Tag Archives: lent2019

Us and Them

It’s one of the tracks on Dark Side of the Moon [Pink Floyd], it’s a mindset, and it’s a lie. Cosmically and religiously speaking, it’s all us  – it’s just that the us comes in many shapes and sizes. All of us are God’s beloved creatures, given the capacity to love and the terrible freedom to withhold it. My husband, siblings, children, and other relatives are part of us; the person in the grocery checkout, the driver cutting me off on route 3 are part of us; Barbara next door and the grieving people of Christ Church, New Zealand are us; even the ones who hurt and kill are part of us – just a part I’d rather not acknowledge.

Them is a false category, a dark place to put the people I don’t know or don’t like. But it comes at a cost: a piece of who I am always goes to the hell I wish for others.

It’s why Jesus advised us to judge not lest ye be judged (Mt. 7:1) – it’s as much to save us as it is to benefit the ones we would pass judgement upon…

Limited Time, Finite Life

The Sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older…

[Pink Floyd, TimeThe Dark Side of the Moon, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, recorded June, 1972 – January, 1973, released March, 1973: Harvest Records]

The predictability of the sun rising and setting, of the seasons coming and going, sometimes gives us the impression that nothing will ever change in a fundamental way. Biblically speaking, what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NRSV) This pattern gives an unchanging structure to our days, weeks, months, and years. But within that structure, we change. We are born, we grow up, we age, and we die. We are finite, and our time limited.

The lyrics of Time tell this truth; although we age every day, we are apt to spend the life we’ve been given without thought or intention as if it were an eternally renewable resource. It isn’t. This is the truth we are asked to ponder during Lent; we will return to ashes, and the world which existed long before us will continue on its way well beyond our life span. We need to remember that out days are numbered and that, with few exceptions, we will not be remembered by the generations that follow after us. Without a larger perspective on the whole thing, all would end in tears and despair.

But there is a larger perspective, a larger reality that takes up all the days we live and all the days that came before us, and all the days that will follow. We are not a cosmic accident, alone in an indifferent universe. We are beloved creatures of the One who set this cosmos in motion. If we remember this, if we trust this, contemplating our own mortality leads to a greater love for life, a greater appreciation for the here and now we inhabit, and the possibility to see within our life’s limitations the hand of God and footprints of Jesus. We may not see the end, we may not be the center of the universe, but we are universally beloved. Death doesn’t change this.

I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. (Ecclesiastes 1:14b-15, NRSV)

A different brick in the (ivy covered) wall…

I was going to write on Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall [The Wall, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, recorded 12/1978-11/1979, Harvest/ Columbia records, November, 1979], but some famous, wealthy parents are being charged with paying people to falsify test scores, to admit their non-athletic children as college athletes, and to fake disabilities -all this to get children into their preferred elite schools. The issue with this sometimes ivy covered brick wall isn’t an education that dulls the hearts and minds of its learners: it’s the difficulty of getting past the wall and into the classrooms it surrounds.

Even without cheating, wealth tips the scales in favor of its children. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Wealthy parents give their children educational advantages by living in towns with excellent public schools, enrolling them in private schools, and paying for tutors to improve grades.
  2. Wealthy children can afford to take a “college tour,” visiting several schools and talking with admissions workers: they are aware of the variety of options available and do not need financial aid to attend.
  3. Expensive standardized tests and college application fees aren’t a problem. The students who would need a waiver for the fees are often the ones who don’t know such a thing is available to them.
  4. Parents and other family members have attended college in the past, bringing their own experience in navigating the admissions process to their children’s advantage.
  5. Alumni/ae have helpful connections, and that helps their children gain admission.

 

Some of the disadvantages that lack of money brings:

  1. Schools in poor towns often don’t have the resources to help struggling students navigate the college admissions process. Guidance and connections are limited.
  2. Lack of resources often means lack of awareness of aid offered by top tier schools.
  3. Teachers may discourage bright but poor learners from pursuing an ivy league or other top flight college education.
  4. Taking a campus tour outside the immediate area is too expensive for many students and their families.
  5. Parents who haven’t been to college don’t know how to help their children get through the admissions process.

Wealth has always made getting to the other side of the higher education brick wall easier. Lack of money isn’t just a lack of wealth: it’s a lack of awareness of the possibilities that exist, and often a limited ability to imagine an improvement in life quality through education. While a change in the family bank balance may not be possible, increasing opportunity and awareness is. Public libraries offer free access to computers and resources, and assistance in using them. Learning readiness programs such as Head Start help children achieve future academic success by fostering their development. Mentors can help broaden a young person’s perspective.

Jesus didn’t say everyone would have the same advantages and opportunities; he recognized that the poor struggle in ways that the wealthy do not. But Jesus did realize that taking advantage of the poor by denying them opportunity or by gaming the system in favor of one’s own came at a steep price that no amount of money could equal:

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? (Mark 8:36)

 

Can you tell the difference

…so you think you can tell heaven from hell…

[Pink Floyd, Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here, David Gilmour & Roger Waters, released September 12, 1975, Harvest (UK) and Columbia/CBS (USA)records]

In the 1970’s, I figured only clinically depressed and suicidal people couldn’t tell heaven from hell. But in 2019, I’m so sure. How many of us have wasted our numbered days chasing after more than we need: money, better job titles, and that extra square footage? How often, when none of it brings peace and joy, do we double down – as if more of what doesn’t work will miraculously do the trick.

Heaven and hell aren’t the penthouse and basement of reality. They aren’t the opposite ends of a punishment/reward yardstick. Heaven is knowing how much we are loved, and how much we can love self and others. Hell is both ignorance and rejection of that love, bringing a darkness into the soul and leeching everything that is good and lovely out of our lives.

You and I may get it wrong sometimes, mistaking that green field for a cold steel rain, but we know what choosing heaven instead of hell looks like. It’s choosing to see and help those in need, spending time on what enlarges the heart and soul, and knowing that wealth cannot bring joy or peace. If you and I remember how Jesus spent his numbered days, spotting the difference between heaven and hell won’t be very difficult.

Lord, may my eyes see heaven and my heart and soul choose it over hell. Amen.

Ash Wednesday: Remember you will die

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Some day, this body I call my own will lose the life and breath that keeps it from falling into decay. My season of life will end as surely as every season does. I will become ashes and dust. I have an appointment with Death, minus the day, date, and time particulars. It may not happen tomorrow, next month, or even in the next twenty years. The cause of it remains unknown, but the certainty of it cannot be denied: I have an expiration date.

Will my impending return to ashes and dust lead me to appreciate every numbered day I have? Will fear of death goad me into fleeing  mortality’s reality  through cosmetic surgery and expensive drugs offering a return to youth? How will I number my days, and what do I want their sum to mean?

This Ash Wednesday, I ask myself: if my God given life is a blessing, is there also a blessing in my God given death?

Lord, my days are numbered. May they add up to something holy. Amen.