“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
--Matthew 28:20 NRSV
In September 2019, both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer the very same week. They had two very different cancers. My mother had an inoperable brain tumor which killed her two months later, while my father had a cancer with a high survivability rate located on a kidney. A surgery to remove the kidney followed by chemotherapy resulted in him living cancer-free now two years later. There have been many spiritual lessons for me since I received the news that both my parents had cancer. Perhaps the most significant one has come from my father’s oncologist (I’ll call her Dr. B) who has demonstrated a radical kind of presence that I call holy.
I can’t think of a time I felt more vulnerable than when I accompanied my father to meet Dr. B for the first time. My mother had recently died from her cancer when we met to discuss my father’s treatment. I felt all the stuff one feels when one grieves, including anger. The doctors who had treated my mother did their best for her, but they often spoke to her problem and not to her. It had been an exhausting two months of trying to get straight answers about the trade-offs between my mother having a short time of relative peace vs. efforts to give her even a little more time that left her feeling worse than death. I remember bracing myself for another struggle over life or death questions regarding my father when we met Dr. B.
From the moment Dr. B entered the room, her eyes were focused on my father’s eyes. She sat near him leaning forward to take in everything he said both verbally and non-verbally. She listened for information about his health and quality of life with an acute ear geared toward hearing him as a human being in all his complexity. I sat across the room and asked all my fearful and protective questions about the consequences of different approaches to treating his cancer, and she listened to each one answering them directly while validating my fear over losing a second parent. Although I remained guarded, I began to trust her judgment. Over two years later, I now look forward to seeing her, because of the time, care and attention she offers not only to my father’s treatment but also to him as a person. I have rarely been in the presence of someone so present and attentive to another human being. My gratitude to her simply knows no bounds for the attention she gives my father every time we go in for another scan to see if his cancer has returned.
Every time my father and I leave one of his appointments with Dr. B, we always comment on her gift of presence. We have yet to experience her when she seems distracted or focused on anything other than him and his care. As someone in a caring profession, I am envious of her abilities to be present with people she cares for. I find myself too easily distracted when I am trying to be present with people sharing their spiritual struggles with me. Apart from my professional envy however, I am a son who is deeply grateful for the attention she gives my father, just one of who knows how many patients she sees.
I think about Dr. B when I pray to be more present to other people, less lost in my own head, less anxious and less distracted. In moments, when I do feel more present than not with others, I discover that I encounter hurting people wherever I go. Whether it’s talking with a church member or exchanging a few words with a cashier or barista, people everywhere are afraid, vulnerable and desperate for human connection (even more so during COVID-19).
I am grateful for the cancer treatment my father has received from Dr. B, but I am perhaps even more grateful for the gift of presence she has given to him. Feeling he is cared for and seen in all his humanity has been an essential part of his healing. Her presence has also allowed space for me to heal in my grief for my mother. Buddhist monk and spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” This is a lesson I’ve seen in action when I have been with Dr. B.
As a Christian how I have interpreted Dr. B’s gift of presence to my father (and to me) is to see the incarnation of God in Christ as present in her care. The Christ embodied in her has ministered to the Christ embodied in my father (and in me). I can’t help but wonder the difference made any time we can be really present with others. Kilian Noe who works in addiction and recovery therapy describes the spiritual interactions at work in this kind of presence:
“Sometimes we are astonished when we learn that although we did not actually ‘do’ anything for a certain individual, our simply being present or showing up allowed something to shift in his or her inner landscape that made space for deeper healing. Sometimes we discover that in simply being present to another’s pain we experience the Divine in them that awakens the Divine in ourselves.”
No, a few words exchanged with a server, store clerk, a family member or a friend are not the same as a meeting between patient and oncologist, but they may nonetheless be moments with life and death consequences. Each one of us hurts and each one of us can be present for another’s pain. Oftentimes the gift of presence we offer to others maybe exactly what is needed for God to bring healing.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Over the last two weeks, the images from Texas have been difficult to grasp. People without heat or running water. Huge lines to get gasoline and groceries. Tales of people dying due to freezing temperatures. There are many charities and agencies responding to these needs, but the one I am most connected to is Week of Compassion. WoC is the Disciples of Christ special offering for disaster relief and refugee ministries. Here are some of the recipients of financial assistance from WoC funds in Texas:
Those Disciples congregation receive help from the funds we give to Week of Compassion each year.
