Human Isolation and Technology – Views from A Loft

Motor Cross Rider on Muddy Track Clipart

In his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes an increasingly important and frightening element of American life: our tendency to insulate and isolate ourselves from our world. Pirsig describes the element in terms of riding a motorcycle: the central metaphor of his book. He says that Americans are turning ventures into their own world as an extension of television. They take trips and want to make “good time,” with the emphasis on the word “time.” The trip is an annoyance that they want to be over as soon as possible. They take the trips in air-conditioned cars with the windows rolled up on super highways where great effort has been made to iron out as many kinks as possible. Basically, the trips have been reduced to people, sitting on comfortable seats, watching scenery slide by behind glass for hours: exactly what they do when watching television. They are insulated from temperature and weather elements. They are as isolated as they can make themselves from the landscape around them: surrounded by nature but not a part of it. With motorcycles, Pirsig points out, you are always in the scene. Real pavement whizzes by five inches under your foot. If it is hot or cold, so are you. Wind, smells, insects, they are all yours because you are part of it: not isolated or insulated from anything.

Pirsig wrote his book back in the mid-70’s and, I’m sorry to say, no one listened to his warning. The isolation has become even more pronounced since then thanks to new technology. It has been said that air conditioners turned neighborhoods into strangerhoods. I don’t know if I buy into that completely, but I will have to say that I cannot remember the last time I saw a group of neighbors gathered together in someone’s yard on an average summer evening, laughing and talking, while their kids played hide and go seek. That was an every night summer occurrence when I was a boy. A lot has contributed to the demise of that image: computers, television, video games, daylight saving time and such. The result has been that just getting together with your neighbors has become a special event nowadays, rather than a common thing. It’s our loss. Writing letters and talking on telephones used to be unsatisfactory fillers to be used only if you could do nothing else until you got back to talk face to face with the other person. Now, telephones, Facebook, and e-mail have become primary communication methods. And this, remember, is the way we have come to treat our friends and neighbors. The problem is even worse with people from whom we are somewhat isolated by language or location already.

In warfare, one of the first things soldiers do is come up with derogatory and dehumanizing names for their enemies. It is easier to kill a kraut, jap, commie, gook, slope, or raghead than it is to take the life of another human being. For the sake of their own sanity, soldiers try to isolate themselves from the fact that there are men and women in the place where their weapons will take effect. Without intending to do so, we have done something very similar to the people with whom we share this planet. Thanks to our love of movies and television, many people are more familiar with people who never existed and things that never happened than they are with their own history or current events. It makes “alternative facts” and fake news easier to accept. Our computers, those wonderful windows to all sorts of information, remove us from the very reality about which they inform (or misinform) us. It is now possible to work from home via computer and telephone or cable lines and never have to venture out into traffic or the workplace. We can order groceries on line and have them delivered. We can order up sports shows and movies. We can even date on line. In this day of high technology, it is already possible to meet someone, get married, and have children without physically seeing or touching the person with whom you are now sharing your life. Now all of this may be very convenient, but it comes at a cost. We are becoming separated from everything and everybody by a pane of glass.

We are used to ignoring the needs of the little images on the other side of the glass. We know we can be lied to with pictures, so they become less compelling. What are a few dead Iraqi or Afghan civilians when you just saw a whole planet get blown away by the Death Star? Now that was clearly factious, but a study of slasher-type horror films did find that they made people who watched them less concerned about the pain of real victims. Sometimes, we blur the line ourselves. When we become isolated from our fellow human beings; insulated from their needs, their desires and their pain; we have made both them and ourselves a little less than human: a little less than what God made us to be. It’s hard to be the hands and eyes of God when everything is under glass.

The process isn’t complete yet, but you can certainly see the handwriting on the wall. Science fiction writers have been warning us about this for years. I’d love to tell you all about that, but, well, there’s this show I’ve been intending to watch on TV, and the phone is buzzing, and I haven’t checked Facebook this afternoon, and, well, you know how it is……

~ Kurt Hendrix

Weeding for Lent – From Rev. Tracy Schumpert

henbit-weed

The “henbit” weed (source)

Maybe because they know that the Season of Lent is upon us, maybe because it has started warming up, but whatever the reason, I’ve seen lawns taken over by tiny purple flowers. It seems that everywhere I look I am surrounded by tiny purple blossoms. I imagine that not all of these were intentionally planted. In fact, most of the little purple blooms are indeed what many would call “weeds” (specifically, as I have learned, the “henbit” weed).

