Traveling together through Lent

Traveling together through Lent

Growing up Southern Baptist, Lent wasn’t a really big deal. For us, the holy action didn’t start until Maundy Thursday of Easter week.

As I got older, we got a little more ecumenical and a lot wiser.We started observing Ash Wednesday and having events like lunchtime lenten services. What I’ve learned is that the more I am faithful in this season of preparation, the more meaningful Easter is for me.

There is scholarly disagreement on the actual origins of Lent. A quick Google search will bring up articles as diverse as directions for fasting to explanations as to why it’s a pagan observance shunned by true Christians.

For many of us, Lent is a time when we call ourselves back. We call ourselves back to putting spiritual practice at the top of our to-do lists, instead of in the “if there’s time” section. For some that means more times in prayer or meditation or scripture reading. For some it means reading books that challenge, uplift and encourage their faith. For other is means taking specific actions, whether it’s doing something for someone or making a change in how we live our lives. For some people it means letting go of something… sweets, TV, Facebook or gossip.

For all of us, Lent is an invitation to let ourselves rest in the lap of the God who loves us more than than we can say. It is brushing away the cobwebs to see ourselves again as children of God – flawed and struggling and sometimes falling down on our faces… but beloved children nonetheless.

This year I’m offering a Facebook group, Heart Callings through Lent. Each day I’ll post a brief reflection and you’ll be free to respond, if you so choose. (It will be a closed group so that your posts won’t be public.)

Come and join us. You can read more and find the link here.

 

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Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

What do you do when you’re anxious?

What do you do when you’re anxious?

Two dogs shouting at each otherHave you noticed? Lots of people are feeling anxious these days.

Some people are feeling anxious because in not so many days we’ll have an inauguration that will lead us into uncharted waters. What will it mean for us as a country? For the world? What will it mean for me as an individual?

Some people are anxious because no matter who is president, the problems at home are still the problems at home. The car is still making that funny sound. Every time you start to get an emergency fund saved up an emergency comes along to wipe it out. You don’t quite know what’s happening in your relationship and the not knowing is as anxious as dealing with the problems. There’s still the matter of that test the doctor ordered. The lab is being awfully casual about getting your results back, not knowing that you can’t sleep until you know.

Some people are anxious because, well… it’s just what they do.

One of the keys to dealing with anxiety is to identify what’s under your control, which probably a lot less than what you think in your imagination. Once you identify that, focus on taking concrete actions where you do have control.

Sometimes those actions feel small and useless in the face of worldwide events. Sometimes they seem to be hopelessly inadequate baby steps in light of the mountains we have to climb in our lives.

But take enough small actions and they  add up.

This summer I went to a birthday party for a friend. Included in the guest list was a family whom she’d been helping. I watched the children playing soccer and saw their wide eyes as they surveyed what was probably the biggest birthday cake they’d ever seen.

And then I thought about other children, the hollow eyed children of Aleppo. You see, this family was a Syrian refugee family. They were here because of the work of a lot of people but also because my friend had decided to do the things she could do. She couldn’t broker peace in Syria but she could help one family find a new start and a new life. Or maybe find life itself, away from the bombs.

This month I’m offering a webinar on anxiety, “If I love Jesus why do I need Xanax?” We’ll look at what causes anxiety, how our brain feeds it, what faith has to do with it as well as talk about some tools for dealing with it. I’ll also share one of the roots of anxiety that I’ve discovered in over ten years of working as a therapist. It’s not one people talk about a lot, but it can make all the difference in how you handle anxiety.

Click on the link to register. You’ll have three different chances to attend, and the webinar will be both live and free all three times.

https://my.demio.com/ref/4C6tOUT8I2EeSuAU

In the meantime, what helps you when you’re anxious?

 

 

Trump, Clinton and Those People

Just when it becomes hard to imagine our political climate becoming more divided, along comes a presidential campaign season that seems intent mostly on fracturing our divided nation even more.

(Incidentally, right now I’m reading Joseph Ellis’ fine book The Quartet. After the Revolution the fractured collection of states threatened to go the way of divided Europe instead of becoming a united country. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay and James Madison stepped forward to push for a new Constitution and to create a true nation. A thought provoking book.)

change livesWhen I sat down here to drink some coffee and do some writing  I couldn’t help but overhear the people at the next table. They were of the sort who saw anti-Christian conspiracy around every corner. They agreed that our society went down the tubes when they stopped paddling kids in school.

I dug my headphones out of my computer bag even as I felt my blood pressure rising. I was thankful for the music of Hamilton downing out their conversation.

