On Trump reportedly getting saved

Last week, James Dobson let us know that Donald Trump recently professed a newfound faith in Jesus. I’m not sure what Dobson’s intention was in making this public, but I’d like to suggest something to Christians who are inclined to immediately react in one direction or the other – to either scoff at this as a certain political ploy or to see it as some sort of new evidence that a vote for Trump might be a good idea for Christians after all. My suggestion: whatever you think of Trump or Dobson, it is ok to be measured, compassionate, nuanced, and discerning in your response.

At a personal level, we can set aside cynicism, assume the best, and embrace the man who professes faith. Really. We can. I’ve seen many people come to faith who I was prone to suspect as insincere, and that suspicion was at least as much about me as about them. This is no different. I mean, this is the goal, right? To see women and men have their lives changed by the good news – even and especially the ones who we think least likely? Time will demonstrate whether or not someone has truly given his life away; our cynicism and sarcasm simply aren’t necessary to speed that process along (a truth I forget or ignore far too often).

At a political level, I think it is wise to ask what meaning we are supposed to attach to Dobson’s announcement. First, this reveals that Trump’s prior claim to being “a great Christian” was either insincere or mistaken; it seems reasonable for Mr. Trump to clarify now by telling us which. (I know…it was kind of funny either way, but it apparently wasn’t true.) Second, this means he is a brand new believer, and Christians almost unanimously agree that a new faith would not qualify one for leadership in a context where credibility or authority is somehow derived from or enhanced by that faith. So we will be suspicious if professing Christians who long have held that position begin offering some sort of enhanced political endorsement of Trump based on this newfound faith, and I think that suspicion is based on discernment, not cynicism. And finally, we are 7.5 years into the tenure of a president whose long-standing and clear profession of faith in Jesus has meant nothing to most folks on the right in terms of his qualification to lead. It isn’t necessary to get into one’s opinion about Obama or his faith; it is sufficient to note that we have from certain quarters an established precedent that a professed faith alone is not a reason for Christians to rally behind a candidate. If we now get a different message from those quarters, something is amiss. And it’s ok to say so.

Wise as serpents. Innocent as doves. A man’s declaration of faith is no time to ridicule him personally. A candidate whose life and words are dramatically and defiantly askew of the model of Jesus suddenly claiming the faith of much of his desired constituency (and a scurry of surrogates suggesting this is a game-changer for that constituency) is certainly a time for questions and discernment.

Both are possible.

Best thing I saw today: June 1, 2016

From the unreasonably talented and kind Cindy Morgan: Beloved Nashville songwriter, producer & co-writer of the Broadway Hit Musical “Something Rotten” joins me on the porch to perform his Grammy Award Winning Song of the Year (performed by Eric Clapton) Change the World. Enjoy this episode of On the Porch with Wayne Kirkpatrick! (Something Rotten on Broadway / Wayne Kirkpatrick – The Junk Bunk)

In praise of Wendell Berry’s world


I have a confession: after years of publicly describing my affection for the writing of Wendell Berry, yesterday I finished Jayber Crow for the first time. I cried as discreetly as possible over the heartbreakingly beautiful final pages as I sat alongside this serene creek that feeds into the Cumberland River and among the less serene noises of my family and our friends playing in the creek. 

I’m convinced that Jayber may be Berry’s most important work, and I started reading it quite a long time ago. At times I couldn’t quit reading it; other times I was so afraid of coming to the end of it that I read very slowly or put it down for weeks. And then sometime last year, I found myself two chapters from the end, and I set it aside for many months. It never left my mind for more than a day or two, but I left the book unopened until yesterday. I’m not quite sure why yesterday. 

While I own dozens of half-read books, those remain unfinished because the author bored me or because I’m too easily bored. This was something else. This was an actual fear of leaving Jayber Crow’s world – or, more precisely, leaving the world as Jayber Crow experienced it.

Jayber’s world is Berry’s partly fictional community of Port William, Kentucky, and Berry has written enough novels and stories about that world to allow me to stay there for some years yet. If given that oft-fantasized choice to live in any real or imagined time and place I’ve known in my almost 41 years, I’m almost certain I would choose to live in Port William, Kentucky in the first half or so of the 20th century. 