One person’s blight is another person’s beauty. Such is the case for the purple flowers. Each of the flowers in the various lawns I’ve seen, I imagine, have unique stories of how they grew, how much they are wanted (or despised), and what they symbolize. And, each of them is a symbol of our own lives as well.

As we continue through Lent, especially as we near Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we look deeply at our lives and find plenty of “weeds” – things we’d rather not have in our lives that take away from the beauty of the rest of us. And, truth be told, there are probably some weeds that we’ve kind of grown to love. There are some extra special sins or idols that we don’t want to let go of just yet. We may rationalize them to think they are beautiful, but they are weeds nonetheless. And then there are those places of hope, signs of Easter if you will, that shine forth despite the harshness of our daily lives.

For many of us, the sins in our lives, like the weeds in the lawns, have a tendency to distract us from the hope that is seen around them. When I look at lawns I have a harder time seeing the beautiful flowers for all of the silly henbit that takes away my attention. The same is true for the hope of Easter and the sins which distract us from that hope. After all, that is the story of Easter – it is a move away from the sins and pain that are all too often obstacles to God’s will for our lives and a move toward the light, life, and hope of a new day.

This month I’m going to do a little weeding in my life. And I hope you will too – that the beauty of our lives might shine for all the world to see.

~ Peace, Tracy

Attitudes and Goals – From Rev. Tracy Schumpert

tracys-pictureI visit many in hospitals and see the impact of their illness on their physical and mental state. I see those who are hurt express themselves in ways that hurt others. I hear stories of how people feel forgotten and misunderstood. I listen to those that feel they are being “honest” truly dampen the spirits of another. I believe the way in which we view the events going on around us affects greatly our attitude. Those who see the world in a negative light often spread that pain and hurt to others. Those who see the world in a positive light are often happier and spread love and light to those around them. God gives us the ability to transcend our pain, our loneliness, our hurt, our physical condition, and our circumstances by giving us the ability to change the way we feel about our situation. Our attitude is up to us! I love this quote by an unknown author:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

May God strengthen us to have the most encouraging, positive, optimistic attitude in order to improve ourselves and our church. If we truly believe everything is possible through Christ, then there is no reason not to have an attitude to match!

Thank you to all who participated in the Cottage Gathering! Many good ideas, goals for the future and dreams for church came out of our discussions. I pray that we look to the future through the eyes of faith knowing God will guide us and strengthen us for the work ahead. If we continue to work together with an attitude of gratitude and encouragement, there is nothing we cannot accomplish!

Listed below are the goals for this year and the committees that will be developing a plan for us all to participate in implementing:

*Expand Community (Invite More People, Jerusalem Sunday, Engage Inactive Members, Target Unchurched) – Family Ministries

*New Approach Needed (Utilize Technology, Ask Young People What They Would Like to See, Embrace Change, No Judgement, Welcoming All) – Worship

*Signage (Name Tags for Worship, Usher Tags, Signs for Where to Go in the Church) – Trustees

*Food (Fellowship Surrounded by Food) – Family Ministries

*Spiritual Growth (Learning and Studying about the Community Around Us) – Task Force

~ Peace, Tracy

Being Prepared – Views From A Loft

bibles001“Did you carry that thing with you all the time?” a co-worker recently asked. “Of course,” was my answer. He said, “I know other people have them, but they don’t carry them all the time.” “That’s probably because they’ve never had to face a sudden crisis without one,” I replied.

A case in point: one night in late July of 1971, I was a brand new warrant officer pulling duty as the Officer of the Guard for the U.S. Army Aviation School at Ft. Rucker, just outside of Enterprise, Alabama: snowbird work while I waited to go on leave before heading to Viet Nam. One of the jobs of the duty officer was to walk through the various parking lots of the buildings owned by the School a couple of times during the night. Some of the lots were for office buildings and were almost completely empty at night while others belonged to the barracks buildings and were full of cars. A little after midnight, I was walking through one of the latter lots and realized I wasn’t the only person out there. Another man was there, trying the door handles of the cars. With the length of his hair and moustache, he was clearly no soldier, so I went over to confront him. When we met between two parked cars, he dropped the bag he was carrying, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a switchblade knife that had a blade on it about a foot and a half long. Okay, maybe it was only five or six inches long in reality, but that night, it looked like you could hack your way through jungles with it. The click as the blade locked into place was thunderous.

