On the Wesley trip to Washington, DC for spring break, I finally got a chance to listen to the new Taylor Swift CD all the way through. I know there’s some Taylor haters out there, but I’ve always really liked her and I love this CD. And all of us – ranging in musical loves – enjoyed listening to it, which is always a good thing. Who knew you could bond over Taylor Swift singing at the top of your lungs together?
The song that keeps replaying over in my mind is her song, “Mean.” The lyrics are below. In talking with students or youth or friends for that matter, there are so many people that have been wounded by “that mean guy” or “that mean girl.” There’s that person or people that get under our skin and say words that go straight to the heart in amazingly hurtful ways that we can sometimes remember for years.
It’s crazy how much these things can hurt. And it’s amazing to me how many people are affected by this and they never get a chance to speak up for themselves. I think about the movie “Mean Girls” and all the hate and power trips and nastiness. I know, I know, that many a time these mean folks are covering for their own insecurity, but that still doesn’t justify their uber mean behavior.
Here’s the thing. We’ve got to let go of the mean. We’ve got to let go of the rude things people have said. We’ve got to let go of the hurtful things that we remember at our lowest points or times when things feel like they’re falling apart. We’ve got to step out of the round and round cycle of drama and situations that just hurt us, and say enough! There are so many students that I see that are in friendships/relationships that are just plain stressful. Nobody needs the added stress and emotional energy that it takes to deal with unhealthy relationships that just bring you down – especially during the end of semester crunch. Maybe this Lenten season, letting go of some of those wounds and hurts is something we should think about. As we look at this season of repentance and renewal, maybe it’s time we open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth and let go of the hurtful crud.
I think about the ending of The Help where Aibeleen tells Mae Mobley, “You kind. You smart. You important.” That’s the part that broke my heart because so many don’t realize this, and it was so evident that Aibeleen wanted badly for Mae Mobley to get and feel this. I know about the “me” generations and I get that, but I also feel like often my students are reflecting their questions about themselves back to me through their questions, their hurts, their eyes. The heck with the mean ones that just want to tear you down. The heck with those that haven’t walked in your shoes and who are just hurling darts because they’re scared themselves. You are kind. You are smart. You are important.
Let’s let go of the mean…and grab hold of the good that God has spoken over our lives.
Taylor Swift – “Mean”
You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me,
You, have knocked me off my feet again,
Got me feeling like I’m nothing.
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded.
You, pickin’ on the weaker man.
Well you can take me down,
With just one single blow.
But you don’t know, what you don’t know,
Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?
You, with your switching sides,
And your walk by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again,
As if I don’t already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again.
I bet you got pushed around,
Somebody made you cold,
But the cycle ends right now,
You can’t lead me down that road,
You don’t know, what you don’t know
Since Monday I’ve been having some back pain. When you have fibromyalgia and you have two toddlers that you may or may not pick up all the time, it’s not all that surprising to have some aches and pain. Generally I would just think no big deal but, I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up having a fitful night of sleep on my back. I never, ever sleep on my back. Yep, I feel like I’m whining now, and on Ash Wednesday no less.
I’m preaching the Ash Wednesday sermon tonight at a local church and the students are tagging along with me. One of our students is hearing impaired and she and her amazing interpreter, one of our other students are both coming tonight. Erica (the interpreter) was excited about going until I told her I was preaching. Just kidding…a bit. She knows that I talk fast and my hands are always moving and trying to interpret with my randomness is an exercise in and of itself. She asked if I could give her some notes about what I’m preaching on. That’s fair, right?
But all I can think about is this dull and sometimes sharp ache in my back. It is driving me crazy today. To dust we will become, heck – we’re already beginning to fall apart and feel like that dust sometimes. As much as this distracts me from work, having a coherent conversation with someone, actually being pastoral or even listening at all at this point, I think about all those that deal every day with a dull or sharp pain. This pain is not always physical, but often emotional, spiritual, psychological, really real. We each carry around past hurts or wounds. We each have moments of uncertainty, fear, and doubt in the midst of painful situations or the reminders of those painful situations.
