Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “Simple Lent”

Simple Lent & Simple Food

If you live in North America, you live in the land of abundance. We have a staggering array of options when it comes to food. Just going to the grocery can be overwhelming if you shop at a store like Wegman’s (a store that was a guilty pleasure when I was on internship).

Maybe we have too much choice. Perhaps our choice has caused us to lose focus of the process of how our food is produced, processed, and marketed to us. Is it just to purchase a piece of fruit out of season that has traveled thousands of miles and burned a lot of carbon? Do we even remember how to eat seasonally, to put food by, or to support our local farmers and farm markets?

The shocking thing is that even in this land of  plenty, almost 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table each day. The average SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allotment is $4 per day per person. In the United States alone, more than 16 million children live in homes where food is scarce. The situation globally is even more grim, and increasing hunger is likely to lead to violence as people fight over resources.

What can people of faith do? First of all, we can become more aware of the situation, especially in our own communities. You don’t have to look very far to find those who are hungry in your own home town. Secondly, we can examine our own patterns of consumption. How much do you spend on groceries each month? Have you ever broken it down by day and per person? You might be surprised. Now add the amount you spend dining out and on quick snacks and luscious lattes. It will be far more than $4 per day.

How might you simplify your consumption? How could you eat more responsibly and healthily? How can you find ways to work toward the elimination of hunger? For starters, check out the work of Bread for the World, for example, and become involved in being a part of the solution. Then find your local soup kitchen or food pantry and volunteer. Plant an extra row or two in your garden this year and give that produce to the hungry.

We decided during Lent we would simplify our diets as much as possible, increasing our consumption of legumes, avoiding processed foods, and continuing to support local farmers and economies. My spouse even gave up desserts for Lent. Tonight we dined on pinto beans, cornbread, and cabbage. It was a wonderful meal that cost only about a dollar each and was healthy and filling. We are also constantly aware of our waste stream and try not to waste food. Each year we are adding another raised bed or two, increasing the size of our garden.

Sure, these are small actions, but when we all take small steps good things happen. We have the capability to eliminate hunger in our world. To do so we must all be mindful of the choices we make and of how these choices reflect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

Here’s an idea! Instead of going out to eat, why not invite friends over for a shared meal. You provide the entree and beverages and invite your friends to bring a dish to share. You’ll have a good meal and an even better time. If you are adventurous consider a theme that puts an upper limit of how much can be spent on each dish. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Make it fun. Nobody said Lent had to be a completely grim experience.

Above all, pray for open eyes, open hands, and a heart that is willing always to share and set an extra place at the table. The Creator of the Universe deals in abundance. As the people of God we need to live from abundance, too.

Thanks-Living Activity

Be sure to check out this new film that premieres on March 1. You can find out more at bread.org.

Photos by David Shankbone and Natalie Maynor. Thanks!

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First Fruits

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me. — Deuteronomy 26:10a

This half verse snippet from the Old Testament passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent is taken from instructions for the proper celebration of the Harvest Festival. The people were to bring the first fruits of their land land labor as an offering to God and as a reminder that all things come from the Creator and ultimately belong to God.

Most of us are no longer farmers. We don’t till the soil unless it’s in our backyard and kitchen gardens. We earn our livelihood in other ways. So how, then, does this instruction apply to 21st century folk? Is it strictly to be passed off as left to the tithe–ten percent of our money? I think not, although I am a believer in giving as generously as possible of one’s financial resources, more than ten percent if possible. Besides, money is a tool; it isn’t “ground” in the sense that this passage is talking about. Money is not good soil, not rich humus, or reclaimed compost. Money is a value exchange, so there must be something more.

That something, I think, is each person, your very self, body and soul. Jesus commands us in the gospels of Matthew (22:37-40), Mark (12:29-31), and Luke (10:27-29) to love the LORD completely and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This completion of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloyhenu Adonai Echad,” reminds us that we belong to God and to one another and our lives should reflect this truth.

So if our body, mind, and soul are the “land” that God has given us, then it follows that we give back to God the very best parts of all that we are and all that we have.

  • We must cultivate and tend to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being with diligence, intentionality, and care,
  • We must nourish ourselves with good things–prayer, worship, study, relationships, and generosity (the five basic practices of discipleship), and
  • We must return to the LORD the very best of ourselves.

I think it is this third point that is the most difficult for me, and probably for all of us. It is so easy to take “ownership” of our lives, giving the best of ourselves as we want, not necessarily considering God in the equation. Worse yet, we tend to give God the leftovers–an hour or two on Sunday when we want, whatever funds are left over after we meet our own needs and wants, and whatever service strikes our fancy or the empty spots on our already overbooked schedules.

God reminded the people of Israel to bring their best, their first fruits and say, “The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me” (Deut. 8-10).

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this concept of first fruits that come from God and belong to God when he said, “Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first give me what I may offer you.”

How might we offer our first fruits this week? What is the best of your time, talent, and treasure that you may offer to God, in the name of Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel? Whatever you discern, remember these words:

Don’t give last, and don’t give God less.

Give to God first, and give your best.

Blessings on your week, on your continued journey into a Simple Lent, and on your generous sharing of your very best!

Photos by Mr. Kris and JustinLowery.com. Thanks!

Cobbled Hearts

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2:12-13

I have a favorite pair of winter boots. My cousin gave them to me for Christmas almost a decade ago, and they’re wonderful, waterproof and classics from L. L. Bean. They have spent considerable time in various cobbler shops in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, and each time I retrieve them, I am rewarded with good fitting, attractive footwear for a fraction of the cost of replacing them. I take them in, scuffed and sad with broken down heels, and pick them up shiny and fresh and ready to go. It’s a good use of resources in the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” spirit of thrift and frugality. When I first slip my renewed footwear back on, I am reminded of how God renews us.