Good News, however; I had a pistol. Yay! Bad News, the pistol was two hundred yards away in another parking lot, securely locked in the trunk of my car. Boo! The only weapon I had on me was a Swiss Army knife with a three -inch, single-edged blade that didn’t have a lock; half the length of my opponent’s blade and able to make only forehand cuts with no thrusting capability. It was definitely the inferior weapon. We were still out of lunge range of each other, so I slipped my field jacket off my right arm and wrapped it around my left forearm to provide something of a shield and opened my knife. Strangely, he didn’t move in during this time and, as he was only wearing a sweatshirt with no jacket, he didn’t have the shield option. With my less effective weapon, I decided I would wait and receive his attack, hoping to entangle his blade with my jacket and cut at his hand or arm as he came in. From my side, at least, there was a lot of prayer going up at this moment and some Bible verse recitation. I wished I had David’s sling and David’s skill with it. We ended up kind of staring at each other across ten or twelve feet of narrow asphalt between the two cars.

Though better armed, my opponent apparently didn’t like the look of the Lion Way that night either and was opting to wait on my attack. When a few minutes passed in the impasse, I told him I was going to the nearest barracks and summon the Military Police. After I moved a little away from him, he turned and ran off, presumably to wherever he had left his car. He left his bag, though. When the MP’s arrived, he could not be found. Okay, so not my finest hour as a warrior. Certainly, I did not earn a seat at the table of feasting in the Hall of Heroes in Valhalla for that night’s work. However, nothing got stolen and no one bled, so I guess that was something good to come out of it. Moreover, after that night, duty officers got issued radios so they could call for help from the scene if required, so that was something else that was good too. The most important thing to come out of that night, though, was a lesson that I learned — when the crisis comes, it is not what you might have available somewhere that is important, but rather it is what you have on you at the time that counts.

This is more than just being prepared. It involves setting priorities about what is most important. No one can carry everything he or she might need for every possible crisis that might arise. So, the question is posed, “What is most important?” the answer, for me, has always been the Word of God: both those bits I’d memorized (like the Twenty-third Psalm I was using that night in the parking lot) and the comfort of carrying a Bible or New Testament with me. I was missing that last item in the parking lot that night and was surprised at how important its absence was. In Viet Nam (and ever after), I always carried a copy of the New Testament in the breast pocket of my flight suit and it was that copy that my co-worker was commenting upon. Of course, that copy is especially comforting because, in addition to the Word of God, it has a steel plate in the binding — the better to stop a bullet with, my dear. Today, I’m able to carry two complete Bibles on my phone in electronic form — an NIV for study and a King James for the pleasure of reading the language. It is a habit I developed and I think it’s stood me in good stead through the years. Certainly, it has given me a great deal of comfort in time of sorrow or fear and it seems that, often, these things leap upon you without warning. When the crisis comes, it is what you have with you at the time, in your heart and in your hand, that counts.

Of course, in fairness I should say, I always carry a better knife now-a-days, too.

~ Kurt Hendrix

Welcome to Our New Pastor!

We are very fortunate to welcome Rev. Tracy Schumpert to Wingate and Smyrna. Here she shares a little about herself and her background. Welcome Tracy!

tracys-pictureI’m so thankful to be serving the Smyrna-Wingate Charge and sharing in ministry with the good folks of both congregations! I wanted to offer a short description of myself.  I’ve traveled most of my life as an Army dependent and as a United Methodist pastor. I’ve had the privilege to live in many different places including Heidelberg, Germany and meet wonderful groups of people through my travels.

After college, I attended the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX, and in my last year went to Tulsa, OK to do an internship at Boston Avenue UMC. It was a fruitful experience! I’ve served over twenty years as the Senior Pastor of Oklahoma churches. This is my first two-point charge. I commonly went to churches who had never experienced a woman pastor, to build trust and enable them to welcome a woman pastor in the future. I’m so thankful to follow woman pastors in my current charge! What a blessing!

