Holy Week

Crown of thorns, candle light, purple cloth

Palm leaves, ashes, cross


Sunday Night Musing: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday. The start of Holy Week. The exultation of a King who will be crucified alongside criminals. He knows this lies ahead of Him, too. I don't think I would have that kind of courage to ride into the town where I was going to be killed. I would be turning and going the other direction.

Of course Jesus is the Son of God. Fully man, yet fully God. Of course, His Spirit lives in those who follow Him, too. So we have access to that same sort of courage. I just know I don't access it enough.

All too often I am trying to rely on my own strength to get me through tough situations. The reality is that I am often displaying my weaknesses in those situations. I'm more likely to avoid a confrontation.

Tonight's "I am" statement of Jesus is a familiar one. It's from John 14:6. "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (NIV). It's so familiar to many Christians that we don't often hear it fully anymore. Most likely we hear it used for evangelical purposes, telling people that they need Jesus and that no other way is going to get them to Heaven--not Buddah, not a Hindu god, not performing many good deeds.

However, Jesus was talking to His disciples here. He'd raised Lazarus from the dead, entered Jerusalem on a donkey amidst shouts of "Hosanna," and was sharing His last meal with His followers as He told them that His journey was about to end in death. He comforts His disciples, letting them know that He's preparing things in Heaven for them and will return some day. Though He'll be gone, they already know the way. 

And Thomas says that they don't know where He's going, so how can they know the way. This is when Jesus responds letting him know that He is the way, truth, and life. These are words of comfort and compassion. 
They're also words of direction. 

I don't need to follow my own way. It won't get me anywhere but in trouble. Jesus is the way. His is the only path I should follow.

I don't need to listen to the lies the world tells me (or that I tell myself). Jesus is the truth. When He calls me His beloved, that's all I need to hear.

I don't need to worry about death. Jesus is the life.  

John 14:6 isn't words to tell people that they need Jesus to get to Heaven. They're words for me--that I need Jesus here in this life.  


Sunday Night Musings: The Vine

The "I am" saying of Jesus we looked at at church tonight was from John 15:5 where Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (NIV).

It's a saying I've heard preached on many times. But typically when I hear the passage talked about, the preacher at least indirectly says that I'm an individual branch on the vine. I need to stay grafted to Jesus. He is my source of life. If I'm abiding in Him, I'll do good works (bear much fruit).

These are all good and true ideas. But there's more to the passage than that. When Jesus said "you" He wasn't talking to just one person. It wasn't an individual "you", it was a plural "you all" (or "y'all" depending on where you're from). A grape vine doesn't have just one branch. It has many. 

We all are grafted together onto the true Vine. Jesus is a place of unity. He is the source of life and nourishment for all of us.

Pastor Jan noted tonight how hard that fact is that we're all one in Jesus. Some of those branches are our enemies, because the Vine is all inclusive. The branches include republicans and democrats, socialists and capitalists, the poor and the well-to-do, gay and straight, oppressor and victim, misogynist and feminist, fundamentalist and liberal, male and female, free and slave, those with health care and those without, etc. Jesus welcomes all sinners to abide in Him.

Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers (John 17). We're told that we're one in the Spirit. But often times it feels like the church is more separated and divided than united. 

Ideologies will never unite us. We will only ever be united by the vine: Jesus. Without Him we have nothing in common, we have nothing to unite us. Christ is our point of unity. 

I think what this means is that we as followers of Jesus need to talk less about theology and ideologies and more about what He is doing in our lives. Both our individual lives and our lives together as a community. Therein lies our point of unity. No one can discount what Jesus has done for you or for us. 

Yes, we need theology to help us understand our experiences. We need ideologies to help us guide our desire for justice, righteousness, freedom, and peace. But we won't ever all agree on theology or ideologies. The church, however, can and must agree on Jesus. We must abide in Him solely.

And we must do it together. Not as several vines with one branch on each, but as one vine with many branches. Abiding. Belonging. Connected.

Pastor Jan quoted St. Augustine from his Confessions: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Our hearts are restless looking for connection. We desire a place of belonging.

Sometimes we look for that connection in inappropriate, unhealthy, or unsatisfying places. I know I have. We all want to belong...we've wanted it since we were young children.

There is one place, though, where we can find true connection that will satisfy: The Vine. Christ is our place of belonging. And it is not just belonging to Him, but belonging to Him alongside others to whom we are connected through the Vine. He is the place we abide and can find rest.


