Ash Wednesday

I love Ash Wednesday! Avery (our 5 year old) loves Ash Wednesday, too. I miss not being in Kansas in order to go to a service with Avery and then enjoying brownies from Starbucks afterwards.

Ash Wednesday is a radical act, a jarring experience for the worshipper. We are reminded of our frailty in the midst of our fantasies of transcendence. In an age where one can nearly upload their consciousness to a cloud of memory and escape the limits of death, it is to our advantage that we gather around ashes and to be reminded of our limits are creatures before a loving Creator.

Ash Wednesday may be the only time we let a stranger touch our face as they place dirty ashes on our foreheads. Think about that, a stranger touching your forehead on any other occasion would be creepy. Ash Wednesday allows us to be disarmed, to be cracked upon to hear the voice of redemptive love.

Henri Nouwen’s prayer for Ash Wednesday is important:

“I truly want to follow you (Jesus), but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to those voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.”

To those of us who choose to live calculated and careful lives, Ash Wednesday initiates us into where we reflect on God’s reckless pursuit of a lost humanity. Ash Wednesday helps us to see that God not only raises the dead, but also raises the living.

Our celebration of resurrection at Easter needs to be proceeded by our reflection of death, including the dead places within ourselves. May we reflect with sobriety and hope this Lenten season.


Skillen Family News

Our family has some news that we’d like to share with you. We’ve shared this with some friends and family, maybe not everyone that we would have liked to before a general Facebook/Blog/Twitter announcement was dispatched. Sorry if it didn’t get to you in the way that you would have expected from us.

I guess I am going to do the “WSP” method (Word, Sentence, Paragraph) for the news breaking.

In a Word– Atlanta!

In a Sentence– The Skillens are moving to Atlanta because I got a Teaching Pastor position at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. (www.peachtreepres.org)

In a Paragraph (or two)- I will begin work at Peachtree in February, we are needing to sell a house in Wichita as we begin to hunt for a new place to live in Atlanta. If you know of anyone who may be looking to move into the Maize school district and are looking for a spacious 4 Bed (5 if you count the downstairs bedroom) 3.5 bathroom house with the coolest neighbors imaginable, let us know.

This is a huge leap of faith for us. Ginger and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage this April. We’ve been thrilled to be near extended family as our new family has emerged. Living in a different state is outside of our comfort zone. However, as we met several of the folks from Peachtree and found out more about the Teaching Pastor position, we felt our hearts swell with excitement.

We appreciate your prayers as we grapple with plans and to-do lists and migrating South. If you ever find yourself in the ATL area, we’ll keep the light on for you. (Well… most of you.)


Rohr’s Everything Belongs Coda

I enjoyed Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs and his Conclusion chapter. He put a few bullet points together to summarize the main points. I’m putting them down, here, so I can keep them handy. Read further if you are interested:

– God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things, exactly where we do not want to look for God. The crucifixion of the God-Man is at the same moment the worst thing in human history and the best thing in human history.

– Human Existence is neither perfectly consistent (what rational and control-needy people usually demand), nor is it incoherent chaos (what cynics, agnostics, and unaware people expect), but instead human life has a cruciform pattern. It is a “coincidence of opposites,” a collision of cross-purposes; we are all filled with contradictions needing to be reconciled.

– The price that we pay for holding together these opposites is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus himself was crucified between a good their and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his humanity and his divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, expelled as the problem by both religion and state. He rejected none of these, but “reconciled all things in himself.” (Eph. 2:10)

– Christians call this pattern, “the paschal mystery”: true life comes only through death journey wherein we learn who God is for us. Letting go is the nature of all true spirituality and transformation, summed up in the mythic phrase: “Christ is dying. Christ is risen. Christ will ever come again.”

– Do not be surprised or scandalized by the sinful and the tragic. Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming new creation” ourselves (Gal. 6:15).

– Resist all utopian ideologies and heroic idealisms that are not tempered by patience and taught by all that is broken, flawed, sinful, and poor. Jesus is an utter realist and does not exclude the problem from the solution. Work for win/win situations. Mistrust all win/lose dichotomies.

