It’s Not About the Chocolate: Grace and self improvement in the season of Lent. 2017 UPDATE

I like to repost blog entries from earlier years, not only because I like to revisit
what I was thinking at the time but I like to consider how changes in our context changes what is important to say in an particular moment.   When I wrote this, I really wanted to underscore the need for grace, in the sense I wanted to emphasize that what happens in lent at its best is a gift of God and not a mere matter of will-power as I am sometimes tempted to think. This year is different.

This year I have been experiencing how this is true on a visceral level. I am somehow more aware than I am unable to say very much that is to interesting or helpful given our current profound division and tension.  In Advent, I even suspected out loud that I (and all of us) might be due for an exorcism.  I still think that is true.   I still think our imaginations are dominated by someone else’s playbook.  We are still speaking someone else’s language and hearing someone else’s song.   That is all the more reason I feel the need to return to a conversation about grace before we go any further.

If we are going to end up anywhere but in the middle of an inevitable mess, we will need an intervention, an in-breaking of insight, an impossible way out of Egypt, …deliverance? Grace.

It is a good day, today, Ash Wednesday 2017, to remember that we don’t have to rely on our mere will power to get us there.   There is a lot of will power going on around us and it seems to be sending us in circles.  More is waiting for us.  More is at hand.  More is near.   But ‘more’ asks that we throw ourselves into it’s fire. I’d like to think I am ready, willing, and able… but more importantly, I am at least just willing if not ready and able, that God will get us there.

Here is my post from before…

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What is so Magical About Christmas Eve and Christmas? Not much…unless…

I recognize that, theoretically speaking, there isn’t anything that is more special about tonight than any other night.  so.  there.

At least  December 21st, the winter solstice, has some astronomical significance.  But there is nothing about the sun, moon and stars that seem to put Christmas Eve, Dec 24th on the “Big Deal” calendar. Historically speaking, it was Emperor Julius that declared December 25th the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but actually the calendar itself has changed since then.  In fact, in Russia, the orthodox church still celebrates Christmas on January 7th (which would be December 25th in Julian’s Calendar.)  And even if you’re looking for the actual feast day for Saint Nicholas, the day when children used to put their shoes out in hopes of getting gifts, look to December 6th in western countries, not, “Christmas.”

So, again, there is nothing officially magical about this particular night. If you think about it, it is just a night on which Christians continue to tell a part of a very elongated story about the life of Christ that takes up some part of every season of every year.   And they do it over, and over and over and over again.  So, there you have it.  It is not a magical night.   …Unless, of course, you believe, as I do, that telling stories changes everything… Continue reading

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The Discipline of Hope, {Advent 2, 2016}

wws-cynicsCynicism. In many ways it seems like the most logical, natural way to wrap up a year like 2016. There have been so many unexpected deaths: Natalie Cole, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Gwen Ifil, Florence Henderson, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder. (Whew. And those are just a few.). All of these have been layered over a world hell bent on violence, and a campaign so full of insult and vitriol that even some of the campaigns’ mangers were at each other’s throats after the election. So it was a surprise, but a very small one, when many of my friends who had been supportive of the protests in the Dakotas, responded cynically to the news that the Army Corp of Engineers decided to stop the pipeline construction, at least for now. This was supposed to feel like good news. Within hours of the news going public my social media feeds were flooded with cynical claims that the announcement was a ploy just to get protestors off the land, that it wouldn’t be honored by the powers behind the pipeline, or that it was just a stalling tactic and a PR move.

This cynical turn would be negligible had it not been such a sudden, broadly expressed, and widely accepted sentiment. Even if these fears prove to be true, the speed that they were communicated and embraced said more about the habits of our hearts than our insight into the world. We have been steeping in a rhetoric of deep conflict and distrust for months and years on end. We have become so accustomed to enmity that assuming the worst no longer feels like pessimism, it feels like a practical defense mechanism, a way of tempering or restraining our hopes. It seems as if lowering our expectations actually seems like a useful, if not necessary practice to prepare us for when the other shoe inevitably falls.

I understand its appeal. Presuming the darkness is an endeavor that is rarely disappointed. But I am a Christian, and this is Advent, and it strikes me that cynicism, in its many forms, runs cross grain to the hope I am to be cultivating, especially during this time. Therefore it has no place in my life. So, Now what? What do we do when the most logical, natural conclusion, is incompatible with Christian practice and convictions? What do we do when it runs cross grain to our faith? Continue reading

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Six Advent Practices to Set Us Free From 2016.

