Saturday, February 28, 2009

Basic Training

Have been at our church's annual retreat at the beach this weekend. The theme has been Basic Training, which I understanding is all about re-socialization. The army takes a civilian, re-socializes him or her to think and act like a soldier. We sure didn't attempt to get all that done in one weekend. But we did decide to talk about what we have to do as a community to re-socialize ourselves to be the people of God. Also, we divided into squadrons, and with a little team competition, have had a lot of fun.

There was a decision made early in the planning for this year's retreat that we would focus on community building, rather than bringing in a speaker. Relationships won out over more "head-knowledge." I think, seeing the participation, that it was a good decision. Sometimes, another good Bible study is not the right prescription.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Small Hinges

At an out of town meeting the other day I briefly encountered a fellow blogger in a group of ministers, and his greeting was even briefer. I remember his smile, but not his words exactly. It was something about the fact that neither he nor I had been blogging during February.

It was just a passing observation, nothing incriminating, nor particularly encouraging. And yet, it was that encounter more than anything that got me back to blogging. Interesting, isn’t it, how things turn on small hinges - chance encounters, an acknowledgment, or the recognition of a fellow pilgrim?

So, I’ve thought about today, not the meetings or conversations, but the brief encounters. I wondered if I left any encouragement in my wake as I passed by. That woman in the hospital elevator who looked so tired. I noted her weary eyes, but mine didn’t reveal anything in response. Blew that one.

But at the quick stop, when I bought the diet sprite, the woman in front of me wanted a pack of cigarettes and then two lottery tickets. The girl checking us out seemed conscious of the small line forming behind me, but we caught eyes and I said, “It’s OK, no rush,” and her eyes did smile back. Could that have been a hinge, maybe?

A Lenten Examination

My Lenten discipline is not denial, but examination. Denial hasn’t worked before. I might choose something to give up, but it wouldn’t be something crucial. And then, like a New Year’s Resolution, it would dissolve in a couple of weeks. Through pure human defect, I’m just not good at works righteousness.

So this year I choose an intentional routine of something necessary - a daily examination of the day, of self, and of God’s subtle magnificence. A discipline of filing the important stuff, sorting the demanding, and tossing the rest. And I begin with ashes.

I have always been disappointed with the turn-out for Ash Wednesday services, no matter how well attended. Disappointed, but not surprised. Who wants to come to church simply to be told, “You’re going to die”?

And yet, we come and pray, kneel and confess. To old and young alike, each age evoking its own ominous sensation in my chest, I say the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Perhaps we come to be told the truth, our truth - a truth so veneered and disguised that now-a-days we experience death only as a fiendish thief, rather than as a stubborn, necessary, companion in the pilgrimage.

Live. Whatever life tosses on the table before you, take it and live it well. Else the greedy companion will take it for his own. Examine the day, keep what needs to be kept, and let him have the rest.