– The following of Jesus is not as much a “salvation scheme” or a means of creating social order (which appears to be what most folks want religion for), as much as it is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. Jesus did not come to create a spiritual elite or an exclusionary system for people who “like” religion, but he invited people to “follow” him in bearing the mystery of human death and resurrection (an almost nonreligious task, but one that can be done only “through, with, and in” God).

– Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, which is both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation with themselves – these are the followers of Jesus: the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is the dramatic image of what it takes to be such a useable one for God.

– These few are enough to keep the world from its path towards greed, violence, and self-destruction. God is calling everyone and everything Home. God just needs some instruments and images who are willing to be “conformed unto the pattern of his death” and transformed into the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). They are not “saved” as much as chosen, used, purified, and beloved by God – just like Jesus, who did it first and invited us to “the great parade.”

– Institutional religion is a humanly necessary but also immature manifestation of this “hidden mystery” by which God is saving the world. History seems to make both the necessity and the immaturity glaringly apparent, which upsets both progressives and conservatives. Institutional religion is never an end in itself, but merely a wondrous and “uncertain trumpet” of the message.

– By God’s choice and grace, many seem to be living the mystery of the suffering and joy of God who do not formally belong to any church. And many who have been formally baptized have never chosen to “drink from the cup that I must drink or be baptized with the baptism that I must be baptized with” (Mark 10:38).

– The doctrine, folly, and image of the cross is the great clarifier and truth-speaker for all of human history. We can rightly speak of being “saved” by it. Jesus Crucified and Resurrected is the whole pattern revealed, named, effected, and promised for our own lives. If we can say yes to this “Vulnerable Name for God,” there will be no more surprises for our mind and no more victims for history.

– The contemplative mind is the only mind big enough to see this, and the only seeing that is surrendered enough to trust it. The calculative mind will merely continue to create dualisms, win/lose scenarios, imperial ego, and necessary victims. It cannot get out of its own illogical loop. Einstein put it this way: “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it.”

– God has given us a new consciousness in what we call “prayer” and an utterly unexpected, maybe even unwanted, explanation in what we call “the cross.”


To the Center

I started Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer today. One of the opening pages asks some haunting questions-

How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess?
How do you talk descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?

This is not going to work (which might be the first step).

Instead of thinking that everything should be up-and-to-the-right, let’s dream of a journey of inward-and-to-the-center.


Compassion for Yourselves

I saw this quotation from St. Teresa of Avila today and I thought that it was fantastic.

“Oh, souls set free by the blood of Christ! Learn to understand yourselves. Have compassion for yourselves.”

This seems to be a helpful substitute, in my opinion, for the phrase that we use and/or hear “I need to forgive myself.”

From a Christian perspective, in my opinion, we can trust in God’s forgiveness towards us instead of seeking to forgive ourselves. Our best day of forgiving ourselves is faintly affective in comparison to God’s ability and desire to forgive.

When I hear people say, “I just need to forgive myself,” I can hear what they are saying and find that it works in an appropriate way. This whole thing is probably semantics.

I guess for my own life and for those that’d seek counsel from me, I’ll use this neat phrase from St. Teresa: “Have compassion for yourself.”


Rohr, Sermon on the Mount

Rohr

I’m reading through the “Richard Rohr Corpus” or at least as many of Rohr’s books that I can get. This is a subtle hint for Christmas presents.

Rohr’s second book, Jesus’ Plan for a New World, interacts with Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. It has been an incredible book, one that I wished everyone would read but most will be uninterested to do so. Rohr is a prophet, not in a bizarre, ecstatic way, but in a disarming and deconstructive type of way. There are atom bomb-type thoughts on every page. Readers be encouraged; readers beware, this book will spook you.

He had a bullet-point summary of the gospel (or at least its ramifications) in the first half of the book. I wanted to capture it here so I can have it tucked away,

My point here is that the gospel is not primarily a set of facts but a way of seeing and a way of being in the world because of God. Jesus speaks to the heart, saying (1) God is on your side; (2) God can be trusted; (3) the universe is safe and benevolent; (4) trust yourselves, one another and God; (5) there is no reason to be afraid; (6) it’s all headed toward something good! He does this primarily by touch, relationship, healing and parables. (66)


Helping and Not Marginalizing (Quotation)

This quotation was in Common Prayer this morning. It spoke to me; it might speak to someone else (especially those who have to have people to help!).

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written,

“To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”


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