On Spring Break and Jealousy

I can be a very jealous person. Spring Break reminds me of that. I get jealous seeing friends' Facebook pictures of their trip to Ireland or Mexico. I get jealous knowing friends are in Florida or have been to Virginia. I get jealous because those options aren't possibilities for us financially right now.

Last year the boys and I did a camping trip that, while without any bells and whistles--just a lot of time in state parks, was probably still more than our budget should have handled. This year we stayed for free in a cabin in Wisconsin built and owned by my wife's sister and husband who generously let us use it when it's free (this was our first time there since it has been usable). Other than the food we brought with, we didn't spend money on anything extra--no special events or activities, no restaurants. We used the snowshoes at the cabin, played in the snow (the boys enjoyed jumping off a low-height roof into the snow), reading, playing games, and relaxing.

My quiet-time nook
I was talking with a friend tonight (who had been gone last week with his family to Virginia for a Spring Break trip to historic sites) about our spring break trips. We were both reminded in our conversations to be thankful for what we have. He wasn't much into historic sites. I was envious of all the opportunities he gets to travel.

But I was also reminded that people would pay thousands of dollars to have the virtually free experience that we had. We received a gift. And I am thankful for it.

I was also aware that there is a large percentage of children in my sons' classrooms (as well as my own) that don't get to even leave Minneapolis during Spring Break. Some of them are probably home alone (or with their siblings). Some of them are at school as part of the release day options.

That's how my mind works, though, if I let it. It looks at what everyone else has who is more privileged than I feel that I am. It doesn't think about those who don't have even the opportunities that I receive. It doesn't stop to just be grateful. My mind can be dangerous sometimes. Especially if I listen to it undiscerningly.

I've got to constantly keep myself in check, otherwise I all too easily can live in my head. And while I've got a lot of good stuff in my head, it's not a good place to live. My mind can easily twist reality into fantasy. Or I can make things worse than they really are--or think I'm worse off than I really am.

My heart needs to keep my head in check (and vice versa). I need to remind myself that my life is good. That I've got plenty to be grateful for. While I may not have everything I want, I've got more than everything I need.

A view of frozen Lake Arbutus
Once again I am reminded that gratitude is the antidote. Gratitude reminds me that what I have is a gift from God. It reminds me that despite all that I feel I don't have, I still have it pretty good. As my friend reminds me, if these are my worst problems--getting several days away in a beautiful northwoods cabin--then I have it pretty well.

Indeed, I do have it pretty well. No matter what everyone else is doing. I have much to be thankful for.


Winter Hiking (in Spring)

Thanks to the generosity of my sister-in-law and her husband we're spending a little bit if spring break at their cabin in northeastern Wisconsin. Of course "Spring Break" is merely a technical pleasantly for its name. Snow covers the ground three feet deep here. But the temperatures have at least been above freezing during the day.

We're spending our days reading, drawing, playing games, rubber band loom weaving, doing jigsaw puzzles, sitting in front of the fireplace, and playing outside.

We discovered yesterday that I can lift the boys onto the garage roof, and they can jump off the back side into the snow. It's deep enough that at least once each of them got stuck and couldn't pull their feet out.

We've also been watching the deer that frequent the woods nearby. They walk near the cabin a few times a day. We've seen at least five together.

Deer tracks in the snow.
It's been beautiful weather to be outside. My youngest son and I went for a hike yesterday. We discovered that it was best to follow the deer trails. They use the same paths frequently, so the snow on the path is compacted and hard.

The moment is stepped off the trail I sank up past my knees in the snow.

My oldest son and I did some snowshoeing. Snowshoes don't allow you to walk on top of the snow as is often believed (though I suppose with the right snow conditions you might be able to). Snowshoes help you walk more easily through the snow.

Snowshoes spread your weight out over a wider area. With snowshoes on I sunk only eighteen inches instead of the three feet I sunk without them on. Without snowshoes boots easily got stuck in several feet of snow. Unless you happen to put one snowshoe on top of the other or get snagged under a hidden branch snowshoes don't get trapped in the snow.

Still, snowshoeing is hard work and good exercise. A short jaunt through the forest left my brow with beads of sweat. The hikes we took were good workouts.

