Lent: It’s not a diet.

For a season ends in darkness at the foot of the cross, Lent sure attracts a lot of attention. But it’s divorced from the emphasis on human mortality, Lent is sure to draw all kinds of “tourists.”

Lent is not a time for the latest diet fad or merelyabstaining from soda or candy then posting about it on social media. It’s really no longer Lent at that point. In fact, Jesus has some pointed words about such a practice.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Matthew 6:16

When observed in context, beginning with the imposition of ashes (Ash Wednesday) and culminating with the service of darkness (Tenebrae), these 40 days can truly provide an opportunity for penance and transformation.  Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness challenged his very being allowing him to emerge with a calling that would bring Good News to all people everywhere. The Lenten journey is not about self-serving piety but about meaningful self-reflection and sacrifice.

What to “give up” for Lent you ask? Start with something risky and pray (in private) for God’s reign on Earth as it is in heaven. Then do something dangerous and act on it. It’s time we sacrifice hearts of stone for those full of compassion. It’s time we give up our indifference in exchange for Christ-like empathy. It’s time we lay our mere tolerance at the altar and engage in full Christian inclusivity and hospitality. It’s time we stop being idle enablers of injustice and embrace, perhaps for the first time, the Way of Jesus Christ. It’s like the prophet said:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:8

Advent Preppers

John went into the wilderness proclaiming:
“as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. ’” (Luke 3, Year C, Advent 2)

Advent is the beginning of the Christian liturgical year. It is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Christ child. So, what does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord? What does it look like? Sound like?

  • Does it look like a stockpile of guns and ammunition?
  • Doe is look like the gift of a weapon, of any kind, under the Christmas tree?
  • Does it look like a group of citizens standing outside a Mosque armed with assault weapons?
  • Does it sound like a preacher calling for the deaths of Muslims?
  • Does it sound like the empty prayers of politicians who stand before the public like whitewashed tombs but do nothing to stop the slaughter of the innocents?
  • Does it sound like speech that is xenophobic, incites fear, and dehumanizes?

No. Those are the actions people who are preparing for violence and death.

Preparing the way for the Christ means, like John the Baptizer, proclaiming the Good News in the wilderness that is our world . . .

            A wilderness that did not come from God
            a jungle that has been caused by innumerable
            human decisions that are 
            decisions that have created havoc on the lives of many. . .

           It means proclaiming that  Jesus is going to bring a total difference
          and will only be realized when justice and integrity are victorious.
          Then, and only then, will the whole of human kind will be saved.
                                  “In the Wilderness,” by Joseph G. Donders, adapted.

For the Christian, welcoming the Christ child involves a different kind of preparation. It means being “cut to the bone ” ( Donders) and facing the reality of our world’s current condition. It means humbling ourselves and being open to the possibility of mercy, forgiveness, and peace. 

People will prepare how they will in these times. But we must know the difference  between the kind of preparation that leads to fear and death . . . and the preparation that leads to life.

The world is not interested in us.

[Eliezer to his father] “I could not believe that human beings were being burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes…”

“The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria…”  Elie Wiesel, Night.

We live in a world where, yes, the gas chamber and the crematoria is possible.  So, we should not be surprised at what we see today. The world has been playing this game of chess for a long, long time. The only thing that changes are the faces on the pawns and the manner in which we abuse them.

One foe will send its pawns into a crowded cafe strapped with “the Mother of Satan.”

Another foe will send its pawns to war and welcome the survivors home with park bench for a bed.

As for those who flee the horror, being volleyed this way and that, they are not welcome. For them there is no refuge, no sanctuary.

. . .because the world is not interested and everything is possible.



Why I’m Not Giving Up Beer for Lent

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with updates from friends and acquaintances announcing what they are doing for Lent. Some are using it as a time of sacrifice, while others are being moved to action. 

Curiously, I meet more and more folks who are drawn to the season of Lent; some aren’t even Christian. Maybe it’s the appeal of a designated time for self-reflection. Christian or not, it is appropriate to enter the next few weeks with an awareness of Lent’s significance to the Christian faith.

The season observes the roughly forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the “evil one” and immersed in self-examination. We have limited testimony to Jesus’s words and thoughts. But his was a journey that helped refine his identify and purpose for this world.

Jesus emerged from his wilderness wandering transformed; he was ready to challenge oppressive paradigms, reach out to the the poor, and offer grace and forgiveness to those labeled “unclean” by others. He taught people how to pray and what people should really be praying for: daily food, justice, and forgiveness. He refused to take part in violence. He refused to give in to conventional forms of power and greed- and he had sharp words for those who did. He radicalized what it meant to be a neighbor. His embrace of the “other” was wide and his love for the unloveable deep. He ate meals with the unwanted. He didn’t even put up a fight when he was falsely accused, convicted and given the death penalty. This was the life he modeled.