We receive news on our phones, in our email and on TV about disasters striking people around the world, and we want to offer help, but it is not always easy to know how to do so. I’m certainly guilty of seeing a wildfire, hurricane, drought or tornado devastate a community and feeling like I want to help, but then I don’t invest time or effort to figure out where to give. When the news cycle moves on to other stories, I forget all about the need I once cared about.
With Week of Compassion, I can give to a trustworthy Christian organization that is always responding to disasters either directly or through partner agencies like Church World Service. When reporters and cameras leave a disaster zone, WoC and its partners remain behind and continue to serve. When I’m watching the latest disaster online, WoC staff are already calling churches and ministries in disaster-hit areas and asking how they can help.
I checked the Week of Compassion web site as I am writing this, and here are examples of where WoC is working right now:
In each case, funds are distributed directly to Disciples congregations or partner churches/ministries.
Most Disciples of Christ congregations take up six special offerings for ministry beyond the local church.
In my experience, I’ve had the easiest time getting congregations excited about the Week of Compassion offering. Most likely, people are drawn to WoC, because of its work responding to natural disasters. The need in such cases is readily apparent, and when people learn about the good work WoC does to help, people get excited about it.
A Disciples pastor in Dallas shared about the Week of Compassion response to her church just this last week. Rev. Virzola Law, Senior Minister of Northway Christian Church in Dallas, shares: “The DFW area is not built for this extreme weather. Yet with the resources of so many--like Week of Compassion and our neighbors--we were able show up and provide the basics. Shelter for some; water for others; food for many. Blankets for warmth. And even a shoulder (with a mask on). The distance was closed because so much love continues to be unmasked. Christ and Community have bridged the gaps in amazing ways as we continue to move through this time… We are stronger together as the body of Christ, and Week of Compassion makes that possible.”
We are emphasizing giving to Week of Compassion this week, but you can give to it anytime. Just make a contribution to Park Hill Christian Church the way you always do and indicate you wish your donation to go to Week of Compassion. We will send it on to Week of Compassion and ensure your gift goes to help people in need throughout the United States and the world.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for
harm, to give you a future with hope.
--Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV
In 1999, I was ecstatic! The Star Wars prequels were coming out. I wanted to camp out for movie tickets but couldn’t find anyone to come along with me. I so badly wanted to recapture the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy which had captivated my childhood. Unfortunately, I and millions of other fans were disappointed by these movies which chronologically took place before those in the original trilogy. The fun of the originals had been replaced by byzantine plots and awful dialogue. Even people who enjoyed a return trip to “A galaxy far far away” admitted this trip wasn’t as fun the second time around.
Some have argued my disappointment had to do with nostalgia--things just aren’t as wondrous in adulthood as they were in childhood. Maybe so, but I also think it is remarkably rare to enjoy something great a second time around. I have struggled to think of movie sequels that were better than the original films. Godfather 2, Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) and Lethal Weapon 2 are the only ones on my list. I’m not sure how one considers movies intended from the beginning to be part of a franchise, such as Mission Impossible, Harry Potter or the Marvel/DC films. Mileage varies on those kinds of films. When you consider movies that were originally made to be stand-alone films but which later had sequels, the sequels, however good they may be, never match the original. Think of Jaws, Blade Runner, Toy Story, The Matrix, etc.
What is true for Hollywood seems true for life. We have meaningful experiences but when we try to recreate them, we discover it's near impossible to duplicate the magic. I have found that I may have equally special experiences, say going back to a past vacation spot, but I’m really creating a new memory, just at a place I have been to before. No matter how much we work to prevent it, the world keeps changing and so do we. There really is no way to turn back time and experience the same thing twice, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Our memory is meant to be a gift, but like so many things we can turn it into a curse. We can love things so much from our pasts that we miss out on the wonder in our presents.
I guess I could compile my list of favorite films and never watch a new one, but where’s the fun in that? Think of all the amazing new films I would miss. In the same way, we can return again and again to our favorite memories to the point that they become more wonderful than they ever were in reality. What makes our most meaningful experiences meaningful is precisely that we cannot go back and experience them anew. The moments that matter the most were each a magical and unique event, and the same is true of the most meaningful moments happening in the here and now.
