My Annual Reminder: Confirmation isn’t Graduation

matte-product-navy-325Different churches have different schedules for Confirmation.  Some have a three-year class, spanning 6th-8th grade.  Some invite 9th graders to confirm their faith.  Some, like the church of my childhood, put it all into one year for 6th graders.

Regardless of when it happens, it’s important to remember why we have Confirmation at all.  So pull up your (electronic) chair…

Confirmation is the part of the baptismal rite where people (youth or adults) take on the promises of baptism for themselves if they were baptized as a child.  It is, in practice, the reversal of the ancient rite.

In the ancient rite the Catechumenate would study for a year with someone from the church, learning the “stuff of faith” …for lack of a better term.  This came to include the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the 10 Commandments, among other things.  This person they studied with, sometimes called a sponsor (you’ll recognize the term “Godparent” here…and not an honorary position you give to your brother because he’ll be offended if you don’t, but with real responsibilities), then presented them to the priest, or whomever was doing the baptizing, as ready to be submersed in the ancient waters, fit to join the community of Christ.

They were fit, mind you, not because they had “accepted Jesus into their heart.”  In the first church that sort of theological and biological gymnastics would be non-sensical. For me it still is non-sensical in most ways.

No.  They were fit because, having been moved by the Word of God as they met with the assembly, they saw that this community was living and acting in a way that changed them, and the world, for better.  Walking the pathway of Jesus was better than those other paths out there.

Part of the rite was a remission of sin.  In baptism God washes the baptized clean of any eternal ramification of sin.

But only part of the meaning of the rite was that.

The overwhelming balance of the symbol of the rite was acceptance into the community of Christ through the promises of God.

Now, in medieval times baptism became a one-trick pony: forgiveness of sin.  This was largely because, in the Christian world, baptism was basically a given.  You were born and then baptized. Christendom reigned and sought to keep control in the Western world, and what better way to keep control than to tell you that you are lacking something (righteousness) that only the church can give you?

But that’s not the fullness of the ancient symbol.  For more on this check out Ben Dueholm’s upcoming book _Sacred Signposts_.  He does a masterful job explaining this movement in his chapter on baptism…

Back to the topic at hand.

So the norm in the Catholic/Mainline world became to baptize first and teach later.  Which is absolutely fine, by the way, especially if the focus is on the promises of God and not the worthiness of the person.  Studying the “stuff of faith” does not make one holy, anyway.

Confirmation, then, is the fruit of this reversal in strategy.  We normally baptize first and teach later and then confirm the faith of the person who was baptized in their early years.

But here’s the thing: the teaching, while formally called Catechism, does not end at baptism for the ancient person.  It just starts to get put into intentional practice. And so it also means that it does not end at Confirmation, either.

It has only just begun.

Which means that, when you order graduation gowns for your Confirmands, have elaborate banquets for them, throw elaborate parties where cards full of money and whatnot are all part of the deal, you (the church) are effectively giving off a very different signal than what the rite actually means.

Confirmation is part of the growth of the Christian.  It is not the culmination.

Which is also why strict book curriculum, filling out worksheets, and tricky tests all give off the wrong impression, too.

If anything the test should be the same every year!  It should ask them to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the 10 Commandments, and maybe give a bit of explanation about it.

But by and large, Confirmation should be about formation into the faith, not primarily information about the faith.  After all, those first Christians were forming themselves to one another in that year of study…hence why you did it with someone else in the church, and not on your own!

It wasn’t about inviting Jesus into your heart, it was about inviting the community into your life and being invited into the life of community!

I am frustrated that we have to explain this at all.

Back to the original point: the more you make Confirmation look like graduation, with academic robes, elaborate banquets, etc, the more you invite the Confirmand to imagine their work is complete…when it is only, really, beginning.