The passage above, taken from the Ash Wednesday lectionary, always moves me. The entire lesson, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, is a call for communal lament and a reminder that no matter how we mess up, God is faithful and just. God is always there to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and tattered lives, to make of us something new and beautiful in spite of our bruises and cracks.

But what God looks for is not the outward shows of religiosity but the lament of a broken and contrite heart. The Creator of the Universe is good at fixing what we break, even (or maybe especially) when that which is broken is our own self.

We humans are good at messing up, at hurting one another, and at causing others pain. We do it knowingly and we do it unwittingly. We hurt with our careless words, our thoughtless consumption, and our selfish fears and vitriol. We curve inward upon ourselves as the Apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

Augustine of Hippo described this tendency as “Incurvatus in se” or the notion of living life inwardly for self rather than outwardly for God and others. Martin Luther took this concept further in his Lectures on Romans, saying

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. (Luther’s Works, Volume 25)

While we try to patch together our broken hearts with the duct tape, chewing gum, and spit of this world and all its empty promises, going on as if nothing at all is wrong with us, God invites us to bring the broken pieces of our deepest hurts, our dreams denied, and our shattered faith. Nothing is beyond fixing in the master crafter’s hands.

We will never be perfect–at least not in this life–but when we rend our hearts and return the pieces to God we will be repaired, refitted, and made new. Even with cracks, crazing, and chips we are better versions of ourselves in the hands of the Divine One.

This Lent, instead of trying to hold your hurting life together on your own, instead of facing the world with the lie of a brave face and an independent, untouchable spirit, return your rent, spent, and damaged self to your Creator and be renewed.

Thanksliving Activity

Find something in your house that you’ve been meaning to repair but have instead shoved deeper into a cabinet or closet. Pull it out, examine it, and figure out a way to fix it. If you can’t fix it yourself, take it to someone who can. Give that item a second chance at a worthwhile life and reflect on how God does the same thing with you–over and over again.

Photos by CarbonNYC, flicktone, and SanFranAnnie. Thanks!

Nurture Relationships

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you were able to tell the ones you love how very much you love them. Better yet, I hope you were able to show your love in a variety of simple, kind, and generous ways.

So what does Valentine’s Day have to do with keeping a simple Lent? The answer is nothing and everything. The commercial celebration we are urged and guilted into celebrating has nothing to do with Lent. The idea of love–of God, neighbor, and self–has everything to do with today.

…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:30-31

A simple Lent begins with tending to those things most important in our lives–God, neighbor, and self. Our fast-paced hyper-connected world tries to tell us that many things demand our attention, our time, and our money; however, this is a lie.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:21

Our needs as human beings are quite simple–food, shelter, clothes, and relationships. If we strip away all the extraneous “stuff” of life and focus on the basics, then life begins to look quite different. We find ourselves equipped to really live each precious minute.

Whoever and whatever you value–that’s where your time, your attention, your focus, your money, and your heart will be. To keep a Simple Lent spend some time this week reflecting on the three scripture passages above and on whom and what you treasure.

Choose wisely; if you do not, your heart will surely be fragmented, broken, and battered by the storms of this world.

Photo by Alice Popkorn. Thanks!

Simple Lent Begins

Today is the first day of Lent. I’ve taken a short break from the blog due to an overly busy schedule and the need to prepare for this series–Simple Lent.

For those of you who don’t keep Lent there will still be much of value for you in this 40 day series. Do keep checking in. The emphasis will be on examining identity and on simplifying life by stripping away non-essentials to live the days you are given fully and joyfully.

Ashes: Reminder and New Beginning

This day in the liturgical Christian tradition is Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will rub the ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday palms into each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross. This simple act with its words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” illustrates the reality that our time here on earth is fleeting.

Every year my spouse and I undertake the duty of burning the palms and preparing the ashes for our congregations. One can buy ashes–sifted, smooth, and silky–for Ash Wednesday, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to purchase them. Just as life must be lived and cannot be bought, so too the palms should be burned, the ashes sifted and pulverized. It is dirty work, humble work, and in a way, holy work. The joy of Palm Sunday is reduced to a tiny pile of dust, changed in form and reduced to almost nothing. As I said, it is humbling to witness.

Burning the ashes raises a question that is also a lament: Why do we so complicate our time and our lives? This question has been asked through the ages, and unfortunately is nothing new. British poet William Wordsworth wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:/Little we see in nature that is ours;/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The cross of ashes sears into our soul the bittersweet news that time is elusive and fleeting. Our days are short and are made for more than getting and spending, more than rushing here and there, and more than turning inward to focus on our temporary existence of flesh and bone.

The soul seeks more. The soul is the self burned away, the beautiful remainder of our identity as created beings designed for relationship, for love, and for sharing.

This day, whether you bear the ashen cross on your forehead or whether you simply reflect on your life and its meaning, commit to a 40 day process of stripping away that which is nonessential. Accept the invitation to reduce the adiaphora of your life to ashes.

Remember, from ashes mixed with good soil new life may spring. The seed may grow, flower, and bear fruit. But nothing new will ever grow if the detritus of life covers and chokes the garden.

What is your hope? What are your dreams? What is essential? Ask the questions. Strip away the layers. Welcome to Simple Lent.

Thanksliving Activity:

Here’s one of my favorite songs by the group Casting Crowns. “American Dream” addresses the question of what’s really important and what matters. What is your dream? To what do you cling? What legacy are you building?

 

Photos by dennysmagikland and auntjojo. Thanks!

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