Our past memories are only useful if they serve us in the present. God never intended them to hold us prisoner to a past that can never come again. God is always pulling us forward with the promise that our favorite moments of the past are examples of what is still possible in our presents and futures.
I’ve seen all the Star Wars prequels and sequels, and as much as I have liked some of them, none of them compare to the original in my mind. That being said, I have watched a lot of movies in the decades since that weren’t Star Wars films and I have seen plenty that I loved and return to with joy. I look forward to more favorite movies yet to be discovered. It would be a shame if I refused to ever watch a new movie.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly
by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is
good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
--Romans 12:3 GNT
We should learn a lesson from President Selina Meyer. Who is President Meyer, you ask? No, you didn’t miss a presidential election, and no, this isn’t the latest QAnon conspiracy about who the “deep state.” President Selina Meyer is a fictional US President played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss on the HBO TV show Veep. This cynical and hapless politician reveals a lot about what an unexamined life looks like.
Louis-Dreyfuss won six Emmys and numerous other awards for her portrayal of Selina Meyer, a politician hell-bent on becoming President. Her incompetence and lack of substance only allowed her rise to the level of Vice President. After serving almost two terms as VP, the President resigns resulting in her holding history’s shortest term as US President (only 8 months!). Fair warning--every episode is filled with vulgarity, but if you can stomach its lewdness, the series offers comedy gold. The humor always centers on the utter selfishness of Meyer and her aides.
Veep has become my latest TV show binge to help me through the pandemic. As it goes along, sometimes the cynicism gets pretty deep, but by the later seasons I felt sympathy for these lost and empty characters, especially President Selina Meyer. Over time, viewers learn how Meyer and her aides each were set on their pursuits of fame and power by demanding and demented parents. Like pinballs launched into a pinball machine they bounce from one event to another without ever asking why or altering their own trajectories.
A poignant moment occurs in the final season when Meyer attempts to run again for President. A new speechwriter pesters her to put into her own words why she wants to be President. After searching in vain for a noble reason, Meyer finally sputters, “Because it’s my turn!” She has no greater purpose or desire to improve the world, only an unattainable idea of success she is compelled to pursue.
In less absurdist terms, the plight of President Selina Meyer resembles a lot of people I know. If I’m being honest, I resemble it too. I identify with this fictional politician’s pursuit of an ambiguous success that lacks self-reflection. We humans are often driven by expectations placed upon us by parents and other family members, unfair comparisons with acquaintances and the validation of others. No wonder our lives end up feeling empty and our accomplishments fail to fill the holes inside of us. When asked why we spend our lives in pursuit of a particular goal, our answers ring hollow, because we lack self-understanding. Our strivings to be most popular, perfect parents, business experts and financial whizzes do not feed our souls even if we reach “success.”
The Apostle Paul wrote on numerous occasions about how Christians must allow their minds to be transformed and continually renewed by Christ. For someone to be “in Christ,” they must set aside the priorities, actions and thoughts which do not lead to life. This happens not by our effort but by our willingness to let Christ change who we are. When we are asked why we are pursuing a particular life course, our answer becomes”Because Christ leads me this way.” Our lives move from being a mindless pursuit of a selfish goal to a thoughtful following of Christ so we can serve others in love.
Deep down we know our lives desire purpose and meaning provided only by union with our Creator. This deep knowledge is why we laugh at a hapless character like President Selina Meyer. We know her path is often our own.
Grace and Peace,
8“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ ”
Jonah 2:8 – 9
As the Lenten Season begins let us reflect on the Lord.
We serve a God so full of love for us that He spared nothing to bring us salvation. As we walk with the Son, we too are called to give all to show our love. During this 40-day season we must reflect on where we have let idols creep in. We must examine our lives, hearts, and minds to find even the smallest crumb that blocks our way to God.
It is so easy to let small things slip into our walk that we may not notice them at first. But like the smallest pebble in the shoe, these things begin to distract us from the path Jesus wants us on. Just as that small grain rubs and irritates, the ‘idols’ we let in rub against our relationship with our God.
Like Jonah, we must re-evaluate ourselves and declare I “will sacrifice to You”. We must shout “in grateful praise” to the one and true God, our Father, our devotion, and desire to follow Him.
