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“Lent offers a beautiful opportunity to discover the mystery of Christ within us. It is a gentle but also demanding time. When we live Lent attentively and gently, then Easter can truly be a celebration during which the full proclamation of the risen Christ will reverberate into the deepest place of our being.”

— Henri Nouwen

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This is first in a series of regular Lenten postings you’ll find here between now and Easter. Grace and peace and blessings on you all, dear readers.

Ash Wednesday is a Christian tradition that capitalism seems incapable of vulgarizing the way that market forces have vulgarized Christmas and, to a limited extent, even Easter.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that from so much holy star dust we were made, and to so much Godly star dust we’ll return. It’s such a serious and holy day in the church tradition that it can’t be commercialized and packaged in pretty paper or sold in the form of chocolate eggs and bunnies.

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In my lifetime I’ve seen Ash Wednesday grow a lot in popularity, which ain’t to say it’s grown as popular as, say, Super Bowl Sunday (Sunday being the traditional Sabbath Day that is supposed to be kept Holy). And it’s sure not as popular as your ever-more popular Sabbath Day gun shows.

Still, I’ve seen it grow from being a day that relatively few devout Catholics and Episcopalians observed, to a day that Protestant denominations like my own United Methodist Church have rediscovered and recovered. Today in America you’ll see more people walking around with what look like smudges of dirt on their foreheads than you saw last year.

I dare say Ash Wednesday has become a cool event in a culture that just can’t seem to get enough cool stuff, dude.

* * * *

Increasing numbers of American Christians now attend the many Ash Wednesday church services offered in an ever-growing number of churches. Maybe that’s a sign that Americans are hungry for something that’s not cool, but something that’s meaningful and serious.

The imposition of the ashes in the Christian faith-and-church tradition is not–or not supposed to be–some sort of holy, spiritual quickie. It’s the first step in the process of spiritual formation in the holy and very holy season of Lent.

And Lent is not about fasting or giving up something for the sake of showing some kind of vague, spiritual self-discipline.

    Take note of this, please, if you’re planning some kind of fast for Lent:

    Real fasting will make your stomach growl, and the growl in that empty space within you can be like the chime of a church bell–a reminder to turn your attention to the presence of God within you and around you.

The 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, totally reliant on God for his survival out there, were 40 days of spiritual formation.

Ash Wednesday is not some quick and down and dirty nod to something vaguely Godly and holy.

It’s one relatively small gesture packed with theological meaning, and a good first step to 40 days of deep, spiritual formation.

More on Lent from Methodist pages here and here. And this from a Catholic perspective.

Village people, prepping plantain leaves for tamales.

Village people, prepping plantain leaves for tamales.


"Hi, America"

“Hi, America”

Welcome to a special Sunday edition of Belizean postcards from a couple of happy-people villages I’ve visited lately.

Scroll on . . . . .

My friend Antonio with one of his four children. He works at a beach resort in Placencia on the southern Belizean coastline, working 10 days and coming home to western Belize for three days at a time. He dotes on his children when home, as really loving a family man as I've ever seen.

My friend Antonio with one of his four children. He works at a beach resort in Placencia on the southern Belizean coastline, working 10 days and coming home to western Belize for three days at a time. He dotes on his children when home and is as loving a family man as I’ve ever seen.

Saturday at the market I saw a young Belizean friend of mine, Antonio, with his wife Lady and one of their four children. They live up in a beautiful village in the mountains of Mountain Pine Ridge, a place called Seven Miles. (Guess how far it is from some semblance of civilization.)

A school bus runs to market early on Saturday mornings and heads back to Seven Miles promptly at 1 p.m. Antonio and Lady, however, lost track of time and missed the bus, so I offered to take them home.

They live with Lady’s parents on the family’s 55 acre farm with the four kids, a horse, a pig and enough chickens and baby chicks running around to feed Belize.

Antonio's parents in the younger days.

Antonio’s parents in the younger days.

Lady is camera shy but did catch this snap of her happy face.

Lady is camera shy but did catch this snap of her happy face.

Lady's mom, on the other hand, is a total extrovert, pictured here hamming it up on a neighbor girl's tiny tricycle.

Lady’s mom, on the other hand, is a total extrovert, pictured here hamming it up on a neighbor girl’s tiny tricycle.

Antonio's father in law farms about 10 acres of 55 he owns. He's rents out another 20 acres.

