Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday - Sweet Relief

"Isn't it crazy to think that the minute we are born we start dying, " I said to my 18 year old son.  Without hesitating, he replied, "Yes, but we are also living."  My kids are used to me winging out all kinds of statements. That moment was no exception.  And it pretty sums up Ash Wednesday for me. There is a raw honesty to the words that perfectly describe my body's fragility and the gratitude to be breathing today.  My nursing and pastoral work means I've seen a lot of death. My loss of two fathers brings the grief close to home.  I said to my daughter recently that if we knew we were dying tomorrow the beauty of today would look really different.  She said (with patient affection), "Mom, it's so you to say that kind of thing."

The things that I tell my kids spout out randomly.  It's like me trying to figure out how to live in those realities but feeling so far from being able to it.  Ash Wednesday frees me up just a little.  I'm reminded that the reality of utter dependence and lack of control is true.  It's not something to figure out or live into.  It just, simply, IS.  So today I'll hear the words and receive the ashes as gift and reminder that control is an illusion.  

There's this great sound and feeling when the ashes are put on my forehead. I can feel the grit and hear the sound. It's earthy and stark. It's the paradox of dying while living and living while dying - time bending to expand.  It's sweet relief from striving, from lack of discipline, from the mess of life, while acknowledging the beauty of it. 

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mardi Gras, Manning, and Newton [disclaimer: I like football]

It's not lost on me that the Broncos' parade celebrating their Super Bowl win coincides with Mardi Gras this year. My mind is full of images of Newton's smile and swagger.  He's delightfully fun and larger than life. Manning's career includes such a long list of "the most" and "the best" that I regularly wonder what data the NFL doesn't collect.  Reading his comments on leadership, team work, practice, resiliency, and staying in the moment often inspires reflection.

My mind is also full of images of the fragility of the body and the spirit. Manning's 39 year old body is no longer as willing or able as his mind. The Broncos' win really did take a team of "53" even though his leadership is included in that number. The Carolina Panthers' loss shrunk Newton into a shadow of himself. The criticism of his press conference behavior has become an intellectual feeding frenzy.

The fun of watching football includes: the surreal athleticism; the complexity of the game; the social dynamics of institution, fans, players, leaders, and followers; the guilty pleasure of cheering heroes and booing villains even if contrived categories; and hanging out with my husband.  The struggle of watching football is the greed, the institutionalism, the injuries, the rage, and the hangers-on that feed off the NFL like sex traffickers and gambling conglomerates.

Here's what I can't shake as a Broncos fan and as a pastor this Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. This last week of football fits these two days.  Mardi Gras, in the most simplest of explanations, is a big party of excess before the austerity and repentance of the six weeks of Lent that lead up to Easter.  This development of "let's sin a bunch before we have to repent" is more recent in its history.

There are glaring excesses and abuses within the NFL.  Hence, the Mardi Gras comparison. The excesses and abuses are well documented elsewhere and, along with the fragility of Manning and the shadow of Newton, scream Ash Wednesday to me. On Ash Wednesday, there is an honesty about ourselves that includes acknowledging our brokenness.  The churchy language is confession of sin.  There is also an honesty about our fragile bodies as ashes are put on our forehead with the words spoken, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  We hear these words and more as we're told that there is nothing we can do or not do that would make God love us any more or any less.

On Ash Wednesday, I look forward to the honesty, accountability, and love.  It's real and raw and hopeful.  It's a relief sweeter than any king cake could possibly be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

3 Years A Pastor

Three years ago today my world became very big and very small all at once as I was ordained a pastor, called through the people of Augustana Lutheran Church. Feeling the love again through the pictures and memories: my family showed up supportive and wondered what this would mean; friends and neighbors showed up whether or not the church makes sense to them; church friends showed up knowing the wild, disrupting and sustaining force of faith in community; clergy friends showed up knowing the complex joy and challenge of congregational life; and new Augustana friends showed up in support and curiosity about their new pastor. God's love showed up through all these people on that day. Crazy!

Being a pastor is surreal - looking out at everyone over the pulpit or across the communion table, proclaiming faith, hope, and love in the name of Jesus feels like a dream from which I don't want to wake. And being a pastor is real, oh so real - real people, real stories, real love, real hours, real grief, real disagreement, real mess, real life.  I'm exhausted.  I'm grateful.  I'm ready for more.

Charge from Ordination:

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

Caitlin, care for God's people, bear their burdens, and do not betray their confidence. So discipline yourself in life and teaching that you preserve the truth, giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope. Witness faithfully in word and deed to all people. Give and receive comfort as you serve within the church. And be of good courage, for God has called you, and your labor in the Lord is not in vain.