We are Limited, Connected, and Called to Transformation: The Blessing of Lent
Gosh it’s been a humdinger of a month.
Really, a rash of all sorts of chaos—even more chaos than normal (cue our adorable Hounds-plus-Skunk story), which says a lot, as those of you in my family’s inner circle know all too well.
Writing deadlines upon writing deadlines, (I don’t even want to think about the tax-paper-pile glaring at me on the dining room table), thwarted by snow days (leading to numerous leaky ceilings despite new-ish spiffy metal roofs—BUT I have amazing friends who got up on the roof [two days in a row to attend to two different leaks] to help save the day: thanks Sara and Donny!!), and kid sick days, and school-bus-stuck-after-sailing-down-slick-snow-which-led-to-the-bus-tipping-just-a-tish-toward-the-minor-ravine-necessitating-that-Karl-be-rescued-by-firefighters days (it wasn’t the driver’s fault in the least, and in fact the pic that we have of Karl being triumphantly lifted by three fireman with everyone clapping around him may very well have made the whole escapade worth it), and several added (and thrilling) appointments for Karl to get him properly seated in his jazzy new wheelchair (it even goes up and down and leans back like his own La-Z-Boy on wheels), and his jazzy new gait trainer, and then additional doc appointments to give acupuncture a whirl as a treatment for Karl’s full-body tremors (not seizures, but intense and not pleasant and far too common).
And then there was that abnormal mammogram last week.
To cut to the chase, the call-back ultrasound this week gave the powerfully good news that I am the proud owner of benign cysts.
I asked the radiologist to say that again, louder, and in bold and all caps, which she did, so I know it’s true.
In a text exchange with a dear friend of mine about it, I said “The thing of it is, I realize that I am mortal every day—file under Lessons from the Accident—but it’s a helpful knack to keep that truth at bay to function. Irregular medical tests make a person simultaneously humble and anxious.”
Really, one never knows when one will go, and if we were fully aware of that truth the bulk of us would wrap ourselves in bubble wrap, assuming we’d ever get out of bed to do so.
And I said to this same friend, even putting a date in the calendar is an act of hope and a defiance of death: I will make it in this world long enough to show up on that future day at that very time.
So, I said, I just got word that I’ll live to die another day.
Don’t know when that day will be—could be today, I suppose—but in the meantime, I have work to do, and benign cysts to celebrate.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
No bubble wrap for us today.
The whole point of the day is that we are all dust.
We are finite.
We are mortal.
We will die.
But in the meantime, there’s work to do.
This month has also been a kicker by way of the news, political and religious.
If one is paying attention at all, one can’t help but feel the limits of one’s time and ability to help stymie the toxic agendas; news developments tumble over themselves, news journalists are breathless as they try to relay them all, and news junkies are breathless to respond to the regular onslaughts to decency and integrity.
As just a random few examples:
1. A presidential hissy-fit that led to the shut-down of the government caused incalculable harm and stress, all because of Trump’s racist lies about peaceful people fleeing violence and (quite legally) seeking amnesty, and to cover for his political lie that another country was going to pay for a heinous wall.
Worse: his supporters believe the lies, and want the heinous wall.
Racism sells and buys elections, he’s learned.
Some of his supporters even believe the whole immoral, blasphemous, base shebang is consistent with their Christian faith.
Which it is…if you cut out large swaths of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, I and II Chronicles, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, II Corinthians, Ephesians, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 John, 3 John, Revelation, and you ignore the overarching message of hospitality and universality of God’s love for all of God’s people—especially the outcasts.
Apparently that’s exactly what President Trump did, because a Presidential Emergency Declaration was issued, not about the moral emergency of babies still being separated from parents, and children being sexually and physically abused because of the president’s lies, and not because of the emergencies of homelessness and poverty and wage inequality and gun violence and the lack of adequate and affordable health care in this country.
To get a wall built with US dollars to separate the people of God based on lies too many to count.
Worse: his supporters don’t care.
Nor, one can argue, do many of us, at least enough, for if we were to, we would be non-stop ringing our Senators (especially those of the GOP), not to mention be marching in the streets, in protest, not just of the wall, but of the immorality that is fueling, and funding, it.
2. The climate news is beyond dire (and that is no lie, and is an emergency worth of a presidential declaration), threatening people, nations, creatures, security, economies, annnnndddddd is being intentionally dismissed and/or censored by this administration.)
3. The United Methodist Church voted to ban GLBTQIA people from serving as pastors, and from being married.
It was a devastating decision relaying the devastating—and false—message that queer people are people, of course, but not the sort that we want in Church, or that God wants, period.
The awful vote, and the responses I began to see to it, led to some quiet (bubble-wrapped) introspection that I finally needed to share with a dear and trusted friend of mine, also ordained in the ELCA, and an out lesbian.
I needed to bounce some ideas off of her, because as a straight person, I needed to make sure that I was neither reading matters wrong, nor assuming reactions that weren’t mine to assume.
After our FB Messenger back and forth, it seemed all the clearer to me that while the offers of some ELCA sisters and brothers to dismayed UMC members to, in essence, come in where the water is warm, was well-intentioned, technically our policy isn’t a whole lot better.
Yes, GLBTQIA folk can be ordained and can serve in the ELCA, and yes, they can be married by an ELCA pastor, but not universally.
It’s congregationally dependent.
We still have discrimination that is legitimated in our denomination, and that’s not ok.
And I also said that if I weren’t ordained, I sure as heck wouldn’t belong to a denomination that doesn’t ordain women. I have no interest in supporting the notion that women can not serve in all capacities, and I have no interest in raising my daughter in a religious environment that, in the name of God, caps her possibilities.