Outside of the deer tracks and a few rabbit tracks (the squirrels and other rodents were apparently light enough that they didn't leave tracks in the heavy snow on the ground), it was clear that no one else had been in the woods recently. We had it to ourselves--except for the occasional nuthatch and chickadee that would swoop in and perch for a moment on a branch before flitting off to the next one.

It may not be like discovering something entirely new but there's a serendipitous feeling that comes with exploring pristine corners of creation. I get to see things that no one else has seen--at least in several months.

And it's peaceful. I don't hear sirens, and except for an occasional car on the nearby county road, there isn't much traffic noise. The air is fresh. I can smell the faint earthy smell of birch bark and the sappy smell of evergreens.

This is a good way to spend spring break. At least for me. I need the break from busyness and city life.


Sunday Night Musing: Gates and Sheep

Here was the passage we studied tonight at church:

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10, NIV)

The first summer I worked at a Bible camp was before my senior year of high school. The theme that summer dealt with sheep, education, and life and was built around the John 10 chapter. John 10:10 was our theme verse. I still remember it (with the actions we taught the campers). It was a central verse in my book.

John 10 also includes the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It's a complicated chapter with a few different metaphors: Jesus as the Gate, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I read once (or heard in a lesson or something) that there could be a combined reason for that. I haven't done much research on this to verify facts, but I heard that the sheep fold didn't have a physical gate that shut the opening back in those times. The shepherd would lay across the opening so that sheep couldn't get out without his knowing. Thus the shepherd would also be the gate.

Most likely though, Jesus was just acknowledging that He has many roles, and both of the metaphors applied to Him. He is the Good Shepherd who calls His sheep (I'm told that the sheep would be separated after being in a fold together by their own shepherd calling them--they knew their particular shepherd's voice and would go to him).

He is also the Gate (admittedly, not a metaphor or name of Jesus we use too often). In the passage above, Jesus says that the gate is the way to salvation. The gate would be the entrance to the boundaries that separated the fold from the pasture. The pasture is the place where the sheep spend their day. They graze and drink and socialize as only sheep can do. There are dangers in the pasture, though. Wild animals. Cliffs, caves, and other landforms that can cause injury or where sheep can get lost.

The fold was a secure place of rest. All the sheep were gathered in one place. The shepherds knew clearly where each sheep was and that they were accounted for. They watched over them through the night and kept them safe.

We heard the idea tonight about the importance going to Jesus for rest. Sabbath isn't something we (I) tend to do well. And I don't think it's just about one day of the week. Maybe part of the gate metaphor is that Jesus offers us a place of peace, safety, and rest. That's exactly what I need during my intense weeks quite often, but I seldom remember to go to Him for rest.

So that's what I'm working on: not getting buried in frustrations or stress or other issues that come my way, but to remember the Gate. To pray for the things that come up, to give thanks, to find peace in Christ.

So, in looking at the Lenten question of "Who is Christ?"I think tonight I've been reminded that He is a place of security and rest. Those are two things I generally need during each week--each day even.


Sunday Musings: Light and Darkness

Our lenten scriptures at church are taking us through the Gospel of John. The phrase, "Who is Jesus?" provides our framework as we're reading through passages in which Jesus often says, "I am..."

Last week we looked at Jesus' saying, "I am the Bread of Life." Jesus is nourishment.

Tonight's passage was John 8:12. "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (NIV).

As a child--as with most children--I wasn't always the fondest of darkness. My imagination would go to places of fear. Mostly because of the unknown in the darkness. You can't see what's there. I could imagine things being there weren't even real. 

I'm going to admit that even as an adult that sometimes happens still. Last fall I was out camping by myself in a state forest. No one else was around me within several campsites. I was sitting around the campfire in the dark. I had been doing some reading and journaling and my lantern's batteries were dying. Wolves had been howling off in the distance. When I heard a noise that sounded like it was right next to me, I freaked out. It was probably a squirrel or a raccoon. It was probably some distance from me. But at the moment, in my mind, a wolf was right there next to me. When I am alone the darkness is intensified.

Of course darkness is also a place of fun. As I grew older I enjoyed playing games like Ghosts in the Graveyard, Hide and Seek, or Sardines. The darkness hides and conceals which are useful for some of those games. 

Darkness induces blindness--at least temporarily until one's eyes adjust. Darkness hides; it hides you from being seen and it hides other things from being seen by you. Darkness is a place of fear, lies, shame, fear, and death. Darkness happens when a light source is taken away. It happens when something comes between you and the light. Darkness happens when you distance yourself from the light.