And, sure, we can explain that to them in all sorts of ways.  But if we keep up this tradition that basically mirrors the graduations that many of them will be participating in just a few weeks after, what with elaborate ceremonies and walking across stages and all, then we’ll be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

So, my advice as a pastor in the church: slowly phase out these subliminal messages and practices.  Slowly phase in new messages and practices.  Change the narrative to the more ancient one, and I bet we’ll find new life here.  Make it a milestone of the faith, not the culmination.

Confirmation is not graduation.  Let’s all stop giving off that impression.

What Valentine’s Day Can Learn from Ash Wednesday

vintage_blindfolded_cupid_valentines_tarot_card-r69e9e0fbe135412f893d556e955012e3_vgbaq_8byvr_324February 14th is Ash Wednesday this year.

We should all go out to eat on Valentines Day with ashes on our foreheads.

I mean, whether you’re a Christian or not, you should go ahead and do it.  Because Ash Wednesday is a day that speaks a deep truth about humanity that we all try to avoid: we’re mortal and flawed.

So no matter what kind of foundation you gussy yourself up with before that first date, and no matter what kind of aftershave you apply to make that skin smell just so-so fine, you can’t change the fact that we all share the same mortal boat.

And I don’t say this so that you will despair.  I say it just out of honest truth.

Because here’s the thing: if you give your heart to something, you will lie to yourself.  You will say, “This. I give it to this because it is worth my heart.”  But the subtext that we too often have in such an action is some sort of delusion that the things worth our hearts are perfect or incorruptible or have earned it by some sort of morally superior truthfulness or…

Look, give your heart away to worthy things, but often times what makes them worthy is that you give your heart to them in the first place.

When I speak to couples about love and companionship and sometimes even marriage, I have to work hard to cut through the syrup and sentiment to arrive at something real at the bottom of it all: love is often, in the end, a choice.

Sure, it starts out as butterflies and pie in the sky, but once that wears away you will see what Ash Wednesday shows us: the flaw, the scar, the thing that was covered under foundation and aftershave, years of perfecting a story that omits a chapter, and hours of therapy.

But it is there, that flaw is there, and that is OK.

Do you hear me?  That is OK.

Because you cannot give your heart to something perfect; there is no such animal…at least not one immediately available.  You certainly are not perfect.

What Ash Wednesday can remind us, though, is that no flaw is fatal.  It’s why Christians mark the forehead in not just any shape, but the shape of the cross, a paradoxical sign that is the embodiment of saying, “Dead things can live again…even those dead parts of you.”

And sometimes, Beloved, all it takes is a little love to make the dead places in us rise from the grave.  Scars fade. Flaws smooth.

Just because something is dead in this life does not mean it will always be dead.

And nothing is ever perfect, mind you.  Even Jesus’ own resurrection came with scars from the hurt and the pain of the fight two nights before.

But that body walked again, by God.

This year we have this fun juxtaposition: Cupid and Christ.  Cupid blindly shoots and we romantically think we fall in love.

Christ, though…well, Christ’s love isn’t blind.  God’s love isn’t blind to all our hurt and pain and wrongs and ego and all that mess.  Christ’s love is visionary, illuminating all those shadowy parts of ourselves, exposing them for what they are: flawed but not fatal.

And that person you fall in love with?  Perhaps we should stop imagining Cupid shooting blindly and start embracing a Divine love that sees all and still finds a way to keep the arms open, the welcome present, the love intact.

Not that you have to fall in love with someone to be whole.  And even more so, sometimes the love we thought would last does not…cannot.  Sometimes our flaws do push us apart in the end. Which is when we need to lean even more into the story of Ash Wednesday and a Christ whose love is visionary and completing (rather than competing).

Because it is not a flaw to not be partnered. Sometimes it is a calling.

And it is not a flaw to be divorced. Sometimes it is a necessity.

But when it all feels like a flaw, keep in mind that the deep truth of everything is that it has an expiration date.  Feelings, life statuses, and even life itself.  Things will not always seem and be the way are today.