Antonio’s father in law farms about 10 acres of 55 he owns. He’s rents out another 20 acres.

A view of my the family's beautiful, lush farm.

A view of the family’s beautiful, lush farm. You name it, it’s planted out there: tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, spuds, pineapples, plantains, papaya and mango trees, among other stuff. Families have everything you need up here, including water service, and excepting electricity, but who needs that–that’s what lanterns are for.

Antonio's 10-year-old son can't walk or talk, but loves to go swimming and caving in inner tubes. There's ancient water caves complete with Mayan bones and skulls and artifacts around less than a mile from Antonio's home.

Antonio’s 10-year-old son can’t walk or talk, but loves to go swimming and caving in inner tubes. There’s ancient water caves complete with Mayan bones and skulls and artifacts around less than a mile from Antonio’s home.

Mike's Place is a popular tourist attraction with cave tubing in ancient caves, and zip-lining. Another popular place for zip-lining, Calico Jack's, is in Seven Miles Village near Antonio's family farm.

Mike’s Place is a popular tourist attraction with cave tubing in ancient caves, and zip-lining. Another popular place for zip-lining, Calico Jack’s, is in Seven Miles Village near Antonio’s family farm.

The horse shares the corn with the chicks, which is the neighborly thing to do after all.

The horse shares the corn with the chicks, which is the neighborly thing to do after all.

Porky eats like a pig and  don't share nothin'.

Porky eats like a pig and don’t share nothin’.


===========================
Meanwhile……. back in the village of Calla Creek on the other side of western Belize, I recently went for a long, aimless walk with the camera.

It was here in Calla Creek village that the ladies of the Living Waters Church were washing plantain leaves for the tamales they made Friday night to sell in San Ignacio on Saturday, market day, when people from villages from 20 miles and farther pour into San Ignacio, the hub of trade and commerce in far Western Belize.

It was here in Calla Creek Village that the ladies of the Living Waters Church were washing plantain leaves for the tamales they made Friday night to sell in San Ignacio on Saturday, market day, when people from villages from 20 miles and farther pour into San Ignacio, the hub of trade and commerce in far Western Belize.

The kids weren't involved in tamale making; just giggled at the gringo with the camera a lot.

The kids weren’t involved in tamale making; just giggled at the gringo with the camera a lot.

This heavily secured house overlooks the river in a scenic setting.

This heavily secured house overlooks the river in a scenic setting.

“Nastase”: the entrance to the riverside place has these fading, Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags at the gate. Maybe the Dalai Lama has a Belizean retreat house at Calla Creek Village?

How do you get to the other side of the Mopan River on the swing bridge at Calla village? Holding your breath and praying helps.

How to get to the other side of the Mopan River on the swing bridge at Calla village? Holding your breath and praying helps.

The mighty Mopan; hard to imagine the kazillions of Mayan canoes that used to pass here at Calla, which is not far from the big Mayan Xunantunich ruins where you can scale up a temple and see miles and miles of Belize and Guatemala too.

The mighty Mopan; hard to imagine the kazillions of Mayan canoes that used to pass here at Calla, which is not far from the big Mayan Xunantunich ruins where you can scale up a temple and see miles and miles of Belize and Guatemala too.

So I got across the swing bridge to find this American expat couple, who have 50 acres of land down the road, buying orchids from a Belizean couple they'd made an appointment  with. About 100 feet from there I met an American expat who bought a house he's living on in 1995, but he only moved to it six months ago and is building a bigger house to stay permanently. It's not as if I stumble across American expats out in the boonies every day; it was a little strange to meet these Americans all in one walk down the backroads.

So I got across the swing bridge to find this American expat couple, who have 50 acres of land down the road, buying orchids from a Belizean couple they’d made an appointment with. About 100 feet from there I met an American expat who bought a house he’s living on in 1995, but he only moved to it six months ago and is building a bigger house to stay permanently. It’s not as if I stumble across American expats out in the boonies every day; it was a little strange to meet these Americans all in one walk down the backroads.

Belize is a wonderland of unique and beautiful orchids and flowers. Plant, and it will grow.

Belize is a wonderland of unique and beautiful orchids and flowers. Plant, and it will grow.

Another Calla Creek Village attraction: nice bamboo in places on the riverside, which makes for nice and very nice furniture.

Another Calla Creek Village attraction: nice bamboo in places on the riverside, which makes for nice and very nice furniture.