Lent, particularly for Christians, is a spiritual journey to the foot of the cross. It begins with the acknowledgement of our mortality: our limited time. The hope is that the journey is a transformative one: that we each come out on the other side changed, renewed, and ready to respond to the one who beacons, “Follow me.”

Whatever your reason for choosing to observe Lent, I hope you made a commitment that will challenge and transform your inner being. May that transformation result in a greater self- awareness and a deeper sense of compassion and justice.

Oh, right, you started reading this because you wanted to know why I’m not giving up beer for Lent. That’s easy: St. Patrick’s Day. I’m parting with red meat instead.  There are a couple of other commitments but those are between me and God.


Christmastide Day 1: Humble beginnings

The way we like to interpret the birth of Jesus is that Mary and Joseph were poor.   All we really know is there just wasn’t enough room in the inn.  They tried to get a room so they obviously had enough for a night in a first century hotel in Bethlehem.  It’s a detail that doesn’t really matter.  There are weightier matters at work in this story.

The ancient prophet Micah once wrote the beloved words, “walk humbly with your God.”  What could be more humbling than for two parents, penniless or not, to have no other option than to lay their newborn child in a feeding trough? These humble beginnings are woven in the words and deeds of Jesus to the very end.  Through his humble nature some are lifted up, while others are brought down alongside the rest of humanity (and rightly so).

Once again God works through an unlikely scenario- in this case an unlikely child.

So, for those of us who celebrate the birth of Jesus today and claim to be his followers,  it would serve us well to, once again, be reminded it isn’t about the one we see in the mirror.  This child will spend the rest of his earthly life trying to get those who will listen to see “others” and teach people to embrace those “others” with dignity, respect, and mercy, particularly those without the means and voice to advocate for themselves.

So, in the spirit of how it began, walk humbly my friends.  Prepare for the unexpected.  Embrace the other.

A Different Kind of Christmas

The Christian liturgical year ended appropriately with Matthew 25. In this passage known as the “Judgment of the Nations” Jesus declares the criteria for separating the sheep from the goats. Curiously (or not), they have nothing to do with whom one marries, the music one listens to, the company one keeps, or the dogma one subscribes to. Instead, they have everything to do with how we (collectively) treat the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, the thirsty, and the stranger.

For Christians these words are timely as the Advent and Christmas seasons begin November 27. These are challenging times for the Christian community. I would submit that the words of Matthew 25 gain relevance when the church (collectively) moves to distinguish itself from the consumer orgy that commences the day after Thanksgiving, culturally known as “Black Friday.” This doesn’t mean gift giving must cease.

There is great joy in the act of selecting, giving, and receiving of gifts. Even so, it impossible to deny that the hijacking of Christmas by the consumer mentality has cheapened the gift in the manger. We have purchased unwanted gifts, re-gifted, swapped gifts cards, and, in many cases, increased our debt in the name of what? It certainly isn’t in the name of the Gospel, Christmas, or Christianity. We are called to be something different.

Thankfully, hope has emerged in recent history through alternative gift giving. Fair trade gifts can be purchased through organizations like Ten Thousand Villages or local, fair trade, gift shops like From the Ends of the Earth in Dallas, Texas. I have found the folks at Advent Conspiracy to be particularly inspirational. Committed to building clean water wells, Advent Conspiracy has challenged Christians to view Advent and Christmas as a time to embrace their call to be justice oriented people (their video posted below).

The “holiday season” as it is celebrated in our culture through gift buying, parties and beautiful decor throughout cities everywhere is a wonderful time to celebrate the relationships in our lives. And there’s nothing that says a Christian shouldn’t participate. Yes, engage in the joy of gift exchange. Just don’t buy so many! The Advent/Christmas cycle reminds us that the gift in the manager calls us to a different kind of life. A life that is simpler. A life that celebrates generosity over consumption. A life that engages in acts of justice, love, and compassion.

So, find a local church offering an “Alternative Gift Market.” Host a “Wine to Water” party and help fund a clean water well. Buy a beehive from Heifer International to increase the pollination of the crops in an impoverished village.

Whatever you choose make it a Christmas that embraces the call of the Christ-child to engage this world justly, compassionately and mercifully.

Have a joyful and meaningful season!

Prayer of a Starving Child

“Answer of a Starving Child to the question ‘Who is Jesus Christ?'”

To this question, the Ghanaian child answers, “Oh! Jesus. I have heard of that name. You say he is the Life of the world. Life! But I am hungry. I am lifeless. There is no milk in my mother’s breasts. She is sick and weak. They tell me that some people called ‘Red Cross’ are sending or have sent some powdered milk. But I am hungry. I am dying. You say Jesus is the Life of the World? But I am dying. Can Jesus help to keep me alive?~From Desmond Tutu’s “An African Prayer Book”

The famine in Africa is a global problem. A global responsibility.  There are many ways to give. Here are two of my favorites.  Click on the logo to learn and give.