ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Lent in Western PA

We have journeyed through another Lenten season (and April Fools Day!). It always fascinates me to see how people interact with it. Usually, I end up being amused by the proliferation of fish-related food and the lack of recognition of what’s really going on.

This year, I decided to tweet my thoughts on how Lent is observed near my new home in Western Pennsylvania. Now that it’s over, I wanted to gather them all into one place. Without further ado, #LentInWesternPA…

And for good measure, here is my favorite Lenten haiku related to this year’s lectionary. It may or may not be applicable to #LentInWesternPA. I’ll let you decide.

Resurrection blessings, everyone!


Storing up treasures

Lent began this past week with Ash Wednesday lectionary readings coming from Matthew (among other places):

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6.19-21

And on Wednesday, I also happened to read Wendell Berry’s thoughts on storing up treasures. I’m often concerned by Christianity’s impulse to leave this world behind, so I appreciated his words:


It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

(from A Part by Wendell Berry. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.)

(Incidentally, my sister has chosen A Part as our family’s book of the year. I’m going to enjoy this one. Also, you can hear Garrison Keillor read Goods on the “Writer’s Almanac” podcast for March 18, 2012.)

This week around the camp… 29 January 2013

The weather roller coaster of January 2013 continues. Last week we had single digit (°F) temperatures. Today and tomorrow, we’re topping out over 60 °F. And then it gets colder again.

Forecast - 29 January 2013Although Jacob’s Creek had nearly iced over, it is now flowing vigorously with the snow melt and yesterday’s rain.

Jacob's Creek with snow meltAnd with the warmer temperatures come some adventuresome plants:

I’m not sure about all of these, but I think we have Helleborus (Lenten Rose), Galanthus (Snowdrop), and Narcissus (Daffodil).

Finally, I had meant to mention the tulip poplars two weeks ago. I was writing about trees with easily identifiable winter features – like the retention of dead leaves. Tulip poplars are also quickly spotted right now. (Well – they’re actually pretty obvious year-round because of their tall, straight shape.) But right now they’re topped off with seeds that look like dried flowers.

Tulip poplar seedsI couldn’t get a close-up, so here’s a lovely picture from Wikipedia:

Tulip poplar seeds

(Photo by Didier Descouens)

That’s this week’s update. Snow melting, mud puddles forming, green plants pushing through the dead leaves… It feels like it’s nearly Lent.

Giving up failure for Lent

A few weeks ago, I was joking on Facebook about giving up fish tacos for Lent. Well – my dry humor didn’t translate well into Facebook, and I was immediately taken to task for my “sacrifice” – and rightly so. I’ve never eaten a fish taco in my life. My fish taco “joke” came out of the observation that:

  • Many people “give up” one thing (e.g. beef) and immediately replace it with something else (e.g. “all-you-can-eat” fish tacos on Fridays). It’s no sacrifice at all.
  • Fish tacos just sound silly to me.

Well – in the midst of the fish taco conversation, one of my friends from my congregation insisted that the tacos taste great and that she’d make some for me. So then I had to give up something else.

I settled on failure.

FailBlog is a website sharing pictures and videos of humorous moments when things… don’t go well. If you’ve seen television shows such as “America’s Funniest Videos”, just imagine that getting translated to the web. Anyway – FailBlog is one of the blogs that I would read daily, often getting a chuckle at the silly things that people were doing. But after a while, I began to notice some things that disturbed me. It is true that some of the humor wasn’t wholesome. That was probably a good reason to stop reading that blog, but I generally self-censored those entries pretty quickly.

However, there were lots of supposed examples of “failure” that had more to do with opportunistically taking something out of context. Perhaps pictures were framed in just the right way, or maybe something was removed from another culture and planted down in the middle of middle-class North America. Whatever the situation, I became bothered by the ease with which the website would label something as a failure. And I became even more bothered when I noticed my own tendency to do the same thing. So I unsubscribed from the blog.