So embrace the truth of the situation: we are dust.  Glorious star dust, the stuff of the cosmos, wonderful and beautiful and sparkling, and yet, dust all the same.

So risk the date, fall in love, eyes wide open.  Or be single and loving it, giving your heart to many other worthwhile things.

But remember that things aren’t worthwhile because they are perfect; often they are worthwhile because you love them.

And how do I know?

Because you and I are not perfect, and yet we are loved by God.  And others.

And we’re worth it.

It Would Be a Mistake to Give Up Sharing the Peace in Church

kids-high-fivingThom Rainer posted an article on Saturday entitled “The Top 10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests.”

It was a Twitter poll that he conducted.  The compiled answers drew some surprising, and not so surprising, responses.  I kind of love these polls because they’re largely a practice in the discipline of, “See?  Someone will hate something…”

The people are too pushy or too distant.  They’re not sincere enough (subjective anyone?).  Or the building is poorly laid out and poorly marked.

Actually, that last one is a real issue…

I mean, there is no way to please everyone.

But one of the surprising responses is what Rainer calls “The stand up and greet everyone time.”

Which is an un-fancy way of saying, “The sharing of the peace of Christ.”

And here is where we see what happens when practices lose their roots.

Because the practice of sharing the peace is not a “stand up and greet everyone time.”  It is not done to make friends, and it is not done to welcome guests or visitors.

It is not done to chat about your week, and it not done to make you feel uncomfortable.

The sharing of the peace is a rite as old as the first church where (and you can read about it in the books of 1 Peter, Romans, 2 Corinthians) the church is instructed to greet one another with a “holy kiss.”

In fact, ancient Roman authorities called Christians a “kissing cult” because of this practice.

Now, don’t expect a kiss from me on a Sunday morning unless you’re my grandmother’s age, my child, or my wife.  That being said, you could get lucky 😉

But back to the point at hand, this is a liturgical act.  It has deep meaning which we can see in many ways as being Christ breathing on the disciples in the hours after his resurrection where he gives them his peace.  You can see it as a redemption of the kiss of condemnation that Judas gives Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And yes it involves touching.  We’re a touch-starved humanity these days.

And yes it is intimidating for introverts and too opportunistic for extroverts.  But community is as much about being stretched in our comfortability as it is being stretched in our restraint.

And yes it is time-consuming.  I’m not a big fan of extended periods of handshaking.  I’m usually a two to three person shaker/hugger/kisser, and then I’m all for moving on.

But, and let me be clear on this, I think it’s something that we can’t afford to do without.

Because in a world where you get shot at for wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood, we need to learn how to approach people we don’t know in peace.  Because in a world where you won’t let your child play in the yard or talk to people they don’t know, we need a space where it is safe for us to interact in holy ways.

Because in a world where you might wonder if peace actually exists anywhere, what with the 24 hour news cycles of violence and the constant trumpeting of the next terrorist threat, there must be a place where we can embody the peace that Christ calls us to.

We need to be respectful.  We need to honor that some people can’t be touched for whatever reason, that safe touch is on the hand, that not everyone likes hugs.  We have to understand that.

But we can’t not share the peace just because it’s not comfortable.

And I don’t care if it is flu season.  Bow toward the person if you don’t want to make contact.  But realize that your hand may be the only hand that person touches that week.  If you don’t think that’s true, imagine the widow, or the homeless, or the person with a deformity that keeps people away, and then imagine you withdrawing your hand during a time where we greet one another with the peace of Christ.

You might be the embodiment of grace they need.

We’ll high-five at the bar but not at church?  We’ll high-five in the sports arena but not in the pew?

I’m sorry folks, but if sharing the peace of Christ will keep you away from church, I’m not sure you’re ready for community.

By God, share the peace.

Why We Don’t Do Children’s Sermons Often…

My faith community doesn’t do a special children’s sermon every Sunday.  Bored Boy

In fact, we don’t do them most Sundays.