Continued from “I Think I Need an Exorcism, and You Probably Do To.”  Part 1

advent-journey-1So here we are at the end of a year that has captured our imagination if by no other means than the fear and spectacle of it all.   Not only have our thoughts and feelings been driven by the political circus of this year, so have some of our actions.  It has demanded our attention, but now it is Advent.  It is time to redirect our attention to where it belongs.

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I Think I Need an Exorcism, and You Probably Do Too… Part 1

christmas-journeyFaceBook is admittedly a strange land. Is it not? And it has been clear for quite some while that we don’t really know how to dwell there as our best human selves. Even so, in the past few weeks I have noticed something in myself and in others that has lead me to an admittedly bizarre but entirely sincere conclusion: I may be in need of an exorcism, and it is very probable you might need one too. Continue reading

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Its Jesus, Not Dinosaurs…that are coming. Advent Day One

Ah. I begin Advent again with boxes and branches strewn about my small living room.   I just put in the last of what I call the Deadly Poultry Dishes in the dish washer and hope that I have done so prudently enough to keep the infinite number of possible turkey based bacterial death contaminates at bay… I guess we will see soon enough. I worked too many hours selling self described “magic” gadgets to strangers over the past two days and I feel harried and hurried and anxious and I feel certain if I sit down to finish writing this I will once again be late for Church.   It appears that I am exactly where I should be to begin advent. Continue reading

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Five thoughts on the war on Starbucks cups.

imageOk. Let me get this over with. As you may well know, there is a small noisy minority of Christians barking up the wrong cup. Their logic is, well,  illogical (no snowflakes = war on Christmas?). I can easily explain how people, who are Christians, are doing it wrong and doing some very unchristian things. That is paranoia looking for an opportunity. But before any of us hop on board the rant express, I invite everyone to remember a few things about how we got here. Continue reading

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How to Change a Life With Two Shoes, a Good Story, and Some Gravity

friendship-in-christSome time in the late nineties I was going through one of the worse depressions of my life. It wasn’t one of those depressive episodes where you try to hide what is going on. I had a resigned sort of exhibitionism. Why not spill all my beans? Beans just end up getting spilt eventually anyway… It was dark. People would walk by and ask, “How are you today Doug?” and immediately regret it as I answered them honestly and talked them through the vast landscape of my existential angst. It was usually met with one of four responses, that were for me both a source of dark entertainment, my own gothic improv stage. Here are the four things people would most often do: Continue reading

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“Jesus’ Two Daughters”  You are not an exception to the Love of God.  

Last night, again, I sat with a Christian friend who is struggling very deeply with his faith.  In fact, what is more clear to me than it probably is to him is that he lives with a kind of anguish, a internal and unspoken resignation to believing he will never fully being a full member of the Body of Christ, but only, at best, as an exception God might endure if he tries hard enough.  While this kind of conversation is particularly heartbreaking to me, it is anything but new.  In fact, I have distinct memories of late night dorm room conversations more than 20 years ago around this very topic. So why are there so many loving, faithful people struggling to believe that God could possibly love them without putting an asterisk by their names in the Book of Life?

I am afraid there is no short answer.  Certainly the vitriol and disgust that has been expressed to me individually and to entire groups of people in the media over the last few days plays some part, but rather than try to provide some social analysis and recommendation to the Church on how to be less crappy neighbors in communicating grace,  I think it is a good time to turn my attention to those of you who, like I have in life, ever felt myself to be an exception to the love of God.  This is in every way, my own story, and not just a story I want you to know about, it is one in which I would like you to join me. Continue reading

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To the Persecuted Church in America: A Biblical strategy for living in times like these. 

Every time I have tried to sit down and write a coherent reflection this week I have stalled and stammered.  Not only are the events of the past several days complex and overwhelming, the endless grandstanding, commentary, and politicking is absolutely deafening. It is hard to wrap my brain around everything that is going on.  Meanwhile, A pastor threatens to set himself on fire in the wake of gay marriage while across town several churches are actually burning even while we are still morning the deaths of the nine slain brothers and sisters whose kindness almost turned the heart of their murderer.  It is here in the midst of the elation and grief that at least one segment of the Church has managed to find one strange, even baffling narrative to sum it all up, “We are being persecuted!”

After sighing loudly and executing an eye roll that would make Liz Lemon feel like an eye-roll amateur, there is part of me that deeply wants to lash out and rant against this kind of histrionics. But honestly that too would fall of deaf ears or feed that culture war cacophony that tends to make us tune out everyone who doesn’t agree with what we already believe.  So I instead I would like to suggest a less ranty, and slightly more Biblical perspective on the matter:  Yes, we are being persecuted, and this is what you signed up for… Continue reading

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