And then a pesky truth nudged me, like my dog pushing her nose between me and my book. I was ready to write them off as those people. You know those people. The people on the other side of the spectrum. The people we caricature and make fun of, whether we are conservative or liberal or somewhere in-between.

The pesky truth kept nosing its way in. These people are my brothers and sister. God loves them just as much as God loves me.

Dang.

One of the interesting things about my work as a counselor is being able to listen to the lives of such different people. The grocery store clerk. The executive. The single mom. The grandfather. The deeply conservative. The flaming liberal. The straight. The gay. The confused. Black. White. Mixed. The woman who never had a struggle until recently when things went off the rails. The guy who has scrapped and scrambled every day of his life. Like a bloodied prize fighter he stands wobbly kneed in the ring but stands nonetheless.

I don’t have to listen long before those people become just people. People who hurt and fear and hope.

It’s a tough line to walk, embracing the humility of grace that recognizes our common kin while still holding to whatever prophetic voice the times demand. But the promise I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep is never to ridicule people who are those people to me. I know if we could talk long enough they’d become just people with their own fears and hurts and hopes.

As responsible citizens, we have a duty to call candidates into question, whether it’s for the presidency or the local school board. We may challenge and debate and even argue with fellow citizens. If we are very brave, we may listen to someone with whom we disagree.

(As a time management tool I am trying to avoid comments sections for online articles and stories posted on Facebook. But more than once I’ve found myself writing, “It doesn’t work like that. None of this works like that.”)

The times call for wisdom, and wisdom resists the seduction of too easy generalizations and too neat categories. Wisdom ain’t easy, but may we be brave enough to ask for a measure of it.


 

I debated giving up anger for Lent, but the realized that it was too important.

As Christians, what are we to do with anger? Is really one of the deadly sins? Does our spirituality need it, and does anger need our spirituality?

Join me on Friday as we talk about these things in my free webinar:

Can I Be Angry? Anger, Faith and a Real Life

A replay will be available, but only for those who register for the webinar. Find out more.

Stupid Stuff Jesus Says

When a young man in our church was killed in Iraq while serving as a Marine I had the honor of participating in his memorial service. The pastor called to give me my assignment.

“I’d like for you to lead in the prayer for our enemies,” he said.

“Can’t I do something easier?” I asked, “Like raise Andrew from the dead?”

It’s one of the most difficult prayers I’ve ever had to pray in public or private, not made easier by the rows of blue uniformed Marines at the service. In the prayer I confessed to praying though clenched teeth.

When a Marine angrily challenged the pastor for having such a prayer in the service for a fallen comrade, the pastor replied, “But we are Christian. This is what we are commanded to do.”

(Recently as a part of my own spiritual journey I started praying for my enemies. Very quickly I realized my prayers were not so much for their well being but for them to be more like me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.)

That’s one of the stupid things Jesus said. Love Your enemies. Pray for them that persecute you. (And I don’t think he was talking about plain red coffee cups, but if you feel the need to pray for Starbucks have at it.)

Praying for people who hate us? Praying for the candidates that you feel would be absolute disasters for our country? Praying for people of other countries and other faiths who may even want to kill us? Who does that?

Evidently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to do just that.

There’s more stupid stuff Jesus said. There’s the one I can’t get out of my head this week: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” So as a Christian I am supposed to care about refugees not because it’s a nice thing to do but because that’s where I’ll find Jesus. Who can live like that?

Apparently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to live just that way.

Fear is our common currency these days. And yet we’re supposed to buck the trend and live not out of fear but out of faith and love?

“You don’t have to be so scared,” Jesus said in the Cotton Patch Version of the scripture, and he meant it for any language. But who does that?

Actually, I think he’s looking at us.

I am reminded this morning that being a Christian is hard stuff. Oh, I’m not persecuted in this country. I can worship where I will or not worship at all. It’s hard because Jesus said stupid stuff like this, and what’s more, expects me to follow him anyway.

I am continually called to go beyond what is easy or cheap or self serving. I am called to consider the world beyond the sound bite or campaign slogan. I am commanded to take into account the welfare of those who have no money, no resources and no standing, because Jesus stands among them.

Who does something so stupid?

God willing, we will.

 

God loves us anyway: Thinking about Will Campbell

Will Campbell
Will Campbell
(Picture courtesy of The Tennessean)

I’ve been thinking about Will Campbell recently.

If you aren’t familiar with Will, he was the campus chaplain when Ole Miss was integrated and was a courageous voice for civil rights. He was a writer, Brother To a Dragonfly being his best known book. He was also tour chaplain for Waylon Jennings and inspiration for cartoonist Doug Marlette’s Will B. Dunn  character in the Kudzu comic strip.