Until next time, don't be hugging the poison wood trees, tree huggers.

Until next time, don’t be hugging the poison wood trees, tree huggers.


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‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

— Matthew 5:32-36

+++++++++++++

Legend has it that Hollywood’s most hilarious curmudgeon, W.C. Fields, was in his dressing room reading a bible when his manager walked in. Shocked to find the cranky comic with the Good Book in hand, the manager asked Fields what he was doing.

“Looking for loopholes,” he quipped.

"Christ died on the cross for the bigots, too." -- Will D. Campbell, the freedom fighter who close to Martin Luther King while being a pastor to Klansmen and their families.

“Christ died on the cross for the bigots, too.” — Will D. Campbell, the radical-love pastor and freedom fighter who was a close associate of Martin Luther King while also being a pastor to Klansmen and their families.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God had given us God’s Word complete with asterisks pointing out exceptions and loopholes so that we could take comfort in our having so many love deficits?

Wouldn’t it be nice if God said that we’re to love all are neighbors *UNlESS we have issues to the point of hatred for ……

FILL IN THE BLANKS OF All THOSE YOU HATE OR DESPISE, DEAR CHRISTIAN READER (WRITE ON BACK OF PAGE IF YOU NEED MORE SPACE):

*————-
*————-
*————-
*————-
*————-

His Greatness the Rev. Will D. Campbell, the great Southern “bootleg” preacher, civil rights fighter and maybe the most interesting White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian maverick of the 20th Century, was with Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and all the other giants of the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s, when it required some real courage and Christian integrity even for a Baptist preacher to be in the company of Dr. King and company. He was also among those activists with King at the Memphis motel when King was assassinated.

So there was no denying Campbell’s commitment to anti-racism–and yet he spent his whole life ministering to Ku Kluxers and other flaming racists as well as minorities.

Campbell, who died last year, frequently had to remind us that “Jesus died on the cross for bigots, too.”

Nobody ever said that Christianity–“The Way,” as Christianity was called long before it was known as Christianity–is an easy Way, even if a rare kind of saintly bird like Will Campbell comes along to remind us that you just follow the Way–you just do it no matter how challenging the task of love is–rather than looking for loopholes.


Beach on the Caribbean at Hopkins, Belize.

Beach on the Caribbean at Hopkins, Belize.

One of the pools at Chaa Creek Eco Resort near San Ignacio.

One of the pools at Chaa Creek Eco Resort near San Ignacio.

Rev. Paul McKay:

As a followup to the blog posting here the other day, about Ted Nugent and friends, here’s a well-done spiritual take on the Nugent flap from my friend and United Methodist cohort Christy Thomas–a thoughtful pastor who blogs at a blog called “thoughtful pastor.”

Originally posted on thoughtfulpastor:

open-hands-repentance Like many others, I am so deeply troubled by the choice of both Texas and national Republicans to use Ted Nugent as a spokesperson for their views. Try typing into a search engine, “Ted Nugent Pedophile” and see what comes up. To call this man “vile” might be a compliment. He’s simply appalling.

Now, I will tell you that I’d never even heard of this person before last week’s dust-up in Denton. I’m not much into pop culture, and never have been. Never listened to his music, never even knew he existed. But his association with Republicans is not new. I’ve learned now that Mitt Romney sought out Nugent as a supporter in his campaign and that Nugent made open claims about wishing to assassinate then candidate, now President, Obama.

Apparently this is OK, since Nugent, the ardent lover of all things American (except serving in the Armed Forces…

View original 543 more words


Just a thought for a Sunday morning:

jesus-gun

Considering how many gun shows will be going on today in America, on the Sabbath day, I wonder if–when Jesus comes back–his first stop might be at a gun show to stock up on him some assault weapons and ammo?

Don’t think that would be his aim.



Pictured is a Bulgarian beggar, 99-year-old Dobri Dobrev, sometimes called the “Saint of Baylovo” or “the Saint of Bulgaria.”

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He’s seen some rough roads in his 99 years–he lost most of his hearing in World War II when a shell exploded near him in the bombings of Sofia.

Every day, the old man walks up to 25 kilometers begging for alms, which go to the poor or to maintenance of Orthodox churches, monasteries and orphanages. Over the years the saintly one pretty much withdrew from the material world to devote himself to his spiritual life and ways. He donated all his belongings to his church and now lives in a small extension to the church in his native village of Baylovo.

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