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Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Community of Faith


I was reading the other day, and ran across some comments that got me to thinking.  I especially was reminded of this verse from Romans:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”-Romans 12:15

First, notice that there are three different groups of people described here.  There are people who have something special going on in life and are rejoicing because of it.  There are people who are going through some kind of painful experience, and are weeping because of it.  And there are those Paul is addressing, who are the individuals present with the other two groups.  The basic notion, of course, is that we need to be compassionate people and able to share in the life experiences of others in a meaningful way, regardless of what that other individual’s experiences have been.

What particularly got me to thinking was the “weep with those who weep” idea, because the article I was reading was discussing the healing effect of sharing one’s pain and tears with another.  That, of course, is in stark contrast to how more often than not, people avoid sharing their sorrows and trials because they “don’t want to be a burden to others.”  

And yet, if an individual doesn’t share their weeping with you, then how are you going to be able to weep with them?  

And if it is indeed true, that sharing one’s pain helps bring healing, then what purpose is there in try to “keep one’s chin up” and carry on as if nothing has happened?  

I have known a number of people who have been divorced, who chose to keep their struggles to themselves, not admitting their financial and emotional stress.  The same is sometimes true of people who have obtained a dismal medical diagnosis, or who have lost a job, or is having trouble with rebellious children.  We may think we are being noble by trying to carry the burden ourselves, but somehow, in the great design of things, I am not so sure that is what is intended.  

From the very beginning of scripture God makes clear that it isn’t good to be alone, and not only is the creation of marriage a response, but throughout scripture people are part of a community of faith, not out there on their own.

Is there a painful experience in your life?  Are there tears that you seek to hold back or deny? Are you neglecting the opportunities for support and healing that are around you if you will but open yourself up to the possibility?  

On the flip side, are there people you know who are in the midst of crisis, trauma or grief?  Maybe they are nearby and you don’t even know what they are experiencing. Are you the kind of person who creates an atmosphere in which a struggling person could feel free to share their pain?  Or are you a person whose words and actions suppress that opportunity and push them away?

If we could somehow be more effective in breaking down these invisible walls, I think we would find that our churches and our friendships would take on a deeper meaning.  Instead of entering a sanctuary filled with what appear to be happy, together and positive people who have no problems in their lives, we will discover that the church is made up of people just like us:  people who struggle, question, make mistakes and yes, sometimes need to just shed some tears.  

Whichever side of the equation you happen to be on, how about seeking fresh ways to bring healing into your world?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Scooping Ashes


As my wife walked out the door, she wish me a Happy Mardi Gras (or something like that), which reminded me that it was “Fat Tuesday,” which means that Ash Wednesday is next.  

In my churches, Lent was not something we generally spent a lot of time with, and occasionally I might have some things in relation to the season, but the primary focus in my churches has always been on Holy Week itself. However, as I thought about it being the time for Ash Wednesday, I thought it worthy of a blog.

I do know that the ashes used for Ash Wednesday are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Multiple times in the Bible, ashes are used in the ceremonies of grief, placed on the head (probably more of them than the usual spot found on the foreheads of Ash Wednesday observers) as a symbol of grief and anguish.  Ashes always derive from something that was once something else, but through the extreme experience of fire, that something is reduced to the remnants we call ashes.

I think in life, we experience a lot of fiery moments, moments that test our mettle, moments that push us to the extreme, moments that can push us to the limit, make us grow discouraged, sometimes even to the point of despair.  And sometimes, in the aftermath, things that we once held dear have been reduced to ashes. 

Divorce is one of those kind of experiences, when afterwards the vows from the wedding day and all the plans for a future life together are consumed with the process of the separation and end up as ashes, tatters at our feet.  But it is certainly not the only such experience.  Lots of losses, lots of disappointments, lots of disastrous experiences can create the same thing.  

When some piece of life as you know it has been reduced to ashes, what can you do?

I was reading an article by Terry Helwig in an old Guideposts this morning, and thought it had some pretty good insights I would like to use to launch this blog with today.  The comment was that Terry had learned that the Chinese character for the word “crisis” contains within it the symbol for “opportunity.” I don’t know whether that is true or not, but the illustration provided is kind of cool.  The writer mentions an article some years ago about an airport forced to close because of snow, with all the usual reactions from those stuck there. Except that one lady decided to use it as an opportunity to teach “kindergarten,” and gathered the children around and led a fun little class, much to the delight of both parents and children.  I like this transformational notion.  The ashes of cancelled trips was reformed into that opportunity that became something new and special.

In Laura Story’s book When God Doesn’t Fix It, there is a similar notion.  In referring to shattered hopes, she says:
         “In that moment, we think life as we know it is over.
            The truth is, life, as we’ve yet to know it, has just begun.”
Can you relate to that?  I remember a good friend sharing with me that after her divorce had all settled, she began rediscovering things that she had once enjoyed, and was able to embrace them into a new future.  I know that many of the things I have experienced and had opportunity to do became options post-divorce.  I have seen the same thing happen in churches, when a church I am working in faces a crisis moment, and some dreams are dashed, but then new ones are born that were not possibilities in the previous environment.

So, as we come to Ash Wednesday this year, consider the portions of your life that have turned to ashes, sent you into mourning and dashed your hopes.  And while it may not be exactly what those who observe Ash Wednesday might intend, let me invite you to do something with the day.

Let illustrate the idea this way:  over the course of my life, I have had many times I lived in homes with fireplaces or pellet stoves.  Many a time the task that has fallen to me has been to get out the little shovel and scoop up the ashes, carry them out side and cast them away. Are there ashes in your life left over from some shattering experience, maybe divorce, maybe something else?  How about using this Ash Wednesday to get out your spiritual and emotional shovel, scoop up some of those ashes and let them go, so that you have a clean and fresh start for the opportunities that are just around the corner?  You might be surprised how nice it feels to have cleaned out those dusty, dirty corners of your life, so that something new can live there instead.  I even suggest you find some tangible way to symbolize what is going on internally for you—burn a photo, throw away an old letter, give away something that represents the things you need to let go of to make room for the next phase.  And you can do this even if, like me, you won’t be putting ashes on your forehead this Ash Wednesday.