I get that. I think that’s a great focus this season to let go of some of those voices, some of that negativity. I love that intentionality and purpose of reminding oneself repeatedly that there is someone greater that you belong to, respond to, and answer to – not just some voice inside your head.
If this Ash Wednesday brings a day that marks the beginning of a season of repentance and spiritual renewal, then we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. I love some of the ones that Rachel Held Evans lifts up in her blog, http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011. What do we need to repent from? What consistently stands in our way to feel the freedom of Christ? What voices or people or hurts or situations have held us back from that abundant life? What are those fears and doubts that we can let go and repentant of during this season? How can we move closer and closer to that freedom, even if it means making hard choices and decisions?
And then drawing towards that spiritual renewal, how can we be more intentional in our drawing closer to God? Does that mean giving up facebook, or does that mean we’re intentional and Christ-centered when we post, comment or spend time on facebook? Just like this blog (http://penelopepiscopal.blogspot.com/2011/03/are-you-christian-giving-up-social.html) writes, I’d hate for Christians to stop shining their lights during a season when the world needs to hear and know the power of repentance and also resurrection.
In a recent column in Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris writes a piece called “Taking Multitasking to Task.” I loved it. It really spoke to me in profound ways about how we’re living this world in which doing everything is expected and when you don’t it’s frowned upon. For some of us, instead of diving into the hard stuff, the more difficult, the more challenging, we’ll keep consuming a lot of the easier or more fluff things, just so that we can do a gazillion things at once and say that we’re connected and on top of things. For some of us, trying to be all places for all people is easier when we skim the surface and don’t take time to listen, reflect, discern and really meet with people or God. Maybe y’all don’t relate to that. He closes his piece with, “I have friends who’ve recently taken their own steps toward reclaiming control–one is trying internet-free Sundays; another has sworn off texting while in the presence of actual human beings. So, in that spirit, this year I plan to hold to the principle that half of my focus is always the wrong amount–that someitmes the TV can go off, or the laptop can be put away, or Google can wait. I’m going to try to undivide my attention, and see if my entertainment choices (and my thoughts about them) get any sharper as a result. It couldn’t hurt. Well, that’s a lie. The scary thing is, it hurts already.” He’s talking about entertainment, but there’s a part of Lent in there for me.
What do we give our full attention? A more pertinent question to me probably – do I ever give anything my full attention? Are we running through our to do lists for the day when we do our morning devotion or are our minds in ten different places as we’re working on our sermons or our small groups or our Sunday school classes? What gets our full attention?
When I look at how these 40 days are supposed to be a time of Spiritual Renewal, I have to ask myself honestly where my attention and focus will be and how I’m going to invite the Spirit to lead me and guide me in the disciplines or the actions that will be undertaken. If I’m doing it, just to have an answer when someone asks me what I’m giving up or adding for Lent, then that’s rubbish.
There’s something that he said at the end of the article. He says, “The scary thing is, it hurts already.” I’m not saying we beat ourselves up for Lent and what we give up or add shouldn’t be a contest for who is the most devout Christian (although I do wonder how many viewers that tv show would get week to week.) We need to discern where we are. We need to focus our attention on the Word of God and see what will help draw us towards repentance and renewal and go with it – with the grace, mercy, leading and strength of One who knows us far better than we even know ourselves.
Two things I’ll leave you with. There some of my favorite things to use during Lent. The first is from Jan Richardson’s In Wisdom’s Path. She says, “The season begins with ashes and invites us into a time of stripping away all that distracts us from recognizing the God who dwells at our core. Reminding us that we are ashes and dust, God beckons us during Lent to consider what is elemental and essential in our lives. As a season of preparation for the mysteries of death and resurrection, it is a stark season.” Hopefully it’s not just a stark season – something different than normal – but a rich season.
