Lenten Loopholes

We are two weeks into Lent.  How’s that sacrifice going?

Image result for loophole

Well, I’ve got some good news.

If you decided to give something up for Lent, on this Sunday and every Sunday to the end of Lent, you can actually partake in that chocolate, or alcohol, or whatever it was you decided to do without for 40 days.  See, this liturgical season is actually 46 days long, but Sundays don’t count.  I know, right?!

I can’t quite decide if the Sunday clause would be considered a Lenten loophole, but it definitely feels like you’re beating the system if you can break your fast on the Sabbath day, doesn’t it?

Lent isn’t the only time people take advantage of loopholes.  Anyone who is acquainted with preparing taxes could probably tell you about a few loopholes. Loopholes in general can be found everywhere.

Well…just about everywhere.

You might be able to cheat 6 days out of Lent or take advantage of an ambiguity in the IRS tax code, but any loopholes around death are non-existent.

The law of nature is set.

You might be able to cheat death a few times or delay the inevitable, but the truth is, you will die someday.

In my day-to-day work as a hospice chaplain, it continues to amaze me when I encounter elderly people who struggle to accept their mortality.  They have had decades and decades of living and still, they cannot comfortably face that ultimately they are dying as well.

From ashes you came, and ashes you will return.

 

Part of the purpose of Lent is to face this reality: Death awaits us all.  And in an age-fearing, death-denying culture, we need this liturgical season more than ever.

When we no longer pine for what we had or desperately cling to what we still possess;

when we can be grateful in all times, just living in the moment;

when we can accept that all of this is temporary, that what we call life will end as we know it;

that’s when living in the persistent shadow of death becomes rich beyond measure.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

–2 Corinthians 4:17-18

 

 

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Jesus, the Pajama Boy


 

The era of The Pajama Boy is over January 20th and the alpha males are back.

So gloated Sebastian Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Trump, in an interview with Sean Hannity as he explained why Barak Obama had not succeeded in foreign policy which he called a disaster. Presumably President Obama was too soft. That was in December of 2016.

From what I’ve seen since, being an alpha male appears to imply that decisions are made with minimal input from others, even if that means creating chaos, as was the case with the travel ban and immigration executive order. It means speaking one’s mind without caring if one’s words are hurtful or even true.  Twitter war, anyone?

Being an alpha male apparently demands his reputation always be defended and that he consistently comes out on top. Claiming millions of people voted illegally and that his inauguration had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period” is an important narrative in maintaining the alpha image. Shaming men for crying, as the President did with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the end of January, also fits the alpha stereotype.

Even Gorka strutted his alpha manliness in an interview with Marco Werman on Public Radio International (PRI) February 7th when asked about President Trump possibly modeling his leadership style after Vladimir Putin. “I’m not interested in the chattering classes, in the social justice warriors,” Gorka retorted. “If you’re really going to ask really churlish and childish questions like that, then there really is no point to the interview.”

Boom! The Alpha has spoken.

I could not uncover if Gorka is religious, however, after hearing his interview on PRI, I would surmise that he would not give my Lord the time of day.

Jesus, you see, was not an alpha male.

He did not call for an uprising of the Jews to wage war against the occupying Roman Empire nor did he jockey for any place of power, even when it was clear he was gaining a following.  The desert temptations alone from the devil screamed opportunity for instant alpha-male status, but Jesus flat out refused.

Instead, he chose to serve others, sought out and stood up for the most vulnerable, and openly affiliated with the outcasts, the foreigners, and the downtrodden. Jesus insisted that enemies should be loved and prayed for. He spoke out strongly against wealth and proclaimed that the first shall be last, and the last, first. And in the end, the man who wept sacrificed his life for the many, crucified on a cross that others might live.

I hadn’t heard of the phrase “pajama boy” until it was mentioned by Gorka. There was an ad circulating in December 2013 to generate interest in signing up for health insurance. A millennial, clad in a red and black checkered pajama onsie and sporting his black framed glasses holds a mug. The tagline reads: Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance.

It was immediately clowned across the internet, but especially by conservatives. The derisive term, “Pajama boy,” was coined soon after.

But you know what I think?

Jesus would have totally rocked that onsie!

 

He was not ashamed of his so-called softer side.  Nor did he see vulnerability or last place as a weakness.

Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, taught that strength and ultimately salvation come in admitting our wrongs, repenting, and lovingly serving others.

 And that’s who I follow, Jesus the Pajama Boy, and whom I joyfully serve!  Praise be to God!

 

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Dear Facebook Friend,

I see you.

I see you through your Facebook posts and have been shocked, angered, insulted, and disheartened by so many of your political posts. I admit that I initially started this letter with the sole purpose of condemning you. All I wanted to do was to call you out, especially on your more antagonistic postings that I’ve encountered.