I also completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education along the way. Clinical pastoral education (CPE) is education to teach pastoral care to clergy and others. CPE is the primary method of training hospital and hospice chaplains and spiritual care providers. CPE is both a multicultural and interfaith experience that uses real-life ministry encounters of students to improve the ministry and pastoral care provided by caregivers.

I stand in awe of the warm welcome I’ve already received being so far away from Oklahoma. I look forward to being an encouraging presence at both congregations! I am so pleased and grateful to be invited to the Western North Carolina Conference! I’m still a member of the Oklahoma Conference on borrow; however, I am ready to call North Carolina my home!

While enjoying many years of ministry in the church, I also felt God’s leading to pursue Chaplaincy. I’ve worked at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, OK over the last three and a half years.

Peace, Tracy

P.S. I have a Shichon doggy named Lucy who is a little over 1 year old. She’s graduated from beginning and intermediate training and my hope is that someday Lucy can pass the good citizen test and become a therapy dog who visits hospitals and nursing homes. She is a work in progress and a lover of all! She especially loves other dogs and playing!

A Covenanted Christian From Rev. CherLue Vang

A covenant is a contract, promise, agreement, pledge and bond between at least two parties. This sounds like an English lesson which I may not qualify to teach or talk about. But if we talk about a covenanted Christian, then I have a say in this. And this is what I am coming to you about.

In any covenant relationship, there must be at least two persons involved. If you think about it, in any decision we make in our daily conduct, there is a covenant component in it. That is to say if I decided to do something, I will need to consider the responsibility and the outcome of my action. If there is no other party, I will have to covenant with myself to finish the task. One side of me (the doer) will make a covenant to be responsible for the task, so that (the benefit) side of me will reap the outcome of my action. But if the covenant has two different parties, both will have to be held responsible in the covenant to make sure the covenant is carried out in the way that will benefit both parties.

A covenanted Christian is a person who supposedly made a commitment to accept Jesus Christ to be his/her savior, Lord and to follow His command. In this case all of us should have been a covenanted Christian. In every covenant there should be responsibilities where each of the parties in the covenant is responsible to make sure the covenant is maintained, and that the results of the covenant benefit both parties.

In our cases, God is covenanted with us to be our God, and each of us is covenanted to be his people (children). God is covenanted to love us, save us, forgive our sins, welcome us back to him when we confess our sin, and continue to bless us, provide our needs, heal our sickness, provide guidance when we are lost, comfort us in the time of our sorrow, and many of other responsibilities which God is gladly taking so we can have the full benefits in our lives.

We too have our responsibilities to the covenant. And that is to accept God’s love, to love him back, to follow his command to love one another as He has loved us, to worship Him, to praise His name and have him in our heart every day, every moment in our lives.

God has been faithful to his covenant to us, by keeping his full promises and responsibilities to make sure we benefit to the fullest from the covenant. We on the other hand, have knowingly and unknowingly failed in our part in keeping our side of the covenant. God has been in Full Time responsible for each of our lives, but we just want to be a ”Part-Time Christian and expect full benefit”, and more and more Christians today even move further out, not only a part-time with full benefit, but they want to be quarter-time or less with full benefit. Some even negotiate or just simply make themselves to be “Christmas and Easter Christians” and expect full benefit. Sadly however, when we demand the benefit, and we do not have what we want, we complain to God all the time that God does not keep His covenant with us by not giving us what we ask for from God. When we do not give God the love He deserves, the affection He wants from us, the faithfulness He wants us to have with Him, the praise and worship he deserves, we will say, God should understand that we are human, we are too tired, we are too lazy at times (or most of the time) to worship Him and serve Him. If you are a United Methodist, the covenant has yet another layer to that. Just in case you forget, or never have taken the confirmation and reception into the United Methodist Church, let me refresh your memory.

When you are being received into the United Methodist Church, the pastor (God’s agent) asks you to covenant with God and your church, “Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” and your answer will have to be “I Will”, or you will not be a part of the body of Christ.

If this seems to describe you, then yes, I am talking to you. I just want to remind you that our covenant with God is that: God be our Full-Time God and get our full loyalty, and undivided heart of Love and attention. We, on the other hand, also need to be Full-Time Christian dedicating our loyalty, undivided heart and attention to receive the full benefit of God’s grace and mercy.

