Living out Lent and Life

I’m reading the book, Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reason Why Women Run by Kristin Armstrong, ex-wife of Lance Armstrong. I cringe writing that because this is not how she should be known. She’s an avid runner, talented writer, and a dedicated mother devoted to her faith. It’s not solely a book about running as it is about family, friends, fears, faith, goals, etc. and how running has helped her face them all. It’s filled with stories taken from her entries from her blog on Runner’s World

The whole book has been an inspiration but a couple of her insights have really challenged me and I want to share this with you in my next couple of blogs.

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Shadow and Light: Thoughts on Route to Easter

Five long weeks of Lent, and yet one more, as we move through Holy Week toward the events of Easter. Why observe Lent? And why so long, when it seems so very long, these five weeks and more of a bare, unadorned church, of the disciplines of self-denial and self-examination?

Lent is indeed too long – too long for me to go on my own strength and resources. It is long enough for me to feel the initial enthusiasm of self-discipline, and past it, the weakness of failure. Lent is long enough for me to see my own weakness. Long enough to say, What’s the point? Why keep struggling on?

Lent cuts through our too-quick assurances of peace and joy; forces us to recognize that the pain of the world, and our own pain, cannot be salved by a cheery Bible verse or a hearty exhortation to rejoice.

The Spiritual Discipline of Liturgical Prayer

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul gives us a bracing challenge: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Pray without ceasing! How is that even possible? 

There are many ways to approach the idea of constant prayer, but one way that Anglicans all over the world have used fruitfully is to pray what is known as the "Daily Office" for Morning and/or Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is a liturgical style of prayer, meaning that there is a set structure for the prayer service.The Daily Office is structured around Scripture readings, in a framework of traditional written prayers (most of which draw specifically on Bible verses for their language), with “space” built in for extemporaneous, personal prayer. The Anglican / Episcopalian liturgy for Morning Prayer or for Evening Prayer has a number of different options, so by making choices about what to include and what to skip, each individual can personalize the Daily Office to fit different preferences and amounts of time, from 15 minutes to... however long you want to pray!

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Solidarity in Opposites: A Lenten Contemplation

This past Thursday, Nate and I took the metro into downtown LA for the monthly art walk event.  Dozens of business and stark empty halls transform into colorful displays as dusk approaches. 

First, we found our way to the menagerie of food trucks nestled tightly together in vacant parking lots.  Now full with colorful doors and windows shaping an eclectic food court, we were almost paralyzed by our options: pulled pork, creative wraps, dim sum, fusion tacos. It was a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose for sure.

After our bellies were content from the Lobster Truck and French Fried Chicken Truck, we meandered through the different art galleries.  We pondered the meaning of someone taking old scraps and binding them together with glue and paint to make a wonderful art statement.  We were also struck by the notion that in a city struggling to redefine itself, we were instantly handed maps to art walk despite the others walking by too.  Did we stick out that much? 

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More Than 40 Days

Today marks the beginning of Lent and many people will begin giving up something they really enjoy as a point of focus and preparation for Easter.  Typically we give up things like coffee, television, Twitter, Facebook, a certain food, etc.  I think this can be a very good challenge, but let’s not get it twisted.

These are not “sacrifices,” they are setting aside a luxury that few people in the world get to enjoy.  They can be a focusing point for us and for a brand new believer this might be a very good first step.  But someone who has been following Jesus for a while shouldn’t view giving up these little luxuries as a sacrifice and ought to be very leery of feeling super spiritual because they gave them up for 40 days.

Consider putting forth an intentionally gospel focused challenge for yourself this Lent season.

Four Friends and a Funeral

On a recent Saturday, I attended a funeral to honor the passing of a friend’s mom. All I knew driving to the funeral was that she died of cancer, and that funerals are almost always sad. This particular day proved the latter wrong.

People say, or at least I’ve heard it said, that funerals bring people and memories together. The strange thing with this funeral is that I hardly knew my friend’s mom. All I wanted to do was support my friend through what has been a tough year. I decided to carpool with four friends, all of which shared the same sentiment: support our friend during this time of loss.

If you Google mapped our journey, it began in New York City to North Jersey to a quick stop at a rest area for gas and coffee and then a straight shot down the New Jersey Turnpike toward Princeton. During our drive, the five of us caught up on life, discussed various current events, commented on the blandness of the Turnpike scenery and then before you knew it, arrived at our destination.
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Ashes to Ashes: a perfectionist's take on lent

As I sat in Ash Wednesday service this evening, it was brought to my attention that there were millions who did the same today.  It moved me to think of the human race all with ashes on their foreheads representing individual and communal lamentation.

I love traditions, especially ones that have been passed down over thousands of years. There is a rich legacy in this day around the world that should not be taken lightly. In the past few years, I have removed myself from the common lenten practices of giving something up, fasting, or taking something on.  For me it became a crutch to my addiction: I must do lent perfectly; if I miss a day or don't do something right, I will fail and disappoint. 

Don't get me wrong, lent is about the discipline of showing up to a practice that is chosen with discernment and contemplation in the Spirit.  But the process that seeped through for me became more about my performance for God than opening myself up to God.

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Lent, Self-Denial, Life, Bonhoeffer

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. One of my favorite days on the liturgical calendar. I plan to attend a wonderfully solemn church service Wednesday night, receive the ash cross on my forehead, and kick off my as-yet-determined Lenten “give up” fast.

Lent is a great, ancient Christian tradition, and a favorite of any Christian who likes to dabble in the monastic custom of “going without” for the sake of Christ.

But as much as self-denial and ascetic commitment can be good, virtuous endeavors, they can easily become just another way to puff oneself up, to proudly show the world just how capably you have given up certain pleasures in pursuit of Christ. “Look what I’m giving up for Lent! … Look at what a martyr I am! Aren’t I great?”

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Miles to go Before I Sleep

The middle of Lent. 17 more days until Easter. It’s a time of waiting, anticipation, sadness and hope. It’s wearying and rejuvenating in awkward intervals. It’s Psalm 88 one minute and 89 the next.

It’s life.

My life has been crazy busy lately, though it’s nothing really new, and it’s not like everyone else in the world doesn’t feel the same way. We’re all busy. Life is always on the brink of being too much to handle. For everyone everywhere at every time in history, it’s been a struggle.

Today I was thinking about how grandiose and overwhelming existence is. There is so much wonder and beauty to be experienced, so many roses to be smelled, so many puppies to be pet, so many interesting variations on earth and sky to be seen. It’s downright daunting. Just when you think you’ve seen the best thing— Boom! There’s something better. Around every corner and at nearly ever turn, there are new adventures and new experiences to have. New lessons to learn. People to meet.

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Coffee and Easter

I gave up coffee for Lent. That’s coffee as in drip coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, and anything of the sort—both caffeinated and decaf. It’s been horrible. I mean, I must have been addicted to coffee or something, because it has been a struggle everyday these past few weeks to not drink it. One major problem is that my office is right outside the department’s coffee machine, so I smell it wafting in every morning, like one of those vintage “Peter comes home for Christmas” Folgers commercials. And it doesn’t help that I spend many of my weeknights writing at various coffeeshops, where variations on tea or chai can only go so far to filling that “keep me awake and vibrant” need…

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