Take this moment to pray:
Oh my God, Creator of Everything, I humble myself before You. Open my eyes Lord Jesus, so that I may see the areas of my life where I have put ‘idols’ above You.
Open my heart Lord that I might see what darkness has slipped in. Loving Savior, I ask You to shine Your light on those spaces that I may see where I need to grow.
Teach me, Oh Spirit, how to let go of the shadows and idols that keep me from serving God more fully.
Lord, I make this my Lenten prayer. Let me, like Jonah, say, “What I have vowed, I will make good.” Amen.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
--Isaiah 32:16-17 NRSV
I have wondered at the preponderance of TV shows about dropping people in the middle of a wilderness. Why are they so popular--Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, Survivorwoman, Naked and Afraid, and more? I guess they are popular for a lot of the same reasons adventure books and movies always have been--they are a vicarious look at someone forced to survive in extreme conditions. We get to ask ourselves what we would do in the same situation? (In case you are wondering, my answer is “I would die.”) Also, I believe their appeal is about being fully present in the moment. There is no time for regrets, shame or anxiety about an unknown future; all one’s energy is devoted to surviving in this moment. One is awake to the fragility and the wonder of life.
Most of us don’t literally go on reality TV shows into an extreme wilderness, but we can find ourselves at the end of our ropes mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We can reach points when we wonder if we will survive to make it through to the other side. These are wilderness moments. Most of us--myself included--spend a lot of time, energy and money to not think about how close we are to experiencing such moments. We find lots of ways not to consider what we are really made of, what really matters and who and what can we really depend upon?
Walter Brueggemann, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), writes that the purpose of a prophet is to wake up a society. He says there are forces that “narcotize” people so they will ignore the abuse of power, the ways people in power attempt to play God with people less powerful and the oppression of the many for the enrichment of the few. I had never heard the word “narcotize” before I read Brueggemann’s use of it. I discovered it’s a great way to describe our human dilemma when I read the definition: “stupefy with or as with a drug.” In the way a narcotic can stupefy someone or make them insensible, so also can social, political and theological levers pushed by people who wish to profit from them do the same to our mindsets, perspectives and awarenesses.
Lent is a season that is supposed to wake us up, to shake us so that the things we depend on to just get by lose their hold upon us. The idea of giving up something for Lent has its origin in this kind of spiritual discipline. Unfortunately, Lent has become just another motivation tool for only dieting or self-improvement rather than a way to become more spiritually connected to the Divine. Lent begins with reflection on Jesus in the wilderness--a time where Jesus is without the normal comforts of life. In wilderness moments--moments of pain, struggle and uncertainty--we find ourselves without the usual stuff we depend on to get by. In other words, what we normally use to “narcotize” ourselves no longer works--stimulation of media, sex, alcohol, drugs, a gallon of coffee each day, sleeping pills at night, codependent relationships, mindgames and more. What's your favorite narcotic? Mine is either doom scrolling on my smartphone or worrying about the future; I can't decide which one I do more.
In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes,
The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wandered for forty years. It is a way of being. A place that demands being open to the flow of life around you. A place that demands being honest with yourself without regard to the cost in personal anxiety. A place that demands being present with all of yourself. In the wilderness your possessions cannot surround you. Your preconceptions cannot protect you. Your logic cannot promise you the future. Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past. You are left alone each day with an immediacy that astonishes, chastens and exults. You see the world as if for the first time.
Part of the reason our culture is filled with resources to help us “be mindful” and “present” is because we recognize how unfulfilling it is to remain narcotized--in a stupor--asleep to the danger and wonder of our world. Being out in nature is a great place to wake up to living, but that is not the only place such moments are possible. A wilderness moment can happen anywhere and at any time if we are courageous enough to stop, breathe and allow God to speak to us in our stillness.
Rev. Ann Sutherland Howard says in a sermon preached on the radio show and podcast Day1 That such wilderness moments are available to us all the time. She says wild spaces exist in each of us awaiting our discovery.
Wild space is that part in each one of us that does not fit our consumer culture's definition of the good life.... It's the wild space in each of us that allows us to question the patterns of our lives so that we might begin to break free of the conventions, addictions, protections and consumptions leave us feeling filled to the brim but empty deep inside, that keep us from recognizing our deepest need and the deep hunger all around us.