Roberta Porter is one of my most favorite writers for Alive Now, she writes in her prayer,
Culture’s message is immediate
But when I hungrily seek control
in my power, with my plans,
I am full, brimming over
with empty calories,
and strangely unfulfilled.
I pray to be broken open – unafraid
of change – and pour out pride.
My Spirit fast teaches me
as I am willing to yield,
more space for grace appears,
and more of Christ,
Bread of Life,
When the ashes are put upon our heads either this morning, midday, tonight, may we remember that we are dust and to dust we will become again and may we take the days and months and years ahead to focus and retreat to the One who goes before us, beside us, and sometimes even pushing us to grasp hold of this thing called abundant life.
One last one, because I love this one too. Also from Alive Now the March/April 2001 edition…
Quiet Day Retreat
To be quiet, both without and within —
to welcome silence and space
and unbroken meditation.
I have not given up food
— the typical fast —
but I’ve emptied my mind
for an hour, or a day.
I’ve overturned it like a bowl,
forbidding entry of my plans, my chores.
Then come thoughts and reflections,
then come inspiration
and then I can return refreshed
to the frantic daily world.
What sort of fast is this?
A fast from calendars, schedules, from self-important busyness.
I think it was in the first couple seasons of The Apprentice that they always played the, “Money, money, money” song that played at the beginning. In looking at the lectionary texts this week, I actually liked them all. But I’ve mostly been in Hebrews lately and I have never really preached it very much so I decided to stick with there.
The text is Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and it’s a lot of instruction and wise counsel. Mike and I have been watching The Tudors recently. We’ve finished season 1 and have begun season 2. Wow. In so many ways times have changed! It is amazing to me how far the rights of women have come from those days. Mike spends much of the shows saying, “They were really like that?” Sadly, yes. There’s a ton of lies, betrayal, power hungry insanity, and since it’s on Showtime – sex. Wow is it crazy. We’ve been watching an episode a night and I think that’s the main reason I was drawn to this tet.
This passage is the absolute opposite of this royal debauchery. It talks about showing hospitality to strangers, remembering those in prison, marriage being held in honor and then closing out with “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” These are very different instructions than how the Tudors acted even though they loved to throw the name of God and what “God’s will” is around all over the place.
It speaks a great deal to us all. In reading this earlier in the week and in thinking on it the past couple days, the part about money wasn’t something that leaped out to me anymore than the rest of it. Then this morning I go to our biannual Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry meeting and I find out that not only will we at Winthrop Wesley Foundation not receive any program money for 2011 as we were told a week and a half ago, but now we are no longer going to receive any other program funds for the rest of 2010. So no check coming in September in the thankful income column, but plenty of expenses still going out. Eek! is about the most nice, censored thing I can say…
But then tonight I read this text again abd I see verse 5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'” I don’t know if I would say I loved the program money we received from the conference. In actuality it only made up 15% of our program money receipts. But I would definitely say that I depended on it. In the lean months when nothing from churches or sweet giving folks is coming in, I knew that we would receive that money from the Annual Conference and we could pay the light bill. And that is a very good thing. So although I don’t know if I “loved” the money we got, I was incredibly thankful we received it.
But you know times they are a changing, and we live in a different world and economic time. So it is what it is and it’s now time to move forward and trust that God is with us and will provide for us. We step out in faith and trust that God will provide. The semester is planned and commitments made and we’ll see how it all works out in the midst. I trust that it will. No amount of stressing is going to help, but boy it’s time to shake the bushes and get some money raised!
Again, God amazes me in giving us the Word we need when we need it. Even in the midst of the unknown and the uncertainty and the obvious fear, there are tremendous opportunities and new and bold paths to explore and step out in. I am weary thinking about the work ahead, but I’m excited to see new partners in ministry and the chance to vision anew as we as always try to do more, with less.
Money. Power. Intrigue. Definitely more the world of the Tudors than campus ministry. But hey – we all need a little instruction and reminders about where our hearts need to be and who are faith is in. Still not sure what I’m preaching about tomorrow exactly, but often this sound instruction speaks for itself.