So why, then, I asked, am I in a denomination that does the same to GLBTQIA people?
And if I stay, what am I going to do to address that systemic, condoned discrimination?
All told, I confess I want me some bubble wrap these days.
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook this wonderful true-story encounter; it happened on January 20th, in my local grocery store parking lot, exactly on a day when I needed it.
“A daily influx of news, of snow, of the extremes and ordinaries of work and life, all have piled up a bit in these last few weeks.
We’re all good, we’re all fine, but still and even so, sometimes the ebb and flow of life seems to flow more than ebb, and a person can crave a bit of a breath in the midst of it all.
I got an unexpected one a couple of weeks back, on a bitterly cold and snowy day, in the parking lot of my town’s grocery store.
I’d parked my car, stepped out, opened up the back door to grab my bags…only to see that a beat-up pickup had pulled up right behind my Subaru, intentionally blocking it—and me—from leaving.
The driver was staring hard at me.
And then he, a grizzled man with a grey scraggly beard, leaned across the seat and rolled down the window.
“Oh no,” I thought. “My bumper stickers.”
“I seen your stickers ma’am. Those ‘Love Trumps Hate,’ and ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ ones.”
Then, no joke, the guy got all teary.
“I just wantcha ta know, you don’t give up hope, not for one damn minute, young lady. We’ll get that bastard out and bring love back to this country. Don’t you dare give up hope. He needs help, and so does our country, and while I’m not sure he’s gonna get it, we are, and our country will come back and be what we are meant to be. Don’t you dare give up hope, ma’am.”
So then I went over to him, my eyes all teary, and I reached in, and I touched the guy’s be-coated arm (it was so so cold that day), and I said, “Sir, gosh I needed that today. Thank you. I won’t give up hope, and you gave some to me today, and I’m awfully grateful.”
He smiled, nodded his head, and said, “You go on and get your groceries now, and I’ll get on with my day.”
And he sped off.
I can’t quite get that exchange out of my mind: both what I needed to hear and what he said coinciding in that surprise moment in the parking lot; my own stereotypes and fears almost keeping me from receiving that gift; and that clarion reminder that hope comes exactly when you don’t expect it.
Thanks, grizzled guy.
I got my groceries, and you helped me get on with my day, and days, too.”
The tale got no small amount of traction: a mess of shares, and comments galore about hope, and love, and open hearts and open minds.
And I get it: the same thoughts coursed through me even during this exchange.
But I had to grin when, a handful of days after I shared the above story, this appeared in my Facebook memories:
Essentially, that whole 2015 moment was the exact flip side of my serendipitous 2019 parking-lot meeting.
With that gentleman in the pick-up, I was crushed by the news of the day, and Grizzled Guy gave me unsolicited hope.
But in 2015, I was infuriated by some news in my life, and Glaring Guy gave me unsolicited condemnation.
It’s like Glaring Guy knew that sometimes, not only life sucks, but so does death, and at that moment apparently I did too.
And sometimes it seems like the universe doesn’t really give a damn.
Some of us, that is, know of unwelcome finitude because loved ones have died too soon, or because our medical tests didn’t come back stamped with the word “Benign,” and there is nothing that we can do about it but weep, and look for the Bubble Wrap.
In fact, forget the Bubble Wrap.
Some days I’m tempted to think perhaps it’s safest for us all to stay in bed.
But Lent gives us no time for that.
In fact, here we are, at Ash Wednesday, the day that ushers in Lent, this season that tends to be marked by people giving up such things as a daily glass of wine, TV, screen time, and knuckle-cracking.
As if such actions bear the mark of righteousness, transform one’s life of faith, and will usher in the reign of God.
I happen to think that God likes wine, loves watching “The Good Place,” enjoys spending divine spare time getting lost down internet rabbit holes, and gave us knuckles precisely to crack.
Such mini-sacrifices miss the point of Lent, I do believe.
Instead, Lent is a built-in, liturgically intentional time for us to recognize our limits, to stick our tongue out at the limits that unrigheously encroach on our lives, to repent of self-absorption, to breathe deeply, and to fully, broadly, gladly, joyfully, intentionally, righteously engage the world, open to sudden, sacred transformations for us, to us, and through us.
Jesus didn’t just die for you, nor did Jesus die just for people like you.
Jesus certainly didn’t die for you to give up wine or Netflix.
Jesus died for the well-being of the world; this messy, lie-filled, hope-filled, limit-filled, life-filled, glaring-and-grizzled-guy world.
The call, one could even say the intent, of Lent is to remind us of these truths:
We are limited, and we can’t every really push that truth to the edges. One day, death is going to get each of us, and before it does in a six-foot under way, it will taunt, intimidate, and coerce us, and cause us to weep, weep, weep.
We are connected, and every damn wall that has ever been built has only reinforced that truth.
We are called to transform, and called to be transformed, sometimes quite by surprise, because the only bubble wrap we get in this life is the news that death doesn’t win.
And now, ashes on our brows, marked with our finitude, we are called to embrace it, steward it, trust it, and be ambassadors of it with tenacity and temerity (and perhaps a little scrap of bubble wrap to fiddle with in our back pocket).
(And here’s the awesome picture of Karl being rescued, just because.)
In addition to private or individual retreats at the Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center, be sure to check out the monthly, topical, group retreats held at 808. Find out more here!
Read Anna’s Ash Wednesday blogs here, her Lenten blogs here, and her last two blogs here and here.
And, knowing that this could be the last moment, I try to remember to savor it’s sweetness, bitterness, whatever it brings because this, right now, really is all I have. Wish I was better at that savoring!