I had the good fortune to hear Will when I was a student at Furman. I don’t remember what he said in the Wednesday morning lecture series but I’ll never forget the Tuesday evening gathering with Religion majors and other ministerially minded folks. (We used to get Tuesday night exclusives with the Wednesday speakers, followed by a cheese and cracker reception.)

During this reception one of our more conservative students engaged Will in an argument. As the argument escalated the rest of us started circling them, high noon style. The student, Chuck, called Will the worst thing he could think of – a communist. Will called Chuck a damned liar.

We collectively held our breath for the next volley. Some of us were kind of looking forward to it because Chuck was a thorn in our progressive sides. We wanted to see him taken down.

It never came. Instead, Will put his arm around Chuck’s shoulder.

“We disagree,” he said. “We’ll probably always disagree.” He then went on to say something to the effect that in Christ they were still brothers and that he loved him.

Will wasn’t just there when the Southern Leadership Conference was formed. He was also the unofficial civil rights chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan, listening to them and trying to understand them. He knew they were in need of conversion.

But then again, aren’t we all.

When Campbell died in 2013, a writer in Alabama shared the following story:

In a 1989 speech at Samford, Campbell criticized the Southern Baptist Convention’s plans to meet and evangelize in Las Vegas. “I said something a few weeks ago in Greenville, S.C., that got me in some trouble, so I’ll repeat it,” he said. “If we want to have an authentic Christian witness, we need to go, one by one, to the brothels and ask the women we call whores, ‘Please, Ma’am, please teach us something about grace, because in our certitude, we’re not even aware that we need grace.”

We need grace, all of us.

No matter where we stand on issues or what Bible verses we like to fling at each other, may we be certain about this one thing.


Rolling Stone article on Will Campbell

Left Out

Today is National Left-handers Day. I know, you meant to give me a card.

When I began learning to write (actual making of letters not the making of books),  I was ambidextrous, switching from one hand to another. Had I been born a generation earlier, I would have been forced to become right handed. Fortunately I had a wise teacher who said, “Let her choose. She’ll decide which one works for her.”

I chose writing with my left hand, although I do the ambidextrous things from time to time. When I first started playing tennis I had no backhand – I just switched hands. If I’m painting a picture and working on the right side of the canvas, I may switch to painting with my right hand if I’m not doing detail work.

Neither my teacher nor my parents were afraid of my being lefthanded. That’s not always been the case. From a Wikipedia article on bias against left-handed people:

Western countries also attempt to convert left-handed children due to cultural, societal and religious biases. Schools tend to urge children to use their right hands, sometimes against the wishes of the child’s parents. In America until corporal punishment was outlawed in schools it was not uncommon for students to be physically punished for writing with their left hands:[25] “I was educated in the USA in Catholic school in the 60’s. My left hand was beaten until it was swollen, so I would use my right right [sic] hand” … “I had a teacher who would smack my left hand with a yardstick every time she caught me writing with my left hand” … “My fourth grade teacher […] would force me to use my right hand to perform all of my school work. If she caught me using my left hand, I was hit in the head with a dictionary. It turned out that she believed left handers were connected with Satan.”[37]

While I suspect that navigating the world is easier from a right-handed perspective (no pulling the left-handed desk out of the corner of the class, no ink smudges on your hand) I suspect these people were not acting out of a desire to protect their students from those challenges. They reacted strongly because left-handers were different. And differences tended to scare us.

They still do.

When you find yourself reacting strongly to someone, take a moment to ask yourself what is really fueling your ire. Is it because they are a threat to you? Or is it because they are different and thus feel like a threat to you?

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry is that he reached out to the people who were different, who were viewed with suspicion… the hookers, the IRS agents, women in general. He wasn’t afraid of them because he could see what was most important about them: they were a child of God, and so were his brother or sister.

What do you see?

Oh, and by the way, we left-handers may be a minority but we rule when it comes to modern presidents:

Of the seven most recent U.S. Presidents, four, including Barack Obama, have been left-handed, while a fifth is said to have been ambidextrous: Ronald Reagan, who was left-handed by birth,[36][37][38] became president after he defeated left-handed candidateGeorge H. W. Bush in the Republican primary election. Four years earlier, Reagan had lost the Republican presidential primary to incumbent left-handed President Gerald Ford. George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan and later ran for re-election against left-handersBill Clinton[39] and Ross Perot.[38] Clinton’s second term opponents included Perot, and Bob Dole who had become left-handed when his right arm was paralyzed in combat 50 years earlier. Left-handed then-Senator Obama defeated left-handed Senator John McCain in his race for the presidency.[40]