That impulse isn’t escapism, exactly. Berry’s fiction is so powerful because it is so real. Port William is no utopia, but I see the world more clearly as it was meant to be in the simplicity, beauty, and brokenness of this tiny farming community along the river. I think I want to return there again and again (and would go there given the choice) not because it is free of darkness or hardship, but because I see a way back to innocence and forward to redemption in the light of Port William’s sun, in the shadows of its trees, and in the drifts of its snows. 

But Berry’s real gift to me (and to you if you know what’s good for you) is not that he creates a fantasy into which I can escape, but that he allows me to believe that the world once envisioned and created with care and beauty can be reimagined and recreated to its intended purpose. Today I might choose Port William, but the more time I spend in that world, the more hope I have for its beauty in my own. And that hope gives me the courage to choose and to love the world I’ve been given. 

Frederick Buechner on loving God

I can’t read this enough.

Nobody ever claimed the journey was going to be an easy one. It is not easy to love God with all your heart and soul and mind when much of the time you have all but forgotten his name. But to love God is not a goal we have to struggle toward on our own, because what at its heart the gospel is all about is that God himself moves us toward it even when we believe he has forsaken us.

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us — loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. And, loving him, we will come at last to love each other too so that, in the end, the name taped on every door will be the name of the one we love.

“And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you rise.”

And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every last one of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us. That is the promise, and the greatest of all promises.

A Christian Defense of my Retraction of A Christian Defense of Matt Walsh (which wasn’t actually a defense)

Tonight I shared and then deleted a link to a blog post (someone else’s, not mine) entitled “A Christian Defense of Matt Walsh.” When you click on the link, it takes you to a blank page. I thought it was funny. Honestly, I still do. I justified sharing it by noting that the edge in the post was fair given Walsh’s regular schtick: abrasive criticism of anyone who doesn’t see the world as he does. I ultimately took it down for three reasons: 

  1. Most importantly, I think it has become too easy and too common to fire generalized shots at people we don’t like, and though I kind of liked this one, it was still that.
  2. I don’t have time or energy or headspace to rent to Matt Walsh and any scrum that might pop up about him (there was no scrum yet, but scrums tend to follow that guy around). Just being honest.
  3. I realized the post is kind of a trap. If someone defending Walsh balked at its harshness, they would kind of have to pick whether they wanted to defend Walsh or oppose harshness, because it’s tough to do both. Even though that may be a fair point to make, I’m not interested in trapping my friends, even the ones who like Matt Walsh’s stuff. 

I do think humor and criticism can be good and fair, even in the church. And maybe this kind of thing is fine. But I’m more sensitive about these things than I used to be because they are happening in a broader culture that is rapidly losing the capacity for grace and is often just too darn lazy to really listen and enter into productive dialogue in disagreement. So the little barbs like this one don’t seem so little to me anymore, even if I think they are true…or true with appropriate context. 

But that context matters. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make a case that there is no truly Christian defense for much of what Walsh writes and how he writes it. I just think we’re all better off when that case is made with a little care and nuance. I’m not terribly familiar with the guy who authored the title of this blank post, but I suspect he has done some of that in other posts. Regular readers of his blog may have lots of context. But we are now all publishers in a viral/meme culture, so our provocative words are often and easily divorced from the context. 

Is this one a big deal? Probably not, and I don’t mean to attach artificial drama to it. It’s more fun to call someone a troll or be clever about their sin or silliness. It was more fun to just share the post and giggle each time someone liked it, imagining the look on each of their faces as they clicked on the link wondering whether they were going to have to defriend me, then waited for the text of the post to load, then got it. That was more fun. But then I was reminded that for all of my strong feelings about us learning to communicate with charity and grace, it’s still easy for my own bias to blind me to sins in myself that I immediately call BS on in others. And there is no Christian defense for that. 

A repost: Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel

[I originally wrote and published this in 2013. I reposted it on social media two weeks ago, and in response to a couple of requests, I’m simply copying it to the top of my site for easier access. There is nothing new here if you’ve already read it, though I’m working on a follow-up post that will go up either this week or, you know, by 2017. For now I will only add this: this post isn’t really about gay marriage. Or gay anything. Well, it is about those things, but it’s about lots of other things too. I confess that while I’ve been grateful so many people have read and shared this, I feel a bit conflicted because I am weary of so many of the artificial categories we (the Church especially) have created, and I don’t want to contribute to that. while i believe this particular conversation is an appropriate entry point to the conversation about posture, My appeal is meant to be broader with respect to any number of differences, real or perceived. More to come.]

