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13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.

14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

— From Mark 10

How do we lose such loving innocence as this? And how am I responsible as an adult for the loss of any child’s innocence in such a small, global world as the one we live in now?

Photographer Marco Mancinelli shot this arresting photo in an inner-city Montessori school for The Detroit News, which published it full-size on the back page.

For today’s Lenten meditation, sit with the picture and reflect on it a while.

1. What does it say about us all being born as innocent children of God — about us being created in the image of God?

2. It goes without saying that a child’s growth and earliest formation can only begin in, near and around the home. That said, the world is small now because of constant, instant communications, news and information.

So I wonder . . . . If it takes a village — that is, a loving, nourishing community as well as loving parents or caretakers in the home — to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child who knows right from wrong and wants only to do what’s right, what does it require of us all beyond that village as spiritually mature, Christian adults in such a “small world?”

3. We might ask ourselves: How spiritually mature have I been this week, this year — in recent years. Am I in the same state of mind, body, spirit and soul I was 40 years ago? 10 years ago? Last year? Am I stuck in the same old ruts, spinning my spiritual wheels?

Or have I grown more self aware of my flaws and faults and my propensity for certain sins?

And back to the children . . . . am I the kind of spiritually mature Christian any impressionable child anywhere in the world would want to emulate? I’m I committed to doing everything I can to build up the kingdom of God on this earth as it is in heaven?

Or, having always been aware of my flaws and faults and propensity for certain sins, how have I managed them lately?

We all have those bad habits and patterns; the great St. Paul himself lamented the hardship of managing his sinful repeats, confessing that he did the very things he wished not to do.

John Wesley didn’t believe we’re saved in any one event in time. He believed that once we’ve achieved salvation, we can easily sin it away no matter how much we deceive ourselves into believing we’ve been given a one-stop, one-way ticket to God’s welcoming banquet.

The path to the divine requires constant growth, and that requires child-like awareness of what love in the world looks like.

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There is so much to be said about Billy Graham’s life and legacy that I’ll just focus here on one aspect of that amazing life: his early advocacy for civil rights and his lifelong friendship with MLK Jr.

Billy Graham’s push for equality was a profile in Christian courage.

On what is Black History Month, I’m not sure how many Americans are aware that Graham insisted on integrated crusades way back in 1952–long before the most liberal of white Christians were courageous enough to jump on the civil rights crusade.

I wonder how many Americans are aware that Graham and Dr. King once held a crusade together in the fifties? How many people know that when King was arrested for a civil rights protest in 1963, it was Graham who paid his bail.

Graham declined 20 years’ worth of invitations to preach in South Africa, refusing to accept the invitations until they were integrated.

The courage it took for the great white preacher to be so bold in his push for equality was a profile in Christian courage for sure.

May he rest in perfect rest, perfect peace.

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In addition to writing to instant religious classics like “Hallelujah” and “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen wrote some of the most romantic love songs–some of it beautifully erotic and put to beautifully erotic videos–ever writ.

Leonard Cohen, literary writer, song writer, singer/performer, lady’s man and hopeless romantic–who withdrew for a full five years of his incredible life to a Zen monastery where he was a monk–who could have spent his last years in a lavish apartment in L.A. or New York, spent his last years in a small house with a small yard in a modest, neighborhood. He was, in my book, The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Sit quietly and listen or sing along to the words of these songs that stand alone as meditations for this Day 5 of Lent.

There is a crack in everything . . . and that, in the big spiritual scheme of things, is a good thing.

Read Psalm 51* below to appreciate this Cohen classic.

More about Cohen, “the songwriter’s songwriter,” here.
——————-
* Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,

19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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Methodism has only 2 sacraments (the Catholics and Anglicans have seven): baptism and communion. We baptist infants and sprinkle, but it’s a myth that we don’t dunk: we do baptist by immersion if someone wants it.


Like every other pastor I’ve been asked a kazillion times why, if Jesus was without sin, he wanted to be baptized.

I was asked this just yesterday by an American expat friend who can’t remember if she was baptized as a child or not.

This middle-aged woman, like scores of other hippie-dippie (flaky?) Americans and Canadians living in Central America, fancies herself as a shaman and healer because she’s been learning the healing ways of real shamans for twenty years or so.

My sense is that if she lives in Belize immersed in the ways of what authentic shamans teach her, she might be able to identify as a shaman.

But membership in the Maya shaman is rather exclusive. (That said, some serious-mind expats do have the respect of real bush doctors.)

