“Magic Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fairest One of All?”

I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the others, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.


“Oh,” I thought, “So-and-So could really benefit from these words. If only (s)he could read them and let them really sink in…” And then began my strategic thinking of how to get these “helpful” words into the minds of those who, in my humble opinion, needed to hear them. Perhaps I could share on Facebook as “words that meant so much to me this morning.” I went from feeling inspired to convicting others within seconds, and without giving much thought to my own learning or shortcomings.

And therein lies a significant problem in the Christian faith today – the desire to use my convictions to convict others. It is not a new concept. And in fact it plagues probably all religions for as long as those religions have existed. “I know what is right/best/true/needed, and you need to follow me/my understanding on how to live that out.” Even those religions that claim not to tell others what to believe spend ample time complaining about those that do. It’s inevitable. It’s human nature. And I think it can kill a life of faith that is meaningful and transformative. Or at least seriously maim it.

I started thinking about Snow White’s stepmother who regularly consulted a magic mirror to confirm her wonderfulness. Or her fairishness. She wanted affirmation of what she thought was fabulous about her. And when the mirror gives an answer that contradicted what she sought, she plots to destroy who is in her way of being the fairest of all. She doesn’t seek to learn why Snow White is more fair. Instead she assumes that by killing Snow White the stepmother will once again be on top. Blame. Destroy. Discredit. Remove. Discount. Distance. Pointing fingers does that, doesn’t it? It makes me feel better because at least I’m not like her. It affirms me because I’m not part of the problem like he is. 

Looking in the mirror to see how I am part of the problem? That takes time. That is painful. Yet that is exactly where change begins. Real change. Lasting change. And not just the change within me but the change around me.  So back to that initial quote. If I’m going to take it seriously and really give it its due, that means I’ll need to read it, digest it, and ask myself how I am greedy, how I can be antineighborly or exclusionary or fearful or self-indulgent. If I actually want to experience a better world, I need to live better in it. It means not  moving past those questions too quickly or passing them on to others for their edification. It means assuming that there are probably a number of areas where I can learn and grow and do better. Be better. Ugh. Not comfortable questions. And yet if I begin to figure out how to truly live simply, freely, lovingly and generously, that just might begin to change the world – the world for me and those around me.

Oh what a lenten season this will be…

(The quote is from Walter Brueggemann’s A Way other than Our Own, page 5 of the 2016 paperback edition.)


Holy Week from Hell

For Christians, this week is a big one. We began with Palm Sunday, a story of Jesus entering Jerusalem in royal fashion. But things go downhill pretty quickly. Friends fall asleep in spite of his pleas for them to stay awake and pray. Friends betray him and deny him multiple times. He’s tried, convicted, tortured, humiliated, and killed. That’s one hell of a week.

I know there are many layers to the week’s events, and we hold the hope that in spite of all the shit Jesus goes through, God has a plan and purpose. Perhaps the use of holy is to remind us of that. But I wonder what my non-Christian friends think of a week that’s identified as holy yet filled with all of these terrible events. No wonder they are not signing up. The use of holy does seem a little off, as if it’s in denial of the full reality of the week. Jesus anguishes. He prays about wanting to give up.

I know Jesus didn’t give up or walk away. I know what comes on Sunday. But do we miss something if we jump ahead too early to the resurrection? Do we miss the depth of betrayal felt? The fear? The disappointment? The overwhelming despair that must have been always whispering in Jesus’ ear? I wonder if our impulse to skip the tough stuff or to deem it holy then causes us to ignore, wish away, or deny our own tough stuff. Do we assume we should call all things holy, even when they are in fact quite awful? And what about people whose lives never seem to reach Easter? Do we give the subtle (or not-so-subtle) message that those folks somehow missed God or didn’t get “it” right – whatever “it” is?

This week is about being well outside of our comfort zones and pondering tough questions as we navigate the dark. If not one of mine, consider a question that haunts you. We might convince ourselves, on the surface at least, that we are already living in an Easter reality. Based on human behavior, I suspect that is more often the exception than the norm. We have been hurt and rejected, suffered pain and loss, and our behavior often reflects our past wounds. A sanitized faith isn’t going to help us learn to live it better. And it’s certainly not going to get us to a true Easter any faster.

I find many people, not just Christians, want to put a positive spin on something before the dust even settles. By doing so, we might avoid some of the overt pain, but we also avoid maturing emotionally and spiritually. My challenge this week is for us to resist the impulse. Live in the dark with Jesus for the rest of this week. Let’s fully engage the Holy Week from Hell. Let’s assume we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and see what happens. Let’s navigate our fears and disappointments and failures as Jesus navigates his. We’ll have to be more attentive, more honest, and more vulnerable. We’ll need people who can walk this journey with us. We might discover a faith that is able to travel with us wherever life might take us, even to hell and back.