 

Perhaps because of what I do for a living, I have been asked about gay marriage many times over the last couple of years. With very few exceptions, each of the questions I’ve been asked is some variation of the same question: What is your position on gay marriage? Some ask to make sure I’m on the right side of the issue; some ask because they are conflicted about which side is right, but they feel pressure to choose a side (and to choose the right side, obviously).

I understand the desire to be right. I understand the pressure to choose. I understand that right and wrong still matter. The question that all of the questions seem to be asking still makes sense to me.

And yet the more I am asked the question, the more I am convinced that we are so collectively obsessed with position we have forgotten that Jesus has at least as much to say about posture. My observation of the Church is that we usually give our first and best energies to formulating, asserting, and defending our positions, and on our most charitable days we footnote those positions with a small-print reminder to “speak the truth in love” or some such. And conveniently, we have so convinced ourselves that our positions are right that we believe the very act of articulating them is love. Posture is mostly an afterthought.

This is a problem, and it’s not a small one.

Orthodox Christian belief insists the Gospel is necessary because of God’s position on our broken ways of living (sin). But the heart of the good news is God’s posture toward us as we continue to break things, including ourselves.

My position on gay marriage is that we ought to respond to the world around us the way God responded to us when we didn’t do what He thought we should do. Even if we believe gay marriage is at odds with the way God intends us to live, and even when we feel compelled to say so, we ought to assume the same posture toward the world that God assumed toward us (and that He assumes toward the world). That posture looks something like this:

Diego-Velazquez-The-Crucifixion-Christ-on-the-Cross-Oil-Painting

If Christians have been convinced of anything, it is that…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But here’s the sucker-punch of a next sentence that we tend to ignore in our myopic rush to leverage our salvation to assume and assert correct positions in the world:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Paul describes God’s posture toward us this way:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And boy do we love that verse when it’s talking about Jesus dying for me.

But if it’s true that “whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did,” and “in this world we are like Jesus,” then the punch-line is unavoidable.

No matter how correct your position, if your posture toward a world you believe to be “still sinners” is anything other than a love that stubbornly refuses to condemn, but instead gives itself away to point to Jesus giving himself away, you are on your own. You are not standing on the truth of the scriptures or the shoulders of Jesus. Right position without the posture of God revealed in Jesus is not the Gospel.

Carry on with the discussions of gay marriage, morality, and culture. We need those conversations. Just remember that if we claim the name of Jesus, we are not ambassadors of moral positions or good behavior; we are ambassadors of a transcendent reconciliation possible only in Jesus, who made God’s love for sinners known not by a posture of condemnation, but of cross-shaped love.

A post-script word to those outside of the Church looking in: If you have been on the blunt end of a professing Christian’s position on this or another issue and were not shown the sacrificial posture of Jesus demonstrating God’s love for you, that person was not representing Jesus. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, but just as I have done dozens of times, they were confusing position, posture, and probably a few other things. They need Jesus as much as you do, and so do I. Forgive them and forgive me, please.

That ol’ boy Buzz, Ferguson, and me

This morning I climbed in a little white car with my youngest brother, his wife, and their three year-old daughter to begin the trek back from Nashville to Texas for Thanksgiving. We stopped for gas on the way out of town, and I wandered into the convenience store to browse the organic locally sourced peanut butter cracker section for breakfast. As I stood trying to decide which brand was likely to have the fewest number of carcinogens, I noticed a 50-something man (we’ll call him Buzz, because he looked like the kind of good-time Tennessee redneck who you ought to call Buzz) start to walk into the “beer cave” – the refrigerated room full of the various domestic pseudo-beers that keep a store like this in business. With one foot in the cave, a wave of self-consciousness seemed to stagger him and push him back out the door. He looked around, I’m almost certain, to see who was watching him go into the beer cave at ten in the morning. I tried hard to not be one of those people. Buzz then noticed there was a small section of beer outside the cave alongside the other cold drinks. He walked the drink aisle as though contemplating Dr. Pepper or organic locally sourced super water as an alternative to his original plan. He gradually drifted back to the beer corner, pulled out a six pack, and walked the long way around the store back to the register. Beer for breakfast it was.