Now – having said all that, this really isn’t about FailBlog. It more about the increasing willingness of our society to see things in black and white. Recent case studies come to us from our lawmakers: the fiasco in Wisconsin where all their Senate Democrats decided to come here to Illinois to take a short vacation (with similar stories in other states), and silly budget votes and government shutdowns taking place in Washington D.C. These people get paid way too much to argue like children and pass legislation completely along party lines. But how can we fault our legislators when they’re just reflecting the mood of the country? Researchers tell us that we are increasingly self-segregating ourselves – moving into areas where people look and think just like we do. It happens in politics, and it happens in our churches. One person called these groups “holy colonies“.

So this Lent, I’m committing myself to seeing shades of gray (and maybe even some patches of color). As James suggests, I’ll try to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Hopefully, I won’t fail.

Worship ideas: Lenten hymn sing

(Proper acknowledgement: This is a good idea. But it’s not mine.)

This year, many Mennonite churches are using the theme “Becoming Human” to shape their worship services during lent. We are created in the image of God, but sin causes us to be less than human. And so, we look to Jesus as our example of how to become truly human.

In January, I attended the Lent planner at AMBS where they were sharing various ideas for worship during this season. Rebecca Slough suggested that we consider a hymn sing for one of our services. She proceeded to lead us in a selection of hymns that helped us reflect on the different ways in which we observe Jesus’ humanity.

Yesterday, I led such a service at our congregation and structured it in this way:

The Image of Jesus in the Prophets
The Image of Jesus in the Psalms
The Image of Jesus in the Gospels
The Image of Jesus on the Cross
Becoming the Image of Christ to One Another
Sent in the Image of Christ

I tried to follow the lectionary readings as closely as possible. The Old Testament reading was about David being anointed as king. I decided to replace that with a passage from Isaiah (“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse…”). However, I kept the psalm (Psalm 23) and the gospel reading (John 9 – the blind man is healed). Each of these was included in the appropriate place, as well as one or two appropriate hymns. At various times throughout the morning, we sang a chorus entitled “¿Quién dicen que soy yo?” (Translation: “Who do you say that I am?” For you Mennos, it’s Sing the Story #51.) This song re-centered us on the theme for the morning – deepening and broadening our understanding of Jesus. (This idea also came from the Lent Planner.)

In addition to the singing and the readings, one person shared a faith story (as we’re doing every Sunday during Lent); there was a children’s story; and we had our usual time for congregational sharing. I was assisted by an incredible group of musicians whose contributions made everything flow smoothly.

This is an idea that could be used during any time of the year, but it works especially well when there is an appropriate theme (as we have now). From my biased perspective, the congregation found the service to be very meaningful.

For better or worse, when you pick the songs, you get to choose ones that are meaningful to you. There were two yesterday that especially reflected the way I think about faith, both from the “Sing the Story” hymnal.

The first is entitled “Helpless and Hungry” (StS #26). It was written to be in conversation with the Christmas carol “What child is this?” (and to be sung in conjunction with it). So we have questions such as, “Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?” And then we hear the response, “This, this is Christ the King…” Very powerful.

The second song was entitled “On The Journey to Emmaus” (StS #98). I think that what I appreciate about that song is summarized by the final line: the one “who welcomes the stranger shall welcome the Lord.”

Now – go plan yourself a hymn sing!

This week in the garden… 28 February 2011

I had to resume my “This week in the garden” series today. Tomorrow, it will be March and these pictures need to be posted in order to prove that Spring is already showing up in February.* Ordinary Spouse first noticed these signs of spring a few days ago:

Iris, mums, croci(!), tulips, and the money plant are all showing the first signs of new life.

Last year at this time, Ordinary Spouse made her profound observation about this being the time for Lent. It bears repeating:

In my backyard the snow is melting, revealing last summer’s broken toys, leaf and twig detritus from fall, a winter’s worth of escaped bits of trash and spring’s first mud-holes. It must be Lent.

* Actually, I wouldn’t mind another major snow. I sort of enjoyed the blizzard. But spring will be nice, too. The hottest, most humid, most mosquito-infested days of summer are the ones that I struggle with.

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