Anyway, she thinks Jesus was really cool, a Hebrew shaman himself, she believes. She told me she baptized herself at a waterfall at a Belizean village in the mountains a few years ago.

Which is not exactly how Christian baptism works.

To say the least, she was unchurched growing up and has a lot to learn from me, a, uh, Christian shaman-of-sorts?

She’s no more ignorant about the Christian faith tradition than a lot of American Christians who grew up in the church and promptly left it never to go back, for whatever reason, but who identify as Christians.

I do give this unchurched friend credit for wanting to learn from me about all things church and God and I hope that by God’s grace she’ll maybe start attending church with me one of these years.

So my answer to my friend’s question about why sinless Jesus was baptized–always an excellent question–is twofold:

1.) It was a way of officially initiating his ministry and mission.

2.) It was a way of Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man who was both human and divine, being in solidarity with those baptized by his cousin John the Baptist.

There is more to it that I could elaborate at length on, of course, but that’s the long and short of it.

Send your questions to me, your Belizean Christian shaman, right here at http://www.jitterbuggingforjesus.com, the blog that is saving the world one lost soul at a time.

Learn more about baptism and what we of the Wesley/Methodist tradition believe about it, by checking out this quick overview.

If you care to read or scan through more about the Methodist sacrament of baptism in detail, check out this link.

Mark 1:9-15
1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

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I’ve never believed that God revealed Himself/Herself to us in the Bible and left it at that.

I’ve always believed that God’s revelation comes to us in many ways — in nature, for example. And in the arts and humanities.

God revealed himself through the Bible, of course, but God continues to reveal himself in a million ways a day, including great poetry. Pictured here is one of the greatest poets you probably never heard of, Luis Cernuda.

The Bible contains the words “Fear not” 365 times.

It has variations on those two words, of course, like “Have no fear” or “Why do you fear?” But they all boil down to the same point. A Christian who lives in hope and faith in this life, and faith in a life of perfect freedom from pain and fear in the hereafter, can take heart in the biblical command “have no fear.”

One of the great Spanish poets you never heard of, Luis Cernuda, wrote a perfectly beautiful poem about a Christian who, in a faith-filled way, mind you, looks forward to his or her own death.

In the poem titled “Where Oblivion Dwells,” this Christian imagines himself being only a memory in a place where he is oblivious to all the worries, fears, and anxieties that tear at every living human who lives and breaths.

It’s impossible for us to live without any fear whatsoever — to live a life of utter oblivion. And yet we take all the wonderful peace God avails to us in our prayers, communions and Bible reading and study. Still, the arts and humanities, like the Bible, avail us of so many other ways to know God.

I find peace in reading aloud the rhythmic words of beautiful poetry like Cernuda’s reflection on death I’m sharing today for Lent. I love his line about the Christian taking comfort in the knowledge that she’ll have freedom so perfect in eternity that she won’t even notice the freedom at all. That, to my way of thinking, is a definition of bliss that only a great poet can define.

God, thank you for the poets, the singers, the musicians, the painters and sculptors and all the creative people who open our hearts and minds to all that is divine.

Thank you for all the gifts and talents you’ve given the creative people of the world so that we can better see and find our way through our lives in the now and in the perfect life to come.

Grant us sweet freedom from the bondage of fear and anxiety in this life and that life to come. Amen.

WHERE OBLIVION DWELLS
By Luis Cernuda
Where oblivion dwells,
In the vast gardens without daybreak;
Where I will be only
The memory of a stone buried among nettles
Over which the wind flees from its sleeplessness.

Where my name will leave
The body it identifies in the arms of time,
Where desire does not exist.

In that vast region where love, that terrible angel,
Will not bury its wings
Like steel in my heart,
Smiling, full of airy grace, while the torment increases.

There, where will end this anxiety that demands a master in its own image,
Surrending its life to another life,
With no further horizon than other eyes face to face.

Where sorrow and happiness will be only names,
Native sky and earth around a memory;
Where at last I will be free, without noticing it,
Vanished into mist, into absence,
An absence as soft as a child’s skin.

There, far away;
Where oblivion dwells.

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We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness and the result of our failures in love.”

— Madeleine L’Engle on Jesus

Speaking of great American writers . . . (see yesterday’s Lenten thoughts about Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic writers school).