Now we only do them on festival Sundays, or special occasions. Sure, some of our children leave the sanctuary during the sermon on Sunday mornings to go with our Deaconess and hear a message or do an activity specifically geared toward them, but that’s not a children’s sermon.

No more coming to the front every Sunday.  No more sitting quietly and looking at an object lesson. No more watering down the story about Rahab, glossing over that she’s a prostitute (because it’s kids, you know) and trying to make some sort of moralism out of it.

No more of that.

And there’s a reason.  It’s important to be honest here.  There’s a reason for why we’re not doing that every week anymore.

The biggest reason is that a children’s sermon has, by and large, turned into a “viewer” event at most churches.  That is, the kids are called up front to be viewed by the parents while the pastor engages them like an episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

And that’s really annoying to me.

It’s annoying because then the message can be as cheap as it wants to be…because the message isn’t the point anymore.  Just the act.  It’s annoying because then kids get the unspoken social cue that they’re supposed to be cute and “ask the darndest things.”

We should teach our children to ask questions.  We don’t need to teach them to be cheeky.

We also then have this “dual sermon” thing going on during worship, where the children’s sermon will have this simple, distilled point, and the other sermon (“adult” sermon?) may have a more complex point.  But which one do you think most adults will remember?  Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is multifaceted and complex and requires a great deal of pondering, but if you also hear that it simply means some trite moralism that uses a potted plant as an object lesson, which one will you cling to?

Jesus often posits that “infants” and “children” are the true holders of God’s wisdom.  Fr. Richard Rohr expounds upon this in Everything Belongs (a book that also belongs on every bookshelf) by calling it “beginner’s mind.”  That is, it may not be children per se that hold the kingdom of God, but those who are open to learning and unlearning…as children are…who do so.  When seen in this sense, the “children’s sermon” does more harm than good, especially if it aims to explain really complex texts as moral tales.

In this light, the sermon is for everyone, adults and children.  Maybe especially children, as they are the most open to confronting and questioning assumptions.

And I know some parents miss the children’s sermon every week because it is nice to see all the kids in the church together and cute to watch them and…yeah, I get it. To a point.

And I’m sure some kids miss it, too.  They like sitting with the pastor and sitting next to their friend that sits five rows over.  And some really like a special message for them in that unique situation.  Some children are obviously ready to listen to a sermon, but some need a different environment to stay focused.  I don’t deny that.   In that case I suggest a separate space for the sermon portion where children can engage in a similar message another way.

But I really can’t justify the children’s sermon anymore as a regular practice.  I know some love it, but I have some serious problems with it.  And I’ve tried it every way, in every style, in every form.

And I just can’t get around the fact that they don’t do for what I think we, as a faith community, want them to do.

It allows more to be lost than to be gained, I think.  It doesn’t encourage questions more than it suggests pat answers.

And, really, anything that gets away from worship being “entertainship” is good by me.

Look, I love children.  I’m good with children.  And we have a ton of children in my faith community.  The 0-7 age skews our average age like crazy.  And for these reasons, I think it is important that children are involved in the liturgical work on a Sunday morning, but not as spectator or spectacle.  Rather as worshiper of a God and as a fellow traveler on the road of faith.  No need to carry them; they can walk on their own.

I’ve never seen a 6 year old happier than when I’ve handed her the communion cup to help serve.  Exponentially larger than any children’s sermon smile.

After all, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these…

 

We’re Teaching Our Children to Graduate from Church

I was just introduced to a bgraduationook by Christopher Rodkey, UCC pastor in Pennsylvania, where he argues that we, as a church, subconsciously encourage our children to leave the church.

For many denominations it’s called “Confirmation.”

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we fill children’s heads with dogma.

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we use books that look a lot like school books to “teach” children about faith.

Confirmation: the frustrating program that pastors secretly dread because they have to fight with parents and youth over sports schedules and vacations and the youth have enough homework, why give them more…

Confirmation.