Five years ago this scene would have tapped into a well of condescension and judgment in my heart. Even 18 months ago some of that same spirit of bewildered head-shaking likely would have emerged. I had heard about alcoholism and addiction. I had seen movies, read articles, and sympathized with those battling such demons. Sympathized in theory. When I came upon someone in the throes of drunkenness or poor decision making, my first thought was seldom sympathetic. I might get there eventually, but my reflex was rarely to think about that person’s story – wonder what led them to this moment of apparent foolishness or disregard for other people. But that was where my mind went today. I didn’t feel disdain or condescension for Buzz as he started into a six pack two hours before lunch. Mostly I wished I had the time and guts to introduce myself, go drink a beer with the guy, and listen to his story.

Why the change in my response?

For several months last year, someone we love very much who was battling alcoholism spent a lot of time with us. We lived and listened and just endured alongside her. We attended many AA and rehab meetings where we sat and listened to the stories of dozens and dozens of people who found themselves in the same fight. We saw some come and go – some gone for good, some gone and then back, pulling themselves off the mat to try again. And it changed me. It was a season of deep, rich, and sometimes difficult discovery – about other people, about life, about God, and about me. Perhaps the most staggering truth (and ultimately the most obvious one) that found me in that time was this: these people are me. I am them. Give me different parents, different trauma, different opportunity, different obstacles, one tiny sliver of different DNA, and I’m on the other side of this table telling my story while someone listens to me from the comfort of a privilege afforded them by none of their own doing – by a life free of the family or trauma or challenges or DNA that conspired to trap me in a system of broken physiology and thinking that, no matter how hard I try to navigate the system the way everyone says I should be able to, I cannot escape.

Which is to say I listened to people whose experiences and perspectives were different from mine, and I found myself in them. I discovered we were far more alike than the one obvious factor that placed us on opposite sides of an AA meeting would suggest. I learned to see something deeper than difference in a moment when difference is the easiest thing to see. I learned to ask questions. I learned to long to hear people’s stories in a new way. I learned that sometimes the people whose lives and behaviors seem the most absurd – most damanable – have lived so long in an avalanche of lies, abuse, disrespect, and broken relationships that they literally cannot conceive of a next step other than the one utter desperation demands. I learned that often the folks who I’m most prone to dismiss or discount are just me with a different wrinkle or two in their story, almost always wrinkles they didn’t choose.

As I watched through the dirty convenience store window, Buzz climbed into his truck, cracked the first beer free from the plastic ring, and drove away. I glanced down from the window and my eyes stopped on a newspaper. A camera had captured several black faces in a moment of visceral disgust and bewilderment as they heard the news in Ferguson last night. I looked at the anger and weariness in their eyes, surprised that instead of seeing people I ought to shake my head about, I saw that ol’ boy Buzz.

And I saw me.

On making people married

Last weekend I stood with Lisa and Jacob, two friends who are also sort of like my kids, and did something I’ve done about a dozen times: I spoke weighty words about marriage and, ultimately, affirmed their vows and declared them husband and wife, once and for all time.

Each time I perform a wedding, I am sobered by the gravity of what I will speak into being. My role in a wedding and the resulting marriage is relatively small, of course, but like many small things, I consider what I do sacred. What is happening is not about me at all, but I get to participate in the renewal and replanting of something eternal — to be a midwife of sorts as a new life emerges and to welcome that new life to the world that was made for it. If I am any use, it is in giving voice to transcendence and joining not only two lives, but also heaven and earth. The joy and meaning of that experience is deeply rooted in the life we have shared with these women and men and the life we share with them in their married years. And, of course, the older I get, the more aware I become that the fruit of these marriages will outlast me.

I’ve never really found words that describe how I feel about my (and, as a community our) role in all of that, but recently in Wendell Berry’s collection of poems The Country of Marriage, I found some that come close.