~ Rev. CherLue Vang

A Failure of Imagination – Views From A Loft

Abraham027One of the marvelous things about modern technology is that it can make it possible for people to visit a time and a place out of their own past. Television shows, for instance, have been bombarding us with so many images for most of our lives that some can have a curious, lingering effect on our psyches even though we don’t actually remember the show. With-in the last twenty years or so, more and more in recent years, these shows have become widely available on various media (VHS, Beta, DVD, Blu-ray) and through them, you can revisit parts of your childhood. Sometimes, you can get surprised at what once spurred your imagination.

An example is the British TV show The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which aired in 1956-1957 in the USA. I remember watching this on our first, tiny TV set. It is, in fact, the earliest TV show I do remember watching. All I consciously re-member, however, was this wonderful jousting scene. A couple of years ago, I was able to acquire this show on DVD and learned two things. First, the jousting scene I remembered was the opening credits and the constant repetition was probably why I consciously remembered that. Second, the story lines were close to the actual Arthurian legends that I remember best. It is likely, I now believe, that my life- long interest in the Arthurian cycle (I even persuaded my wife to name our sons after characters from it) was born in that one TV season from thirty episodes of a half-hour show watched on a 12-inch, round-screened TV. More recently, I acquired some episodes of another 1950’s era show I watched called Whirlybirds (1957- 1959), which is where my interest in helicopters was born. It seemed to me that when the pilots flew the helicopters, it was just like they were strapping on wings. Fifteen years later, I managed to achieve a level of experience and ability as a helicopter pilot where it was just like that — you strapped on the helicopter and it did whatever you thought about having it do. You didn’t fly it — it was part of you.

I’d forgotten about these shows, on a conscious level. I couldn’t remember any episode of either one of them on a dare. It was only when I re-watched them that I felt the rekindling of a strong desire that I must have felt nearly sixty years ago. Now, you might think that I’m getting ready to talk to you about sex and violence on modern TV shows: well, I’m not. I watched a lot of Three Stooges shows and Roadrunner cartoons too, but I never had a desire to poke anyone in the eyes with my fingers or drop a safe on anyone from an Acme balloon. The difference between these last two shows and the first two is in imagining, I think. As a boy, I could imagine myself being a Knight of the Round Table or a helicopter pilot and doing good things for other people just like the knights and pilots did. Though they were funny to watch, nothing really good came out of a Three Stooges episode or a Roadrunner cartoon. I could never see myself doing any of those things. What a child can imagine itself being, its adult self may become, if the desire to be that has been ignited in the heart. The failure of a person to be a success, as that person measures such, may actually be a failure of imagination rather than performance.

I have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) in achieving my dreams. Most of them, I managed by the time I was thirty-five — I thought it would take longer. That means I’ve had no dream to follow for the last three decades. That’s like trying to steer a boat with no rudder and no sun or stars for navigation. My last dream is to be-come a wise old man: the shaman of legend. Now, the “man” part I’ve managed and the “old” bit is coming along at a steady pace — perhaps even little too well for comfort — so, two out of three are covered. The wise part, however, is proving to be a problem. The way this is going, no mountaintop advice-giver will I ever be. It seems that every time I acquire a nugget of wisdom gold, I suddenly realize it was just a rock all along. True wisdom seems to be just beyond the tips of my fingers. Frustrating, it is, this search for wisdom. To find something, though, you have to be able to imagine it — otherwise, how will you know if you found it.. So, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not suffering a failure of imagination with this dream — I can’t find wisdom because I can’t imagine what it really is. The more I consider that, the more I think failure of the imagination may be a common problem in our modern world.

We often refer to something that is easy as being “child’s play.” If child’s play is indeed the world of imagination as I think, there’s nothing easy about it. Our failure of imagination may be the source of some of the problems of our world. Can we really imagine ourselves loving each other as much as we love ourselves? Can we imagine ourselves without preju-dice toward anyone — race, religion, background, orientation: all being inconsequential? Can we imagine ourselves at peace? If we can’t even imagine these things, can they ever come to pass?

And if we can’t imagine those things, how can we imagine that one man was willing to die for all of us? How can we imagine we’re worth it? How can we imagine being saved?

