when they come, all are welcome.
We still get a daily newspaper, and sometimes the only page I touch in the whole thing is the crossword. I love doing crossword puzzles, especially if they’re not too hard. I can’t even touch the Sunday New York Times crossword.
I like the one in our newspaper because on most days I can fill most of it up. My favorite part of doing the crossword is when I tackle one big blank part of the puzzle at once after feeling blocked. In one flash of brilliance the dam is lifted, and a tidal wave of right answers comes pouring out. Whole sections of the puzzle that were once blocked can quickly come alive once I remember that an artichoke is an edible flower, and that acme is a four-letter word for peak. Eventually though, I hit another block.
I seldom finish the whole thing. It seems like there is always some intersection of an obscure town in India and the first name of an actress from the thirties that I just can’t figure out. I try as hard as I can to finish the whole thing, but almost inevitably, I have to seek help. But first I have to declare to myself, “I give up.”
“I give up” are three powerful words. On Ash Wednesday, Christians of many stripes feel compelled to give something up. Most people give up some vice or bad habit. The practice of self-denial is an ancient spiritual discipline. Others, and myself in the past, have poo-poohed the idea giving up of things for Lent. Many writers have warned against the dangers of going through the motions during Lent, or giving up something superficial that won’t really get to the heart of the matter.
While I agree that the sacrifice that the Lord requires is not superficial, I’m giving up judging others’ discipline. If you want to give up chocolate, who I am to tell you that you shouldn’t do that? I know what the Lord requires of me. Nowhere in mercy, justice, and walking humbly with God does it include commenting on your spiritual discipline.
I haven’t decided if I am going to fast for Lent. In the past I’ve given up chocolate. I’ve also done daylight food fasts. For a couple years in a row I didn’t eat any solid foods between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Every year I contemplate doing that again, but haven’t attempted it in years. Last year I tried to write a note to someone for every day of Lent. I wish I could tell you I actually wrote 40 notes in 40 days. I can tell you though, that it was a very rewarding experience.
This year I feel ready to give up. Giving up is an easy thing to do sometimes.
I feel weary, and I don’t think I’m alone. I feel weary of a world torn by violence in Central Africa, Syria and Venezuela. I feel weary of impending war in Ukraine. I feel weary of divisive politics. I feel weary of debating. I feel weary of a long and brutal winter that just won’t relent. I feel weary of social media, being bombarded every day by this post, this article, this meme. I feel weary of my to-do list, which seems to be growing faster than I can check things off. I feel weary of reacting harshly at my daughters when they don’t deserve my ire. I feel weary of the laundry pile in my basement, the paper pile on my desk, and the snow piles on the street. Pile after pile seem to come in wave after wave.
And now Lent comes and I’m supposed to give something up, and I can’t pick just one thing. So I give up.
Pass me the ashes, I give up.
I give up my plan.
I give up my power.
I give up my ability to affect change.
I rub ashes on my head, and mark myself “given up.” Weary. Tired. Defeated.
I remember that out of dust I was formed. To dust I will return.
I give up. I confess my failures. I examine my shortcomings. I reflect on the ways that I cannot do it all. I resign myself to God’s will, not my own. I remember that I will die, and pain and suffering will remain, but I will have lived. I will live without the need to be right every time. I will live without the need to follow my plan, without the need to check every box, without the need to fix everything. Out of dust I was formed, and to dust I will return, but in between I am going live.
I am going to live.
I fall on my knees and cry out to God, “I give up.” God smiles, embraces me and says, “Finally. Now, allow me…”
And suddenly the dam is lifted, and a tidal wave of grace comes pouring out.
The fast I choose is justice, mercy, and kindness. Not because my actions will solve the world’s problems, but simply because God is. God is justice. God is mercy. God is kindness. God is love. This same God took a pile of dust and breathed life into me, so how else can I live?
I can’t solve the world’s problems. I can barely finish my laundry. These ashes are a reminder of my own mortality. These ashes are a reminder of my own shortcomings. These ashes are a reminder that God took ashes and formed something that I could never form. God provides answers I could never know. God provides paths I could never find.
Last year I introduced this idea for Lent. It was a powerful experience for many who tried it. The point of this exercise is not to get overwhelmed by another thing on your to-do list. The idea is start thinking about relationships. Think about real, past, new, old, strong, strained relationships. As you write your notes, if something cool, unexpected, fun, or funny happens, let me know. Tweet it out using #40Notes40Days.
5K 36:00 (Race for the Cure, Jun. '12)
35:15 (Firecracker Run, Jul. '12)
33:47 (Crimestoppers, Aug. '12)
31:40 (Lagomarcino's, Oct. '12)
26:52 (CASI St. Patrick's Day, Mar. '13)
26:28 (Railroad Days, Jun. '13)* *2nd place in age division
26:40 (Casa Guanajuato, Nov. '13)
30:30 (Modern Woodmen Knockout Hunger, Sep '14)** **3rd place in age division
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