Now I will admit that my faith community has gone through a bit of a transformation with regards to Confirmation.  We use a question-based curriculum that doesn’t intend to fill heads with ideas, but rather (I hope) fills hearts with questions.

And I don’t really ever have trouble convincing youth or parents about the importance of our weekly meetings.  We generally have 100% attendance.

And yet I can’t help but think that this whole process is talked about as a way for our children to achieve, graduate if you will, from the need for church.

Church then becomes something you did and accomplished, not something you live and do.

We teach about the faith.  We don’t teach faith.

And by “teach faith” I don’t mean that “I want you to learn to rely on Jesus” language that is so often used but so often vacuous.

I’m talking about living into a pattern of life whereby you see yourself in a cosmic sense as part of a radical movement within the world that we call the church.  Yes, that does mean that you often rely on Jesus, rely on your faith, to ground you.

Yes, that does mean that you must learn some history and be familiar with some doctrine that the church has historically taught.

But more than anything it means that you begin to live into faith more radically.  And it will affect the way that you buy and sell, the way that speak and act, and the way that you see yourself and others, and the way that you view work, and school, and home.

And the church then becomes your feedbox as you gather with a community to hear ancient words, sing and pray in community, and learn to encounter a God together so that you can identify when and how to encounter God anywhere.

That’s Confirmation.

But instead of that, we’ve created a system, a pipeline, to bring kids in, teach them in the style of the school room, parade them in front of the congregation, and effectively hood them with a hug and a handshake.  Some even wear special robes for the occasion.

And then they come on Christmas and Easter to tour the faith that they used to participate in, pointing out the places and memories where this or that happened, like they’re touring their old elementary school recalling Ms. Clodfelter’s therapeutic shoes scuffing up the asbestos tile floors.

The current behavior of the church subconsciously works on our children to give them the message, “This is the culmination!” instead of the real message intended, “This is the beginning!”

In fact, I see this with the baptismal rite in many places, too, especially with adult baptism.  We have these rites of faith that now have become rites of the culmination of faith…

I hear many complain that families “don’t take Confirmation seriously” anymore.

I wonder where they get that idea.  I mean, if it’s just a mechanism for leaving the church (as our rite has set it up to be), why wait until it’s done?  Now is the acceptable time, right?

As a rite of the church, Confirmation needs to go through a serious re-adjustment.  And not just in curriculum.  We need to rethink the whole thing.  I’m considering ways for this to happen, but in the meantime we must at least admit that at some level we’re graduating our children out of church, all the while blaming them for being uninterested in the church.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, if this is the message that we’re sending with our actions, if not with our words, well…what does that really say about the faith that we’re trying to pass on?

“Christian Weddings Should Be Deeper” or “What I Learned at a Hindu Wedding”

(Let me begin by saying: I’ve paimagesrticipated in many beautiful and full Christian weddings that have been rich in depth and meaning.  The following is in no way a commentary on weddings that I preside over, but rather a general reflection over the state of Christian weddings today)

I had the pleasure of co-presiding at a Hindu wedding this last week.

She’s Hindu.  He’s Christian.

Love, it seems, doesn’t know religious affiliation…though many religions think they have exclusive knowledge of what love is.

The Christian ceremony of marriage is beautiful and rich in meaning, in flow, in design.

But in function, well, more often than not these days a couple wants a short service (at which they’ll wear thousands of dollars worth of material to show off for 20 minutes and in pictures they’ll rarely look at again) with a hefty price-tag.  “Make it simple,” is the common line.

A ceremony can be simple and still take a while…

And think about it.  Think about what the abbreviated service says. Families process in separately.  The Father of the bride exchanges her for a handshake with the groom.  There are readings, a short reflection, vows, the giving of rings, candle lighting (or some other symbol of unity), and then a kiss and applause.

It says that love is simple.  Lord knows that’s not true.

Of course a marriage ceremony is, in Western culture, largely utilitarian.  None of the above is necessary except for the presence of an official who witnesses two people make vows to one another.