~ Kurt Hendrix

Please Pray for the General Conference – From Your Lay Leader

Please pray.

Praying_Hands022I invite you to participate in a global ministry for which all are well qualified; please be in prayer for The United Methodist Church General Conference 2016.

The General Conference takes place every four years and involves UMC clergy and laity from all over the world. In our country, it occurs in the same years we hold presidential elections, which sometimes overshadows information about the occurrences of General Conference. But the decisions made at The UMC General Conference can have the same kind of influences as our national elections do, only for our denomination. The UMC budget, changes or additions to the Book of Discipline (laws), and the stance on various social issues worldwide are all matters taken up by the General Conference.

Late in 2015, the Council of Bishops put forth a vision for bathing the 2016 General Conference in prayer. Specifically, they asked for 131 days of prayer beginning January 1, 2016 and continuing until the start of GC2016, which will be held May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon. The number 131 is significant, because it represents the number of area conferences there are across the world. A theme of “Therefore Go”, based on Matthew 28:19-20, has been set for the focus for the event.

Our own Western North Carolina Conference (WNCC) is supporting the General Conference Prayer Initiative in several ways. Online at the WNCC website you may view a video about this ministry, and read information about the emphasis given for the first Sunday of each month, February-May, and each of the districts within the WNCC has been assigned a day when the district is responsible for providing non-stop prayer. For the Uwharrie District, which includes the Smyrna-Wingate Charge, that day was Sunday, April 3rd.

All this officious and perhaps boring information I’ve just given you is to provide the basis for my request.

Please pray.

I believe, as I think many of you do, that prayer makes a difference. I think it especially makes a difference when we do it on purpose. That means not offering some quick, general, fleeting word to God, as I am sometimes guilty of doing, about what suits my needs and desires.

But instead I’m talking about intentional prayers that seek the Lord’s guidance, blessing, and His will for specific people, events, and situations. Jesus has told us, in scripture, to ask for what we want. God has promised to hear us and He always keeps His promises. I believe that when our want is for His will, we will never be denied.

General Conference is an event that can be fraught (not unlike our national politics) with possibilities for the rise of selfish ego, divisiveness, and anger. But if covered in prayer, it can be an occasion for civility, cooperation and harmony.

Please pray.

~ Susan Hendrix

Celebrating the Season – Lent 2016

Jesus in the wilderness (source)

Jesus in the wilderness (source)

Typically we don’t talk about celebrating Lent, but rather observing it. Lent is a time of reflection and repentance sandwiched in between two periods of celebration: Epiphany, or Carnival depending on your tradition, and Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. During Lent we consider the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert praying and fasting in preparation for His public ministry. While there Jesus was tempted and given the choice to turn His back on His calling. He chose to continue and make His way toward the cross. We are also given a choice, to ask God to create a new heart within us, and to renew our commitment to Him.

Traditionally, Lent is a time when people deny themselves of luxuries. This may entail fasting in a conventional sense or simply giving up something that means a lot to you. Some examples that I’ve seen are fasting during daylight hours, giving up meat or chocolate, giving up a bad habit. Often this time can be life changing. My uncle gave up smoking one year during Lent and never went back.

Another way to observe the season is to take on something new that is a sacrifice for you. This could include things such as, fasting one meal a day and donating the money that you would spend to a cause or making a commitment to visit shut-ins from your church. Sometimes giving up money or time is more difficult for us than giving up food.

To mark the beginning of Lent we observe two special days. Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is the last day of the Epiphany or Carnival season. In the past giving up foods that were considered luxuries meant giving up butter, fat, and sugar. Because of this, Fat Tuesday is traditionally celebrated with pancakes to use up the forbidden foods.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, there is a call to repentance where believers foreheads are marked with ashes. In the Bible, wearing sackcloth and ashes is an indication of mourning or a contrite heart. The ashes used may be mixed with water or oil and are usually the ash that results from burning the palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday.

This week we will observe both Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday at our church.

Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper – Tuesday Feb 9 at 6:00 pm, we will celebrate with Smyrna in their fellowship hall with a pancake supper. It’s all you can eat for a donation to the Smyrna Relief Fund. Come join us!

