Friday, February 24, 2006

Lent: Give Something Up, or Take Something On?

This Dali print hangs in my office; it’s a reminder to me of Jesus’ presence and his sacrifice. During the Lenten season, it’s a stark reminder to me of my need of repentance.

Traditionally and historically, Lent has been a time (40 days, not counting Sundays) when converts to Christianity began to fast and prepare for baptism. It was also a time for contemplation and penance for all Christians, in honor of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness.

So what do we sacrifice? What do we give up or abstain from? I could say that I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent… but that would be an empty gesture, since I rarely eat it. I could give up eating between meals… but I ought to be doing that anyway. Eating sweets, smoking, watching television - you’ve heard them all before, and they aren’t bad ideas. But what about other sacrifices that help us identify with Jesus’ passion, death, and how we might be more faithful? Such as giving up some of our time?

It seems to me that in addition to giving something up for Lent, perhaps we also need to be willing to take something on. Adopting a shut in, going out of our way to foster a relationship with someone we don’t know well, dropping a letter or card to a young person to encourage them, or volunteering for one of those little known, behind-the-scenes ministries that always needs to be done. There are lots of things that need to be done in the Body of Christ.

So this Lent, just don’t be thinking about what you can give up; think about what you can take on. And don’t worry… the Easter promise still holds. But at least for forty days, let’s not forget the events that lead up to Good Friday.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Majoring in the Minors

In case you haven’t heard, the United Methodist General Conference in 2012 is being moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Tampa, Florida. Why? Richmond’s minor league baseball team, an Atlanta Braves organization, is also named the “Braves.”

Problem? A resolution passed by the 2004 General Conference called for United Methodist agencies and organizations to avoid holding meetings and events in cities that sponsor sport teams using Native America names and symbols. The exact language: "The United Methodist Church rejects the use of Native American names and symbols for sport teams, and considers the practice a blatant expression of racism.”

We may still have a problem in Tampa, though. In looking at Tampa area high schools, I found the usual amusing team mascot names: the Turkey Creek Middle School Gobblers, the D.W. Webb Middle School Spiders, and the Sickles High School Gryphons (that one ranks up there with my father’s undergraduate college, the Pittsburg State [Kansas] Gorillas). But I also found the George D. Chamberlain H.S. Chiefs, the East Bay H.S. Indians, and the John Q. Adams Middle School Warriors. I would assume that these mascots have the blessings of the school systems and boards.

Ever watch a Florida State game and heard the Seminole War Chant/Chop? From Tampa, take I-75 and turn left on I-10.

Ray McAllister of the Richmond Times-Dispatch said this: “So, let's not go crazy about this, Methodists, but you just rewarded a community whose school system officially condones Warriors, Chiefs, Indians and Seminoles. And yes, at least two schools with the nickname Braves."

If that wasn’t enough, what does it say about having G.C. in a city that uplifts Buccaneers and Devil Rays? And while I’m at it… what about the Duke Blue Devils? They’re a United Methodist school, for goodness sake!

In our quest to make a point, it might be advisable to be sure what point we are making.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can You Drink the Cup?

As I looked at the calendar this morning, I had to stop and get my breath: Lent is three weeks away.

Oh me.

There is a piece of scripture that has always haunted me: Matthew 20:20-23.

20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons. She bowed down in front of him to ask him for a favor. 21He asked her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Promise that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22Jesus replied, “You don’t realize what you’re asking. Can you drink from the cup that I’m going to drink from?” They told him, “We can.” 23He said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup. But it’s not up to me to grant you a seat at my right hand or at my left. These positions have already been prepared for others by my Father.”

Can I drink the cup? Some days I think I can. Other days, I know that I can’t – or won’t. But that’s when I see the cup as a cup of sorrow. What about the cup of blessing?

Henri Nouwen was one of my favorite writers, and his book Can You Drink the Cup? is one of his best. He talks about how offering someone a drink in our society is a method of hospitality: someone comes to our home, and we offer them a cup of coffee, a glass of tea, water, wine, coke – whatever. And when we lift our cups together, are we not affirming life together? What about the tradition of the toast at a party or wedding? Even the different languages of toasts affirm life: in Latin we say ”Prosit” (be well); in German, ”Zum Wohl” (to your well being), in English, “Cheers” or “Here, Here!”; in Italian, ”Alla tua salute” (to your health), in Hebrew, ”L’chaim” (to life)… you get the idea.

Perhaps when we lift the cup, we lift it up to life: affirm it, celebrate it. To quote Nouwen: “Celebrate it as a gift from God.”

At the same time, community life is not easy, but if we’re honest with each other we don’t hide our joys or sorrows – we share them, and we offer them in the context of hope. “To life” we should toast when we lift our cup. Again, to quote Nouwen:

When we lift our cup of our life and share with one another our sufferings and joys in mutual vulnerability, the new covenant can become visible among us. The surprise of it all is that it is often the least among us who reveal to us that our cup is a cup of blessings.

Jesus is among the least of us – the living Christ among us. A cup of blessing indeed.

Maybe Lent isn't such a downer after all...