Light illuminates. It expels the darkness. Lights gives life--without it nothing could grow. In the light we can see. Light shows what is real, what is true. It exposes and frees. 

The darkness is a place where I say, "I am not good enough." "I am not a good enough husband." "I am not successful enough." "I am not..."

Jesus says, "I am the Light of the World." "I am life." "I am truth." "I am the way."

In Jesus' words and claims we find that there is grace in the light. As it exposes what was in darkness it helps us see the truth.We discover that though we are sinners, we are saved. Though we sometimes go astray, we have a Father who always welcomes us back with wide-open loving arms.

The hard part of what Jesus says is, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness." I feel like that means that there shouldn't be any darkness in my life when I follow Him. And I know there is. I know there are still dark areas in my soul. And I can choose to live in the shame of that darkness or to ask the light to come pouring in and illuminate those areas.

But it's not easy. As we already discussed, darkness is a place of fear. Though we want the light, we are also afraid of the things it might expose. At least I am. But that's shame and fear talking. Those things don't exist in the light. The light is a place of truth, grace, and life.

So I cautiously and sometimes hesitantly pray that the light will continue to expel the darkness and shine on those areas in my life that may still try to hide in darkness like a game of Ghosts in the Graveyard.

But after coming through a long, dreary winter, I am excited about the longer daylight hours that come with spring. I am excited about the warmer temperatures. I know that light is good. So shine on, Jesus. Shine on in my life. Just maybe not all at once...I may need time for my eyes to adjust.



Last week we kicked off Lent with Ash Wednesday. At the service we had the opportunity to go forward to receive the imparting of ashes on our foreheads or palms if we chose. In doing so we heard the words, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in dying we rise."
The lenten season is usually associated with Jesus' temptation in the wilderness by Satan preceded by 40 days of fasting. We go through these 40 days of Lent to identify with Jesus' time in the wilderness as well as His preparation for the cross.

It also reminds of us of our mortality. Which isn't usually our favorite thing to think about. 

Tonight our pastor said we were going to do something different during Lent this year. During the blessing--the last song we sing--she will be having ashes available each Sunday during Lent. Along with the lenten associations already mentioned with the ashes, it also reminds us that God makes all things new.
My 9 year old went forward of his own volition tonight to receive the ashes. He had chosen not to go with to the Ash Wednesday service, but thought he'd get his forehead marked tonight instead. I was proud of him for doing so. I gave him a wink while he was in the line.
I didn't get a good chance to ask him about going forward tonight. I don't know what he gets out of it; I don't often know what I get out of it or if I understand the lenten journey much. I guess that's why it's a journey. I hope its the beginning of a good journey for my son as well.

Retreat: First Night

I'm at our church men's retreat at St. John's University and Abbey. It's my third time here. I left school slightly early to meet my ride and hand off the car and kids to my wife. 

We arrived here in time for supper, and then we walked over for Vespers prayers with the monks. It's quite different than what I'm used to. But it's also a good way to start the retreat. 

The monks have a set of prayer books they use for their prayer times (three each day). The first order of business is to find the correct books (3 tonight) and the right pages. 

Some of the psalms are said; some are read. Always antiphonally (back and forth between one side of the chapel and the other). Always slowly and methodically. It is not a dramatic reading. At first I am annoyed by it. 

Then it sets in. It is purposeful. It slows me down from my hurriedness of the day and attempts to get worship done. It focuses me on the words. It brings me out of myself and into community.  

The worship space is dark except for the altar. It is still. It is peaceful and calm. It is everything my day was not. 

I don't know what the weekend will behold. I am thankful to be here and to have the time to readjust my spirit. 


Ash Wednesday Worship Service

I enter the chapel in darkness--
No, not darkness, but dimness
Which seems dark after a busy day.

Sights and sounds fill my senses:
Flickering votive candle lights within
Multi-colored glass,
Purple cloth adorning the walls
And draping over the cross,
The harsh reminder of
The crown of thorns,
Icons with glowing halos,
Crude, simple, poignant sketches
From the last week of Jesus' life,
Guitar strumming,
Violin bow hauntingly gliding,
Ancient words of the prophet read,
From the Psalms confession said...
Create a new and right heart.

Sorrow, tears.
Hope, love.

Ashes imposed,
Forehead dirtied,
Trinity named,
Sign of the cross made.