Ash Wednesday Service – Wednesday Feb 10. This year we will participate in a joint service with Smyrna and Wingate Baptist Church where Rev. CherLue Vang will present the message. The service will be held at Wingate Baptist at 6:45 pm in their Sanctuary. Prior to the service, at 6 pm, there will be a meal provided. If you plan on attending the meal, please call the Wingate Baptist office by Feb 9, so they can have an accurate count.

Anyone is welcome to join us in one or both of these gatherings. You don’t have to be a member of our church to celebrate with us.

~ Susan Ozmore

This is a repost from 2012 with updates for 2016.

The Path of Lent – Views From A Loft

Jesus' temptation in the wilderness (source)

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (source)

The time of Lent is soon upon us — early, this year as Easter is early. It is the time that Christians remember Christ’s forty days of trial in the Wilderness, where he was tempted by the Satan. It is a time of prayer, repentance, reflection and atonement for Christians. I once heard a Jewish comedian compare it to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement; “Forty days, one day, forty days, one day…even for sin you pay retail!” I thought that was funny, even though it misses the element of preparation that is part of Lent.

By tradition, among Southern Methodists by whom I was raised, at least, the remembrance during Lent takes the form of self-denial — giving up something — from Ash Wednesday until Easter morning, excluding Sundays. People I’ve known have practiced fasting (usually from sunrise to sunset which can cause trouble when daylight savings time starts), donating the price of a meal each day, eschewing favorite beverages or food, and such. More recently, some folks have started adding something they wouldn’t normally do to their routine in lieu of or in addition to sacrificing something. In either case, the point is to perform an act that, when you do it, reminds you of Christ and his sacrifice for us. I usually stay with giving up something as it is what I was raised to do. As a result, one of the major questions I have to answer this time of year is “What shall I give up for Lent?”

My mother was always very serious about Lent and she felt it was her duty as a Christian parent to assist God in running the universe as it applied to me and my siblings. Not only did I have to tell her what I was giving up, she would monitor my successes and failures. Having a “Lent cop” on duty kind of skewed the selection process when picking out something to give up, let me tell you. It had to be something you could live completely without for the next six weeks. She didn’t believe in the “Sundays off” rule (Did Jesus get one day off each week in the Wilderness? I don’t think so!) or in the words of the minister who pointed out that even a failure brought Jesus to mind and that was the whole point. Partaking of something you had chosen to give up during Lent was betraying Jesus and we’d have none of that around our house, thank you. The year I took the ninth grade Civics class and learned about the Constitution, I tried to give up homework for Lent. It was the perfect solution, I reasoned. I was definitely giving something up and, boy, would I ever thank Jesus every time I skipped an assignment. The teacher couldn’t say anything because the Government and government employees can’t step on the rights guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution. I was guaranteed the right to worship God in my own way by the Constitution and Lent was definitely part of my religion. Yes, perfect, I figured. I figured wrong, of course. My first clue should have been that, apparently, nobody else had ever thought of it, but in those days that idea didn’t raise as big a red flag as it does now. That was my first head-on experience with the truth that minors aren’t guaranteed squat by the Constitution, unless it suits some adult’s purpose.

Anyway, picking something to give up is critical. Last year, I gave up the left lane. It made for a good bumper sticker — I GAVE UP THE LEFT LANE FOR JESUS. I would drive only in the right lane — no passing, no lane changes to get ahead, no left lane for any reason. The reality of that denial was that it was a very difficult commitment for me to keep. The main reason was that it seems inappropriate to remember the trials of Jesus in the Wilderness while thinking unkind thoughts at the vehicles in the lane ahead of you that seem determined to go well below the speed limit and YOU CAN’T GO AROUND. I kid you not, one guy I got stuck behind would have made better time if he’d turned off his engine and put up a sail. I may go with that one again this year, though — in the end, it helped me become a little more patient last year. I could use more patience and this way I can both remember Jesus and become a little more like him. That’s an even better deal than the one I was trying to get in the ninth grade.

Kidding aside, the path of Lent starts us along the way that finally bring us to the Friday of Sorrows, Palm Sunday, the Maundy, the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. If we approach along this path with devotion, with piety, with repentance of our sins and seeking atonement, we will be renewed in our joy over our salvation by death and resurrection of Jesus. I’d say, this is a bargain at only forty days.

~ Kurt Hendrix

Originally published in the Wingate UMC newsletter for February 2016.

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