But that utilitarianism, which is largely a product of law and right order, has so greatly influenced a religious understanding of marriage, which is in itself a huge symbol of Divine love for humanity, that we have religious weddings occurring with little depth of meaning past “I wonder how much she spent on that dress.”

What are we saying about love here?  That love is individual.  That it should be acted upon quickly.  That its extravagance is seen primarily in material expenditures.  And, assuming there is a reception, that it should be seen almost exclusively as party.

If that is what we’re trying to say about love, then there is certainly no problem with a short ceremony and long party.  In that case, a couple really should go to the courthouse to get married.

But that is not what the Christian faith says about love, and not what the Christian marriage ceremony says about love at its fullest.

I didn’t really have reason to reflect on it, though, until I participated in a Hindu wedding.

For this Christian-Hindu ceremony, we intertwined the different necessary expressions of the two traditions into one.  This was no easy feat.  The Hindu wedding ceremony is long and involved, spanning many days.  It is rich in meaning and symbol.  It involves the whole family on both sides of the proverbial aisle.  It involves prayers, offerings, and multiple processions.

For the wedding ceremony itself, the floor surrounding the couple was covered with baskets of fruit, symbolizing the bounty of the Earth, a habitation we all share.  The altar had statues, but also grain and coins, symbols of a world economy that the couple would now enter into and participate in as one.

The parents of the bride welcomed the groom into the family.  The father entrusted his bride to the groom by noting that she is “as precious as gold,” and that he was now entrusted with the care of their daughter who is precious to them.

They walked together around the altar, step-by-step, plotting the journey of life they were now to take together.  They were tied together by a knot in their ceremonial scarves.  The whole ceremony was done in tandem.  They exchanged necklaces, exposing their necks to one another, a vulnerable thing to do.

It was all deeply moving, and in light of many secular-Christian ceremonies, full of such rich meaning that you saw love for what it is: celebratory but serious, a family affair, a journey together through the various economies the world puts on us, primal and earthy, yet transcendent and heavenly.

The extravagance was in the clothes; yes.  But also in the time spent on the ceremony.  Also in the number of family who participated. Also in the rich use of language and chant.

The Christian ceremony, when done fully, has all of these elements…or should.

And if the elements are absent, I don’t really blame a couple.  The church hasn’t done a very good job at critiquing culture when it comes to weddings other than railing against cost (which it rightly should).  But have we spoken against form and function in the prevailing culture?  Have we spoken for order and symbol, primarily how marriage is a symbol of God’s love for humanity?

A good challenge for those of us in the church is to find ways to include the whole family in the service outside of the obligatory ushering role for a brother and the two mothers lighting tapers for a unity candle (which, by the way, is not an ancient part of the ceremony). We have bridesmaids and groomsmen stand at the front flanking a couple in honorary (and stationary) positions when we could include them as intricate parts of the ceremony, driving home the point that, as persons in this wedding party they are entrusted with helping this couple in their marriage and keeping their vows.

The Eucharist could regain an important place in the ceremony as the couple’s first act is to host a party for everyone, celebrating the great feast that God shares with humanity.  Communion is not common practice, though, at most weddings.

Generous use of prayers and music (and especially music everyone sings), a couple’s procession around the altar, an offering of treasure and flowers given away to charity (as love is charitable), families standing together at the front or doing a remembrance of baptism at the font with the whole family: these are all options for the Christian wedding and speak more fully to Love as a gift to the community, to the family,  and to the world that we all inhabit.  Marriage is a calling like the priesthood.  It is not for every individual, but it is for the benefit of the whole community.

Have a number of readings.  Use ancient vows full of meaning, but perhaps include statements of love from the couple to one another, or letters written from the attendants offering their hopes and wishes for the love they see in the couple.  Have clear, distinct rings.  The ring is a symbol in and of itself: an unending circle of love.  Today, though, we don’t look at the circle, just the rock that sits atop it.