I work hard not to be alone with my thoughts, much less to still my thoughts so God can speak to my deepest self. I have all kinds of ways to narcotize myself, so I don’t have to think about the most important things about life--things to which I am usually not devoting myself. Maybe it will take me travelling out into an actual wilderness to do better, but I believe that step isn’t truly necessary. I just have to wake up to the wonder of the present moment which God is always offering me but I am so reluctant to accept.
On this Lenten journey, I hope you will accept God’s invitation to pursue the wilderness inside of you.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock
beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of
the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing,
yet it was not consumed.
--Exodus 3:1-2 NRSV
Last night we began the season of Lent together. Some were in the sanctuary and many more joined online. We couldn’t feel the touch of ashes on our foreheads this year, but ashes were still present. On Ash Wednesday, we begin our journey into the wilderness.
The first Sunday in Lent always focuses on the stories told in Matthew, Mark and Luke about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. This time of discomfort, denial and temptation comes immediately after Jesus’ baptism when the voice from heaven declares, “You are my beloved son.” One might think a beloved child of God might have an easier time of it, but a wilderness journey seems like a prerequisite for all that comes afterward.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who skims through the Bible that Jesus ended up in the wilderness. The Bible is full of these wilderness experiences. Abraham’s slave Hagar is sent into the wilderness. Joseph’s brothers throw him into a pit in the wilderness. Moses flees into the wilderness and finds the burning bush. The Israelites spend forty years in the wilderness. David hides out in the wilderness. The prophet Elijah spends 40 days running for his life in the wilderness. The Psalms and the Prophets talk non-stop about the miracles God does in the wilderness. What would have been surprising is if Jesus had somehow avoided the wilderness, given that so many other big names of scripture end up there at one time or another.
Wilderness in scripture becomes a shorthand for a space where it seems God is absent but, in reality people more vividly experience God. Peculiarly, our times of struggle, deprivation and feeling lost turn out to be the times when God shows up in unexpected ways. Writer, scholar and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor writes that we don’t have to go into the desert to have a wilderness experience:
Wildernesses come in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can really tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty....
this is not a situation many of us seek. Most of us, in fact, spend a lot of time and money trying to stay out of it; but I don't know anyone who succeeds at that entirely or forever. Sooner or later, every one of us will get to take our own wilderness exam, our own trip to the desert to discover who we really are and what our lives are really about. I guess that could sound like bad news, but I don't think it is. I think it is good news — because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.
As we approach a year living with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may feel like they are experiencing wilderness moments—isolation, separation, lost jobs, lost school, lost celebrations, financial anxiety, and one heck of a winter cold spell all may leave us wondering how much more we can take. Yet, these moments when we feel most out of control can be transformative, if we allow them to be. We are confronted with how little control we have in life, and how most of the things that matter most were grace rather than things we earned or purchased. We can discover what we really need to live and how much of what we hold on to is not only unnecessary but preventing us from experiencing true life.
The same con be said for churches. I’ve been ordained almost twenty years and my entire career has been spent in churches that were in wilderness moments, whether they realized it or not. The statistics on declining and dying churches are sobering, and levels of commitment, financial giving and attendance have been in freefall from decades ago. This seems like a time when churches look around to find all the things they used to depend upon are no longer present—a time of wilderness. Yet, if the message of scripture about wildernesses is true, then this is the kind of moment when God shows up in unexpected ways.
In our individual lives and in the lives of congregations, when we can no longer depend upon the things we used to depend upon is when we learn to truly depend upon God. We learn to let go of things that no longer work and are shown new ways of living and being in a different environment. For those up for it, the uncomfortable and frightening time in the wilderness can be a time of renewal, rediscovery, and replenishment. The wilderness may feel painful to us who are used to easier conditions, but what we discover about God, our churches and ourselves promises to be richer and more blessed than we would have experienced without it.
Be on the lookout for God to show up in new ways as we journey through the wilderness of Lent.
Grace and Peace,
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
--Jonah 3:6 NRSV
I think I’m too suburban to understand Ash Wednesday.