Planting Trees

In the mating of trees,
the pollen grain entering the invisible
the domed room of the winds, survives
the ghost of the old forest
that was here when we came. The ground
invites it, and it will not be gone.
I become the familiar of that ghost
and its ally, carrying in a bucket
twenty trees smaller than weeds,
and I plant them along the way
of the departure of the of ancient host.
I return to the ground its original music.
It will rise out of the horizon
of the grass, and over the heads
of the weeds, and it will rise over
the horizon of men’s heads. As I age
in the world it will rise and spread,
and be for this place horizon
and orison, the voice of its winds.
I have made myself a dream to dream
of its rising, that has gentled my nights.
Let me desire and wish well the life
these trees may live when I
no longer rise in the mornings
to be pleased by the green of them
shining, and their shadows on the ground,
and the sound of the wind in them.

secret

A man said the terrible thing; that is the news today.
It was months ago, it seems — dim words mumbled in secret,
Only there is no secret, not for him, not for anyone.
So we disguise our delight with outrage, again.

We abhor him for his sin, except we don’t.
We love him, secretly thank him for being the ugly we aren’t —
Only there is no secret, not for us, not for anyone.
Our disgust is our song of gratitude: praise the fool that I’m not him!

And his words are indeed a fool’s — cockeyed, clanging.
The absurdity of his transgressions, sensational.
Which is quite how we like our offenders —
What good are they if not for giving sensation?

We’ll take fear now and then, a disruption of our boredom,
But we prefer inflated indignation, the gateway to our secret world
Where we dabble in the profane under the cover of shock;
Only there is no secret, not for us, not for our senses.

And yet we try, exhausting the vocabulary of offense,
Feebly disguising our relief that there is one more half-wit
With half our wit and twice our exposure
Or at least one whose missing half was exposed before ours.

And that is the secret where there is no secret,
That his shame is our sigh of relief.
More eyes on someone else’s secrets,
A stay of my execution, my own uncovering.

But someone does die now, and not just the fool.
True moral instinct is gasping its last,
Bled dry by the repeating refrain:
We’ve never seen worse; who could be worse?

Worse than an old man, afraid of dark skin?
Afraid of his own wife — or of fidelity, at least?
Worse than nonsensical rambling about
How his world is still flat, the universe revolving about it?

But we know; we know this sad coot is the relic, not the root.
We know this is the knucklehead stuff, but convenient,
Pitiful enough to demand the damning and
To distract the bleating herd from the other.

So the other stays secret until it finds that there is no secret,
There is only the drunken illusion, fueled by our binging
On the sensation of the fool: I am not worse.
But there is no secret, not for me, not for you.

 

Epilogue: As I endeavor to grow as a writer and a human, I’m pushing into some new territory like this – verse, poetry, song(lyric)writing, and so forth. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collaborating with someone else on something that actually culminated in something finished and something pretty good. Perhaps one day you’ll even get to hear it. For now the point is that something in that process helped me finally unlock a door I’d been trying to find a way around for a long time. I’m not sure how much is on the other side of that door or what it will be good for, but for the time being, I’m not too worried about that. It’s just nice to have a new room to explore.

And because I’ve always operated in prose, one of the tricks of getting into this space for me is, at least some of the time, trying to write what it is I’m trying to communicate in as clear a “how I would say it” way as possible. Ross has tried to push me in that way for a long time, and Andy Gullahorn, who is a ninja of a songwriter, offers that counsel to others constantly: Just write it like you would say it. That’s often not the final form, and it’s almost always woefully inadequate, but it sort of melts the ice enough for the water to start flowing. And, by the way, that inadequacy is, I think, is one of the cases for verse and poetry. There are things that can’t be said in prose that poetry, while it also cannot exhaustively express them, can offer a window through which we can see what can’t be said.

Anyway, for those interested in the process and/or for those who find poetry too nebulous and prefer someone to just say what they mean at all times, below is the very rough, more straightforward bit I wrote that helped me find my way into this. It is purposefully unedited, first-thought sort of stuff.

When someone does something really awful, especially in an area that culturally we have labeled as particularly shameful, we suddenly become indulgently moral creatures. Never mind that minutes before we learned of that person’s offense, we dabbled in “smaller” immoralities: spending money we should give away, tweaking the truth just so to preserve the .2% of our reputation that the truth might cost us, wishing we had what she had, wishing we had her to gratify our own desires. We didn’t do what this guy did. We didn’t speak the unspeakable. (We just did the unspeakable in a small, secret way.) This is the convenience of a world in which famous indiscretions are available to us in never ending supply and excruciating detail, though decidedly inconvenient for our souls. We get drunk on the brokenness of others so as to numb ourselves to our own accommodations of brokenness in our hearts. And the more we drink, the more we lose of both our own truth and of our collective sense of authentic moral indignation. 