Forgo the aisle runner, buy lilies and offer them to God or to the guests as a sacrifice of beauty, for love is a sacrifice of beauty that each person gives to the other.

I don’t know.

All I know is that we’ve created a culture of utility when it comes to Christian marriage ceremonies.

We shouldn’t speak shallowly of love.  Love is rich.  An extravagant dance and dinner is necessary; love is a party.  But love is also a solemn vow, a serious symbol for a world bereft of symbols that speak deeply.  The Christian church can do better, and we should be imaginative in doing so.  We can learn from other cultures.

It can be more.  Love as a symbol of Divine love deserves more for those who profess faith in God.

I loved my wedding. We had communal singing, Eucharist, and even an offering taken up for charity. But if I could go back in time, I’d use my family more, my attendants more, and I’d, as we like to say in liturgical circles, make the symbols big.  Really big.

I’m often a reluctant Christian because we’ve made the symbols small.

But we’ve sure enough made the price-tag big…

“What Makes Things Holy?” or “Damn It!”

Today begins the long week of the church year that we call Holy Week.

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Our Easter Vigil fire at my faith community…a fire of sacred flame used for lighting candles for a profane/sacred people.

It’s the culmination of this walk toward Jerusalem that we take with Jesus every year…and every year it’s called Holy Week.

Even when some years the week seems holier than others.

I remember my first Holy Week as a pastor.  I spent most of every morning that first year coming early to the church to pray at the altar, with my prayer beads, being faithful to the hours as best I could.

This year, though, I spent this morning coming early to the crib of my son, with cheerios in hand, being faithful with breakfast as best I could.

And now, having been up for just as long but involved more in holy play than holy prayer, I’m reflecting on the difference.

Sure, I’ll keep the hours as best I can today, being mindful of Terce, Sext and None (though I’m a bit behind on Terce already), but I’ll do my best.

In college I took a course where we read a book called Holy Things by Gordon Lathrop, a premier Lutheran theologian, pastor, and scholar. I took exception to the title back then. Newly out of my atheist phase, “things” weren’t holy…only God was holy.

I was an idiot.

Now I see that things are, indeed, holy.  Bread, wine, water, yes…all of this.

And time mindfully spent.  And icons mindfully written.  Sermons, songs, prayers, hands, beads, stained glass, more prayers…mindfully said or not.

Holy does not mean “magical,” by the way.  That’s nonsense.  I don’t have time for nonsense…there are holy things to attend to.

No.  Holy means “set apart,” or better in the Latin, sacrum.  Sacred.

It’s funny, in my tradition we set things apart all the time.   But I meet so many with my college mindset who think nothing is holy; nothing is sacred.

And yet these are the people who I so often hear willing to damn people and things: that divorcee is in the wrong; that homosexual is an abomination; that movie, the song, that video is a disgrace to God.

So willing to damn things…so unwilling to lift things up as holy because it all seems so much hocus pocus.

That, actually, is most of us much of the time, I think.  As if our damning isn’t just as much the hocus pocus of personal opinion, prejudice, and the trappings of self-righteousness.

What makes a thing holy?  I’d say it’s purpose seen in light of the Divine.  The purpose of our time spent together, the bread, the wine, the water, the beads, the hands laid on to heal…

What makes a thing profane?  I’d say it’s probably us.  We so often take the place of God, damning people, places, and things in righteous indignation.

Progressive Christians do this, too.  You don’t get off the hook…no one does.  The sacred/profane line is thin.  So thin, in fact, that some might say it is imaginary…

But today, on this Holy Monday whose purpose it is to further our walk to Jerusalem as we lean toward Maundy Thursday, hear that time is set apart today for you to reflect on God’s work in your life, God’s purpose for your sacred existence, for the sacred existence of your neighbor, and this world.

And that purpose is not to damn you or any of it…

So spend a little less time doing that, and a little more time honoring things as sacred.

That, at least, is what I’m meditating on these hours.