I grew up in the suburbs, while my parents grew up on farms. Their idea of moving up in the world meant being among the first in their families to get a college degree, to take white collar jobs and to live in a place where someone else grew and produced the food they ate each day. I never had my own livestock, grew my own crops or picked my own fruit (except for annual trips to an apple orchard). My food came from weekly trips to the supermarket, and the food there (if it really was food and not made in a factory) came from some mysterious place of which I had no firsthand knowledge. So, the seasons of planting, growing, harvesting and preparing to do it all over again are lost on me.
If I did have experience with agriculture, Ash Wednesday might make sense to me. Ashes would not just be something leftover in the charcoal grill or the fireplace, but rather the result of burning away the chaff left over from harvest time to provide nutrients to the soil for future growth. The biblical idea of repenting in dust and ashes is not an end in itself but a means of burning away what is no longer life-giving and preparing our souls for future growth.
Minister and author James Wind writes:
Lent begins with cold dark ashes and ends in Easter with the spark of bright new fire. For people with no awareness of the ancient practice of burning the fields so that new crops have room to grow, the season has an unnatural feel to it, quite the opposite of its original meaning. For us, ashes seldom carry any other significance than death and tragedy. Small wonder that most in our society turn the other way when clergy get ready to mark foreheads with an ashen cross and say, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
For people like me, a generation removed from the farm, the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” have a finality to them instead of a promise of new life. The reminder of mortality seems once and for all rather than an annual event; linear rather than cyclical. I fear death as a negation of life instead of seeing death as a necessary part of living. So, I cling to stuff, behaviors, patterns of thought and lingering resentments which are like chaff, leftover stalks and husks, doing no good laying on top of the soil, preventing new growth. They need to be burned away, so the ash can filter into the soil, so the dust can regain nutrients for new healthier things to grow.
The ashes of Ash Wednesday are not a condemnation or a mark of tragedy but an invitation to new life. When our spiritual ancestors in the Bible mourned and repented in ashes and dust, there was no expectation they would remain in that spot forever. Instead that time of ash and dust was a necessary precondition to reconciliation with God, with their community and with themselves. Just as they burned away the chaff of last year’s crops to grow new ones, so also times of repentance led to new life.
In the comedy we know as the Book of Jonah, the reluctant prophet gives the bad news of divine judgment to the city of Nineveh. Upon hearing the news, the whole city repents and even the king joins in with dust and ashes. Seeing their actions, God forgives them and withholds judgment. Jonah is disgusted at God’s mercy, because he was ready for the fire and brimstone. Jonah missed God’s invitation to new life. In the end, God uses the brief life and sudden death of a plant to teach Jonah the lesson that God wishes new life for all people.
Perhaps, I’m like Jonah (maybe you are too?) seeing ashes as a sign of God’s disfavor rather than God’s invitation to new life. The ashes of Ash Wednesday aren’t an ending brought about by our mistakes but a beginning brought about by God’s grace. Death is a friend we welcome, because it marks the end of things we no longer need, things which hold us back from really living. This truth reoccurs all through our lives until we finally let go of all we no longer need for our eternal new life to be complete.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and take heart
And wait for the Lord.”
In our busy world we rush about surrounded by noise and action. “Everyone, hurry”. “Quickly now, we must move on to the next big thing.” “Don’t get left behind”. “Hurry”.
Yet God calls for us to slow down.
In God’s time there is no rush. As we approach the season of Lent, let us stop and wait on the Lord.
All that is around us is temporary. All our wants, desires and longings will only be satisfied for a moment, unless we are looking for the eternal. In this life we have a choice to rush after what is fading or to wait and listen for what is everlasting.
On Wednesday we begin the journey to the cross. The start of the Lenten season. Traditionally a season of reflection and preparation for Jesus’ triumphant victory over death, it is a season of discernment, reflection and redemption. As we start this journey let us take a moment and wait on the Lord.
Let us open our ears and hearts to the guidance of the Spirit. Be silent in body and mind and let the Lord speak to you.
Rest now. Wait for the Lord. He wants to walk this road with you. Today as we prepare for the season ahead, wait for God to speak to your heart and guide you to the resurrection.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
--Proverbs 22:6 KJV
I hate this Bible verse. Allow me to explain why.
