Thoughts on Lent

We had our Spaghetti Feed this year. This annual event is so much fun. The food is delicious. A big crowd comes to the church. We decorate.

At the same time, this event is exhausting and overwhelming. All Saints’ is a relatively small parish of 30 active parishioners trying to feed almost 300 people. We must be out of our minds!

So much work goes into this event. Someone must contact the chefs. Another must pick up more napkins. Someone else has to bake and cut cakes. How will this all get done?

As the event ended, a group of Cub/Boy Scouts that meet at the church helped clean off the tables, another group took down tables and chairs, someone else mopped. I watched this happen and I was amazed.

We pulled off this event with help. We could not do it on our own. I cannot do it on my own. Lent makes us recognize that we cannot do life on our own. We must ask for help.

We will, with God’s help. That help may come in the form of a Cub Scout or smiling face or kind offer of to-go containers from the hospital administrator. We do not do it on our own and we need to recognize that. We will, with God’s help.

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Lent begins

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Yesterday we feasted on Spaghetti at All Saints’ Church. We devoured delicious desserts. Today, we fast.

We begin the 40 days of Lent with ashes. We remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We reflect, we repent, and we are redeemed.

We use that word “redeemed” in the church. We use it often. Jesus “redeems” us. What does that mean? If we look in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer on page 849 and 850 we find three questions that might answer what it means to be redeemed:

“How does sin have power over us?

Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.

What is redemption?

Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin and death.

…What is the great importance of Jesus’ suffering and death?

By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.”

 

Spreading love

This afternoon I encounted a rather rude woman on the phone. Once again, I received some call for who ever had my phone number before me. When I clicked to ask for my number to be removed, the woman on the other end actually hung up on me after telling me: “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” Yes, but click…

Wait, did you take my number off the list? I was so annoyed and she just hung up on me. I thought back on the exchange. Was I rude to her? Actually no, I just wanted my number removed from the list.

So, I called back the number and spoke with some other woman. She was understanding and said that my number would be removed. I told her that I appreciated that.

Frankly, I wanted to go in with both barrels blazing. I wanted to explode on the phone, but the more I reflected on the earlier exchange I wondered what that would achieve. The rudeness and meanness would spread. Ultimately, what good would my being rude accomplish? Nothing.

So, here goes:

Dear lady who works at the annoying debt collecting agency with the wrong number,

I am not sure if you remember the exchange that you had today, but you came across as really defensive and rude. I will be honest. I was super mad about what you said and also that you hung up on me, but I thought about it and I wonder what is happening in your life. I wondered if perhaps today you were experiencing the “end of your world.”

I hope that you aren’t. Maybe you were feeling unwell, maybe the last customer was rude to you, maybe you had a case of the Mondays, maybe you thought I had a tone. Whatever the reason, I hope you have a better day.

I know the feeling of wanting to lash out when I am feeling scared or angry or hurt. I would rather you not lash out at me (or anyone else, for that matter). Of course, that brings me back to the why. What is going on? Why are you hurt or scared or angry? What happened?

Whatever has happened, where ever that hurt comes from, I pray that you will be relieved of it. Hang in there. I pray that the hurt ends with our conversation, and something good and loving and joyful comes. May love and understanding spread and may today not be the “end of your world.”

Peace,

the lady on the other end of the phone.

Ministerial Identity

When I was first ordained to the priesthood, I served in a parish in Metairie, Louisiana. St. Martin’s Episcopal Church is a wonderful place. I primarily led the youth and I enjoyed it. It is hard to believe that those children now are adults, probably with children themselves.

When I started at St. Martin’s, I worked with a wonderful mentor. I learned so much from him. He was organized, confident, great at pastoral care and preaching. He could be so calm in what I thought would be frightening and difficult situations. He knew what he was doing. He also encouraged me in my ministry. I wanted to be a priest like him!

As time has gone on, I have often measured myself against his ministry. While there is so much to continue to learn from him, I realize as I get older, I am not him. I may wish I could do things like he did things, but the truth is that we are different.

We are different and that is okay. Perhaps the reason I could learn so much from him is because we are not that alike. Try as I might, I cannot organize like he organizes. I cannot preach like he preaches. I cannot offer pastoral care the way he offers pastoral care. I often disappointed myself and others trying to be someone I am not.

Instead, I have to figure out my authentic ministry. I have to learn how to serve the best way that I can serve, not how someone else serves. I also need to use a different measuring stick.

Perhaps the expectation is to use one’s gifts for ministry to the best of one’s ability. Mentors inform our authenticity. The goal is not do ministry the exact same way as someone else. The goal is to minister to the best of one’s own ability.

 

Merry Christmas!

You have dashed through the snow. You can hear what I hear. You have rocked around the Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas to you, one and all!

Merry Christmas! I pray that you have celebrated this day. I hope you have given from your heart. Shared peace and goodwill. May you be overcome with wonder and joy!

Sometimes it appears we live in darkness and fear, but then wonder arrives unexpectedly in a package, in a smile, in a manger in Bethlehem. Wonder makes it way into the world and our hearts. Light comes!

Merry Christmas to you, one and all! May you receive the wonder of the world!

Community

Miami, Oklahoma is an interesting place. Tucked into the Northeastern corner of Oklahoma, situated on the Mother Road, Miami does have something to offer. There is big sky and wide open spaces. There are cute little activities during the year, including the fun of the Coleman Theater. Along with this, it can offer community. I think the best argument for Miami is community.

People will show up for events. This is wonderful. If your child is on a soccer team or in a play, people will show up. If there is a festival or craft fair or church, people will show up. This showing up is especially important because Miami is mired in poverty.

Almost 90 percent of the students in the public school qualify for free lunch. Like other rural communities, we struggle with issues of terrible drug addiction and that trade. Rural areas can be forgotten by government, and sometimes it really feels that way. At the same time, community will save us.

You see, when you are a community you show up. You show up for your teachers by providing them with school supplies. You show up for children by remembering them at Christmas. You show up for the hungry by feeding them with a Farmers’ Market. These are just the signs of community at All Saints’ Episcopal Church here in Miami.

Other churches and organizations in Miami are showing up as well. They are providing guidance for children with Boys and Girls Club. They are offering nourishment with a meal every Wednesday night at the Methodist Church. They honor the elderly with Efforts of Hope. They coordinate assistance through POCI. We do this because we are a community.

Community is about knowing one another, supporting one another, and loving one another. Community is also frustrating because we know one another. Yet, we live in times that would demand that we isolate ourselves. That isolation can and will be deadly.

We need community and the community needs us. We need the community to show up and we need to show up for the community. That is what it means to be in fellowship. That is the greatest argument for a place like Miami.