It’s come very quickly, but the church season of discipleship and renewal that we call Lent begins next week! If it takes twenty-one days to learn a new habit, the forty days (plus Sundays) of Lent give Christians more than twice that time to renew a past practice or start a new commitment. You may already have something in mind for Lent, but if you don’t let me invite you to double down on the church “habit” this year. I challenge you to attend worship every time it’s offered in Lent. If you’re out of town from your customary place of worship–like I will be on one Sunday–the challenge means finding a service where you are at. This starts with Ash Wednesday next week, continues with each Sunday between February 18th and April 1st, and culminates with Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. (Some churches also offer Easter Vigil worship on Holy Saturday–it’s a remarkable service!) For anyone who is out of the regular worship habit, I challenge you to get these dates on your calendar now. Even for those who regularly lead worship as singers or readers, this may be a challenge if you’re tempted to take a day off rather than to come and receive the spiritual nurture you so often share with others. And if Sunday mornings don’t work in your calendar, most churches offer some sort of weekday evening enrichment possibility in Lent. Continue reading “The Worship Challenge”
Last night, Javen and I joined members of my church to see a church youth (pictured) perform in the Edina High School production of MEAN, a musical about bullying. The show emphasizes that people can find every reason to pick on one another (reading ability, headscarves, weight, sexual orientation, etc), and the consequences can be deadly. It struck me as relevant for people of all ages, since our society has become toxic in its displays of intolerance, partisan taunting, and bitter division. Yesterday afternoon, for example, Javen and I joined others from our congregations at an interfaith solidarity response at Dar Al farooq Islamic Center, after Muslims in Minnesota were slammed for “infiltration” simply because they were learning how to caucus. Bullying happens long after teens leave their high school cafeterias.
This past Sunday after worship, almost a dozen folks from my congregation gathered in the church library to hear about Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, who are a church-started organization advocating for affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Then yesterday, I joined with others from Edina Morningside Church (above) to attend a training and press event by the statewide, multiracial and multi-faith group ISAIAH. We helped announce the Claiming Our Voices Faith Agenda, developed from house meetings with thousands of Minnesotans over the past three months. It names the top priorities of these faithful neighbors as we anticipate the 2018 election season, including a caring economy and a democracy that honors the God-given dignity of every person. Javen and I are joining with others across the state to be trained as “Faith Delegates”, taking these principles into the caucus and convention processes of both major parties. (You can sign up for trainings here, or join Javen and I at a Mayflower UCC one next Thursday night.) We’ll stand together across artificial partisan and geographic divisions, asking whoever would lead Minnesota in the coming years to hear the cry of God’s people for loving justice in every corner of the state.
Blessings to you in Epiphany! This is a season of the church between Christmas and Lent that starts on January 6th, after the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany traditionally marks the arrival of the wise travelers to the child Jesus, when they present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Epiphany themes include light in the darkness, worldwide appeal of Jesus, and gaining wisdom.
Last month I spent the better part of a day at Prairie Oaks Institute, a working farm and retreat center in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. While exploring the 110-year-old farm, I began noticing connections between where I was and the community that I serve. Both farms and churches have existed for millennia, yet both must also adapt vigorously to the 21st century. Reflecting since that day, I’ve noticed at least three common characteristics between farming and faith communities (at least those of the mainline Protestant persuasion).
As I listened to the news this morning, I noticed a common theme running through several of the stories: fear. The Greek parliament will vote this evening on whether or not to adopt new terms for a financial bailout. Nobody likes the deal, but they’re driven by fear of what the future might hold otherwise (and the reality of terrible conditions currently). The International Monetary Fund is fearful that the Greek bailout won’t be enough, and they’re afraid that without a more dramatic rescue plan from Europe involving a much longer repayment period, Greece will never be able to get out from under its current debt burden. Other news includes the announcement of a deal between six world powers and Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear activities and lift international sanctions. President Obama now has sixty days to convince a skeptical Congress to approve the deal or at least take no action. Politicians across the spectrum fear that an unchecked Iran will use this as an opportunity for further aggressive expansion. Leaders in Israel, including most especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, live in existential fear that Iran will succeed in its stated goal of wiping Israel off the map. Fear drives much of the discourse between nations today, and it causes elected leaders to act with suspicion toward one another. Fearful mistrust colors their actions, and so they hedge bets, make half-hearted promises that have clear escape clauses, and protect their own survival above all else.
The language of ancient Greece has a term called martyr. In its original context two thousand years ago, it meant “witness” or “testimony.” To be a martyr was to offer a witness of one’s most sacred values. In the ancient Mediterranean after the time of Christ, the term was used to describe early Christians who would testify to the power of God through Christ in their lives. But because early Christianity was an unpopular and minority faith, the message of Christ was not usually received with ease. Early Christians were persecuted and killed for their beliefs. It was then that martyr took on a second meaning, that of our English word “martyr”: someone who dies or sacrifices of oneself for that which one believes in.