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Weeds and Nerf darts

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youth ministry

Ashes in the Mirror

We have embarked upon that season in the church once again. That season of fasting, prayer, and waiting we call Lent. Those 46 days when we remember when Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, that lead up to the festivities of Holy Week.

We start off Lent with the Ash Wednesday service, by receiving the imposition of ashes on of foreheads while the Pastor says something like “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” (if you’ve never understood that reference these are the words God spoke to Adam and Eve after the fall Genesis 3:19, as well as many other references to ashes throughout scripture).

I remember growing up in the church with anticipation for the Ash Wednesday service, not because Lent held some deep special meaning for me, but because we were going to church on a Wednesday, in the dark! Obviously I did not grow up where it was common to have Wednesday evening activities. We would go to church and it would be very quiet, we would sing the liturgy, take communion, receive the imposition of those burnt palm branches in the form of those dark grey-black ashes, and then we would quietly leave. I remember going home and looking at myself in the mirror, scrunching my forehead to make the cross move around, and wanting to keep in there for when I would go back to school the following day, but my mom always made me wash them off.

I look back on myself staring in the mirror looking at those ashes and it reminds me about how we take this season of lent to reflect on our lives, and our relationship with God. We fast, we take something on, we give something up, all in an effort to draw closer to our creator.

I sometimes wonder if many of us would rather just skip Lent all together and get on with the jubilant celebration of the resurrected Christ. I mean, that’s the fun part, right? The pretty dresses, the boys in little bow ties and vests, and the singing Alleluia, this is our big show in the Christian community. But to get to Easter, we have to start with the ashes, and then pass through the suffering and betrayal that is Holy week.

We get nervous when asked to self-reflect, because we are afraid of what we will see. Our lives aren’t all Easter dresses and Alleluias, many times our lives reflect those ashes, those ashes that tell us we came from dust and from dust we shall return. Those ashes confront the reality that we don’t really have it all together. The accomplishments of this life, and the busyness with which we surround ourselves, won’t overcome our own mortality. The ashes of suffering, sickness, grief, and hunger aren’t as easily washed away as the ashes on Wednesday night from the scrunched up forehead of a little girl.

But, as always with the Gospel, there is good news! Those same ashes lead us into the season we love so much, they lead us to be an Easter people. Because Jesus suffers and overcomes death so that we don’t need to fear our return to dust, because we have abundant life in Him.  So in this time of reflection, I pray you can reflect on those ashes in the mirror, and that with celebration you can begin to wash them away in the knowledge that we are truly an Easter people, even in this time of waiting.

Peace be with you.

If God is a dude…

Created in the image of God!
Created in the image of God!

“Our father in heaven…” If you are someone who grew up in a church I’ll bet you couldn’t even stop yourself from finishing the Lord’s prayer in your head. And to be honest, before I started in Seminary, I hadn’t really thought much about the gender of God. I mean, we say the Lord’s prayer and it says Father and there are a whole lot of “He” in the Bible in reference to God, so it becomes natural for one to think of the creator in a masculine form.

However, the first time the question “Is God male?” was asked of me, my immediate reaction was “well… no”. If I am reasoning this out, God the Creator is neither Male or Female, and is not subject to time or the size and scope of human beings. As I continued in my seminary studies I found that we would spend a lot of time talking about this. We would argue about it, write papers about it, and talk about how our churches need to understand it.

Then one day in Sunday school a very profound statement came out of a 6th grader. I love middle schoolers, always have. They are silly and awkward and have moments so profound they astound you. We were discussing attributes of God shown in the Old Testament vs attributes in the New Testament and I posed the question “Does God change?” This question was pretty hard for 6th through 12th graders to answer but the consensus was that No, God does not change, but our understanding of God changes because we are human and He is God.

So I said “God is hard for our brains to understand, because we live in a place constrained by time, but God is bigger than time, God is bigger than gender…”

“What?” Shouted one of my boys. “What do you mean God is bigger than gender?”

I wasn’t really prepared for this conversation, but if you’ve opened the can of worms might as well go fishing, so I asked the group, “Alright, this wasn’t our topic for the day but since we are here… Is God male?”

I got a mix of answers, ranging from “Yes, why else do we call him Father?” to “I guess God is whatever he wants to be” to “I don’t even know what you are talking about”

Before I could address any of these answers one of my 6th grade girls said, in a quiet voice “I’ve always wondered about this, because if we are created in God’s image, and if God is a dude… then what does that mean for me?”

Everyone in the room got silent, as they processed what this meant for women, and the students began to understand God in a different way. All I had said before had set a stage for this profound question from an 11 year old, and taught the class more than I ever could. I love it when God works that way.

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