Madeleine L’Engle, who endured an enormous amount of loss and suffered but lived a very tough-minded 88 years in devotion and faith to God. She also endured constant attacks on her faith and integrity. NEVERTHELESS . . . SHE PERSISTED

Today’s Lenten Thought For the Day comes from the great and prolific writer Madeleine L’Engle, who knew a thing or three about physics and how God’s good, green creation works scientifically — as well as how God responds to our craving for love and forgiveness.

    “Someone asked me about creation versus evolution. I said I can’t get very excited about it. There’s only one question worth asking, and that is, ‘Did God make it?’ And if the answer is ‘Yes,’ then why get so excited about it?

    “I need to know when I go to bed at night that I’m loved, and forgiven. And along comes poor Darwin and gets everybody upset.”

Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom from Lady L’Engle:

— On truth…
“Truth transcends facts. If I don’t believe it, it isn’t true.

“I’m going to stay on the side of truth no matter how much it hurts.

“Facts end; stories are infinite. Stories have a richness that goes way beyond fact.”

— On God’s wrath…
“I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.”

— On “St. Einstein” …
“St. Albert — my favorite theologian. Einstein was my entrance into the world of astrophysics and quantum mechanics — it’s my theology.

“I was asking myself all the big questions about life and the universe and not finding the answers. Then I picked up a book of Einstein’s. He said anyone who is not lost in rapture at the power of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burned out candle.'”

— On the attacks on her classic children’s book A Wrinkle in Time, which has been made into a motion picture and is coming soon to a theater near you.
“It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it [with all their] nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy.

“First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.”

— On fighting authority:
“Patterns are constantly emerging out of chaos. I have fought with establishments all my life.”

— On her definition of success:
“If I have enough laughter, if I go to bed contented with myself and my life. I don’t think the world’s standards of success are that valid. I’m happy that after that long period of not selling books that people are buying them, but Wrinkle was just as good a book when it was being rejected as when it was published.”

“nevertheless . . . she persisted.”

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The Great American (Catholic) novelist Flannery O’Connor down in the farm in Georgia with her beloved peacocks.

Flannery O’Connor was one of the Americans in that literary pantheon of great Catholic writers, those who have produced great literature with Catholic undertones and themes. In these daily posts through Easter, I’ll be citing the words and works of others in the said pantheon.

I’ll lift up writers, living and dead, like the Brits T.S. Eliot and Graham Greene and Americans like the many Southern Catholics like Percy Walker of Louisiana (and O’Connor, of Georgia).

Also, contemporary Catholics like the Pulitzer winner and hard-bitten Texas writer Mary Carr, and Ron Hansen, author of such (violent) fiction as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a story chock-full of Catholic theology that was made into a great and vastly underrated film with Brad Pitt. (Pitt called it his favorite film role at the time; the writer Ron Hansen said that Casey Affleck was so good as Robert Ford that he was “born to play this role.”)

Out of the American lot of greatest American novelists, short story writers, and Christian thinkers, many–if not most–rank the very Southern/gothic O’Connor as the best of the best Catholics.

“All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal,” O’Connor once said.

Indeed, her novels are fool of gritty, violent characters who commit bloody, god-awful acts. But then, consider that people who don’t know how to read and interpret the Bible through a theological lens–or who aren’t willing to do so– think of the Bible as a “hard, hopeless and brutal” book.

Any great literature that explores the depths of violence, like the Bible itself, is always subject to blanket condemnation for that very violence. Some see the crucifixion of Christ on the cross as an act of “divine child abuse.” It can certainly be interpreted that way on the face of it. Based on my study of the Bible and the Christian tradition with all its many and varied “atonement” theories, I don’t see the cross as an act of divine child abuse at all.

It takes a certain kind of guidance and disciplined study for a Bible reader to understand that even the God of the largely nasty Old Testament was a God whose will was for love of neighbor, grace, peace, and social justice. It takes a certain kind of guidance and disciplined study to understand any great, lasting piece of literature.

So its small wonder that O’Connor’s work is subject to so much misunderstanding. I’ll have more from O’Connor here during Lent, but for now I’ll just leave you with this quote of hers, about the high cost of discipleship, from “The Habit of Being,” a collection of her wonderful and often delightfully funny letters.

And oh by the way, keep in mind that the delightful, joy-filled O’Connor was handicapped and died all too young from lupus.

    “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.

    “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

Go here to learn more about O’Connor and her deep faith in the face of so much suffering.

Go here to order “The Habit of Being” or other works.

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