Before my wife and I adopted our sons, I was so judgmental when it came to other people’s children. I believed any misbehavior on the child’s part was the result of their parents’ inadequacies or poor parenting choices. I would see the child melting down in the middle of Target and shake my head at the bad parent who had somehow let things get to this disastrous point. “When I’m a father,” I arrogantly thought, “that won’t be me.”
Of course, when I became a parent, I cursed my former hubris. Every time it was my kid throwing the mother of all temper tantrums in a public place, I could hear my former self judging my current self. My wife and I are good parents, but we’ve learned the hard way that the temperament of a child may have very little to do with their parents’ skills or lack thereof. Now, when I spot a self-righteous parent with angelic well-behaved children in tow looking down their nose at the parents of the child losing their mind in the grocery store, I think, “You don’t even know how good you have it. You think your kids’ behavior is due to your awesome parenting, but really they just got the obedient DNA. You should thank your lucky stars their genes of willful defiance stayed recessive!”
I talked recently with a friend of mine who is a single mother and one of my parenting heroes. Over the years, she has unfairly beaten herself up and blamed any and all kid issues on what she couldn’t provide as a single parent. She shared with me about another family whose kids were friends with her own that she admires. She had always wished her own family unit could be like theirs--intact with two parents, extended family nearby offering love and support, a bunch of healthy kids who succeeded without any apparent difficulties. My friend was rocked with grief when one of the teenage boys in this other family committed suicide last year. For all my friend knows, there were no missed warning signs, no history of depression, no precipitating events, just a horrible and tragic death. Even the families that seem to do everything right may know inexplicable pain beyond measure.
In my role as a minister, I have walked with families in which the parents were hardly parents at all, but somehow their children not only survived their parents’ abuse and neglect but thrived. Likewise, I have known families in which the parents did everything nearly perfect and who exhibited superhuman strength and grace only to have children lost to alcohol, drugs, mental health conditions, crime or death. Sometimes our desire to draw a causal relationship between a child’s actions and a parent simply cannot find fulfillment; there is just no line to draw between the two. It’s a strange thing to realize how much power you have to screw up your kid’s life, yet somehow at the same time so much more is beyond your control.
I haven’t ever written or spoken publicly about my own struggles as a parent. I’m leery of exploiting my kids’ stories for my job. But let’s just say I have them. I’ve had days and nights filled with tears, self-recrimination, and pain greater than I have known in any other part of my life. I’ve learned firsthand the loneliness that comes in parenting when you experience something with a child that doesn’t line up with the happy family pictures shared on Facebook and Instagram by all the other parents you know. I’ve seen the judgmental stares of teachers and school administrators who believe I wasn’t doing my parental job. I know what it is to feel like you are the only one who just doesn’t get the “simple” job of being a parent.
What I’ve learned from my experience in parent support groups and the confidential meetings I’ve had with parents as a minister, that there is so much pain out there hidden among parents. The amount of shame parents carry over things with their kids that are beyond their control is immense--I know from firsthand experience. The marketplace is filled with countless “experts” telling you what you are doing wrong as a parent, and there are so few to tell you the humbling truth that far more is outside of your control as a parent than within it.
I hate Proverbs 22:6, because I feel like it boils down one of the most complex things a person can ever do--be a parent--into a simple equation: “do A and you will get B as a result.” Oh yeah? What happens when you get C or D or Z or some variable that isn’t even in the alphabet? A kid is not a robot you program; they are mysteriously complex beings set loose in the world, and you as a parent are only one thing among who knows how many more that shapes their course in life. I’ve known too many who have been excellent parents but whose kids made choices or carried out actions that defy all known rules of logic. I believe there is a conspiracy of shame among parents today, as if we all have some kind of unspoken agreement not to acknowledge the pain in families all around us. This secret life of parents is a painful one. I so wish we could risk being vulnerable with one another to tell our secrets.
If you are one of those parents who feels satisfied in your own parenting and how your kids are turning out, trust me, it has less to do with your parenting skills than you think. If you are one of those parents who feels like you’ve done everything wrong and your kids’ problems are all due to your inadequacies, trust me, it has less to do with your parenting skills than you think. Ask around, the secret pain of parents is all around you. You can find it in support groups meeting in church basements, AA groups gathered everywhere and in the hearts of desperate parents all around you on the brink of breaking down from trying to pretend they’ve got it all together.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.