…to dust you shall return: an Ash Wednesday confession

I’m a 38-year old pastor, and I attended my first Ash Wednesday service a few hours ago.

I did not become a Christian (or a pastor) within the last 364 days. I’ve simply spent my entire lifetime of Christianing in tribes whose liturgy has not made space for this ritual. I was well into adulthood before I realized it wasn’t an exclusively Catholic practice, and while I crosswas not raised to be particularly suspicious of Catholicism (I recall my dad taking grief from a few deacons and other grumblers in our small town West Texas baptist church when he and a few other pastors included the local Catholic priest in the community-wide Easter sunrise service), I admit that I made no real connections between my own faith and the sight of ashes on the foreheads of my Catholic friends. I suppose I just thought it was something weird they did at their church; God knows (and so did I, even as a kid) we did lots of weird things at our church.

[Topic-relevant case-in-point: One year my brother, Will, and I split the role of Jesus in the church Easter cantata — me the mostly-naked (in front of all of my classmates), dying and then dead Jesus with a bad wig and fake beard on the cross, and Will the resurrected, glittered (yes!) Jesus with a bad wig and fake beard. See, weird. And let’s be honest: I could have stopped at the word cantata and we would’ve had all the weird we need.]

In more recent years, I’ve lived among and helped lead a community of Jesus-types that resides somewhere in the sparsely populated terrain between the evangelical mainstream, the institution-defecting home churchers, and various spiritual traditions steeped in more ancient Church liturgy (and between lots of other things, too). Though we continue to recover some of the beautiful rhythms of communal worship and formation that we lost along the way (most of them well preserved by that latter group), including the observance of Advent and Lent, we are still finding our way through our inexperience and ignorance and simple discomfort, discerning what is and what is not meant for us, for now. And, at least for now, we haven’t started burning palm branches and rubbing the ashes on one another’s heads.

So I don’t know which you’ll find stranger – that I have spent nearly forty years in the Church and never have experienced this sacred start to the forty days of immersion in the suffering and death of Jesus or that as the pastor of a 15-year old church that doesn’t really observe Ash Wednesday, I wandered into a 100-year old building housing a 150-year old Episcopal congregation and had a priest I’ve never met cross my forehead with ashes.

I find both a little strange, so take your pick.

But today I needed to hear someone say to me: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It occurs to me that perhaps you’ll find that the strangest confession of all.

I needed that for a thousand jumbled reasons, but mostly I needed it because it is true.

I have spent days—no, weeks…months immersed in the truth that I have very little to do with my existing; my being what I am, being anything at all, is completely beyond my control. Sure, I can poke and prod at the life I’ve been given and change its shape and its trajectory a bit. But my simply being is not up to me. I didn’t bring me about, and I cannot fend off my ceasing to be as I am. I am living, yes, and in some sense living as I choose to live, but just as surely I am dying.

Today I needed my body and soul to enter the ritual of that truth: the words, the smear of ashes, the cross, the bread, the wine. I needed the sound of death. I needed its feel, its shape, and its taste. I needed it not because I want it, but because it is true, and a life detached from the truth is over long before any physical death.

I am dying — and I am dying a thousand little deaths on my way to the one that ultimately will return me to dust.

“This,” you say, “is why we don’t do Ash Wednesday. We’ve been saved from all this darkness and death.”

Except we haven’t just been saved from it. We’ve been saved by it. We’ve been saved through it. Our hope is not that God will keep us from death, but that Jesus, acquainted with the way, will walk with us in our dying. That he will not just show up at the end and declare us exempt, but that he will carry us through death. That he will not simply give us a fantasy of never dying, but that he will give us the imagination to see the life we gain in our death — and in our many deaths along the way. That he will remind us that we are alive because he raised us from dust, and that we can only be fully alive if we trust him to raise us from dust again.

So I died a little more today, starting with my illusion, long fed by busyness and distraction and fear and denial, that I am more than dust – that I am not dying. What remains in the ashes of that death is the truth spoken by the God who crafts life from dust by way of death, the God who invites us to find life by losing it:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.