Hot Yoga and a Schmear of Ashes


Shortly before the New Year, a friend asked me to go to yoga with her. “One month – all the classes we want to take – $40 total.” I had been interested in yoga for awhile because of its benefits, namely flexibility, stability and core strengthening. This opportunity seemed like a great and affordable way to jump start my yoga regimen. “Oh, and it’s hot yoga,” she added. “105 degrees and 90 minutes long.” Wait, what?? I sweat. I don’t mean that I get little beads of perspiration on my upper lip. I sweat buckets-worth. I probably lose a couple pounds of water weight with every strenuous form of exercise. I could not imagine what 90 minutes of exercise in a room that hot would mean.

Being the sucker that I am, I signed on and began my month of yoga fun. The first time was hard, but manageable. I did sweat, a lot. Every bit of me was perspiring for nearly the full 90 minutes. In spite of that I felt good and proud of what I had accomplished. Until the next day when I woke up with the most horrendous dehydration headache I have ever had. It took me two days to recalibrate my system and lose the headache entirely. In my second class, three days later, I could see improvement in my balance and flexibility. But I also found the amount of sweating to be annoying. Really annoying. I had a difficult time holding some of the poses because of how much I was sweating. But I got through another class.  And another. I learned to drink plenty of water before and after class, and include a sports drink of some kind for better replenishment. I wasn’t getting used to the sweating though.

About a week and a half into my month of yoga, I started to feel sick. I woke up feeling hung over, even though I hadn’t been drinking the night before. I was concerned that hot yoga would make me feel worse, so I took a few days off. My friend was patient but as I neared the day I would have to go back, I found myself ruing it. It was hot and long and difficult and required work before and after class. Why was I putting myself through it? Why couldn’t the room be 95 degrees instead of 105 degrees? I went anyway, again, finally. It was hot. And long. And it was 15 degrees outside. But I did it and I have to admit, it felt good.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season for Christians. I grew up in a church that had few rituals. We celebrated communion/Lord’s supper/eucharist. We lifted up Christmas and Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter and all the events in between). Other things were mentioned as they occurred, such as Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent. But we largely seemed to avoid the rituals that have long been associated with the christian faith. This was not uncommon among protestants who were determined to not look at all like catholics. A thousand years of history replaced with crappy, “contemporary” worship songs.

As I became increasingly frustrated with my ritual-less church, I sought out churches that still incorporated them. Although some denominations had certainly kept the rites and rituals in place, they had not done the work of updating its context. God was always “He” and the hierarchy remained: God -> pastor/priest -> parishioner. I longed for the rituals, but I needed them to be offered with relevance by way of acknowledging the difficulties, issues, and realities of today, not of days gone by.

So back to Ash Wednesday. The day marks the beginning of Lent, which is 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. For the Christian, Easter is the event that reminds us that God is at work in and around and through us, in spite of what we might see/think/feel, and that death does not have the final say. Most scholars believe that the idea of Lent developed in the first few hundred years after the church began. The church rightly saw the need to prepare for Easter, and Lent could provide the opportunity to do so. Time and wounds and quite frankly, everyday life can make it difficult to see how God is at work, and how we might be getting in the way of that work. And so we spend time learning how to hear and see again, how to make more room for God. We reflect by asking questions such as, “How am I really doing?” “Do my values match my priorities?” “Where could I use some improvement?” “How might I strengthen my faith?” “How are my relationships?” We can easily fill 40 days of reflecting, particularly if we aren’t doing much of it in the remaining 325 days.

Ash Wednesday is traditionally commemorated with a schmear of ashes and the saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I know it might sound depressing. But for Christians, it is just the beginning of the journey, not its end. We begin by feeling the somberness of who we are (human), and consequently who we are not (God). We are invited to experience the weight of the world being taken off of our shoulders and to be okay with what we cannot do on our own. And we embark on the 40+ days to ponder this reality knowing Easter is just up the road.

I think Lent is a lot like hot yoga. The benefits are pretty clear. But it is a big pain in the ass. It is hard work. It requires the sacrifice of time and resources. It takes planning and commitment. It needs doses of faith and hope. And if I didn’t have my friend waiting for me, I might just wimp out with a thousand possible excuses. We should take this journey not because the church and religious leaders say so, but because it is good for the mind, body, and soul. I hope you will consider to take a Lenten journey yourself. Don’t forget to find a friend to go with you. Namaste.