And here’s what confounds me.

Do we not both profess to be children of the Most High and followers of his son, Jesus Christ? Are we not both guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit?  I take note of your beautiful, faith-inspiring posts that encourage people to pray without ceasing, to forgive, to be selfless, to love one another, and to remember we are all doing the best that we can. 

But how do you reconcile in your heart your more judgmental and hateful sharings? Do you somehow perform a spiritual separation of church and state?  Shouldn’t your faith guide your actions in all facets of your life? 

And do you know what else I see, my friend? 

I see me.

I see my own hypocrisy in sizing up your devotion to Christ based on your Facebook posts. Who am I to believe I am more worthy, more perfect, more holy because of what I do or do not share?  How do I reconcile in my heart my more judgmental and hateful sharings? 

I can’t exactly cast that first stone, now can I? 

I am definitely not without fault.  I have intentionally posted things to stir up people’s emotions rather than build them up. I have made comments or given the thumbs up to many posts you would have found distasteful, insulting, or against your beliefs.  I have been quick to jump on certain band wagons, to be sure!

So, in the spirit of Lent, dear Friend, I ask for your forgiveness.  I have been wrong to judge you.  It was not my place and I am truly sorry. In the same light, I also forgive you. I will not harbor animosity, but will seek to understand what matters to you.

I extend to you this invitation: Let us find common ground in our faith where we can love one another despite our political affiliations, denominational divides, and even our preferred news channels. 

May we commit to fewer negative, sensational posts and choose the better option of sharing stories that reveal Christ’s light, joy, and love to the world. 

Love always,

Rebecca

 

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Praying for My Enemies

 

 This Lent I’ve committed myself to several spiritual practices.  The first is to write 40 reflections before Easter. Having come through a 6-month dry spell, the challenge of composing that many spiritual reflections is daunting.

But I have found the other discipline to be even more demanding: praying daily for national leaders and political advisors whom I hate.

Hate is such a strong word, isn’t it? And yes, I am guilty of harshly judging these people I do not personally know.

But their spoken and written words I find to be so self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, divisive, snarky, and at times, flat out untrue.  I’ve allowed these men and women to become the enemies of what I believe; destroyers of what I understand as just and right. There are days after reading the news when I’m certain my blood is boiling.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus doesn’t mess around, does he?

I preached on this text last month.  In preparation, I learned that to be perfect, or “telos” in the Greek, isn’t so much about moral perfection as it is about “reaching one’s intended outcome.

We are to become whom God designed us to be which ultimately is a reflection of the Divine. Just as God is compassionate, forgiving, generous, and loving, we are called to be likewise. Apostle Paul describes it this way to the Ephesians in chapter 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children  and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God“.

Whether I like it or not, as a Christian I am NOT called to be a hater.

And whether I like it or not, God loves those national leaders and political advisors, just as much as God loves me.

And so…I pray.

I pray that peace will fill their hearts and Divine wisdom be ever-present in their minds.

Even more so, I pray for myself—because I have clearly not reached my intended outcome.  Looking back at some of my reflections from last summer, it is evident I continue to struggle with judgment and hate. (sigh..)

So join me, won’t you, in praying this Lent?
Pray for the ones you love AND those whom you hate.
Pray for your own soul that the Holy Spirit might reveal even more how to be a dearly beloved Child of God.

 

 

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Here and Now

Spring peeks through red-tinged tree tops.170304_111836_COLLAGE-1

She inches her way onto the scene, unfolding in delicate hues of green.  In the purple of the crocus and the vibrant yellow of the daffodil, I am reminded of the inevitable.

Winter is coming to a close.

A few more snow storms may descend upon the northern lands and temperatures may remain low for a while, but Spring, and all of her bird songs and blossoms is waiting just behind the curtain, eager for her time front and center.

And know this.

I have hated her subtle entrance for years.  I cannot tell you how many crocuses I have cursed; how many tender, young leaves I have despised. In truth I am a Winter creature who grieves in Spring the  arrival of Summer and the dreaded heat that accompanies it.

In the last few months, I have been practicing mindfulness, striving to live in the moment and appreciate the here and now. And so it happened.  On a walk with my dogs, a cluster of purple crocuses engaged me in true delight!  Yes, in that mindful moment the beautiful Spring bulb that gives most people hope that winter will soon end, graced me with joy.

The Apostle Paul, in the close of his letter to the Philippians, gives thanks to God for their “renewed concern” for him.  “I am not saying this because I am in need,” he tells them, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Paul learned in his ministry how to be content in the here and now.  He understood that in putting one’s trust in God he could make it through anything.   As we move further into Lent, a time of personal reflection, may we continue to draw on that same promise.

Remain with me here.  And now.  With our eyes on God, hearts rooted in Christ, and souls nourished by the Holy Spirit.

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