Category Archives: Simple Lent

Where Did Lent Go?

YourBestDigs.cc

Why yes, Lent has come and gone for another year. My Lenten discipline of plastic-less living has timed out (theoretically), and I didn’t write about the journey once. Not one time. Let’s just say life got in the way in some really big ways. More about that later.

So what about all those plastic avoidance tactics? Were they just so many words?

Actually…no. You may remember my goal was to eliminate these seven simple plastic “sins” from my Lenten life:

  • plastic cutlery
  • straws
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

I made some significant progress. I managed to avoid plastic cutlery all during Lent. When we take our lunches (which is frequently) we either pack metal cutlery or use some from the office. That one was pretty easy.

Straws were a bit trickier. I don’t use them at home, and I normally don’t use them when I’m dining out either. Only one time did I almost fail. I say almost because I thoughtlessly began to peel the paper from the offending article because everyone else at the table had already done so. I stopped, and sadly I’m sure that unused straw with the damaged wrapping ended up in the trash anyway. But I did stop, and I have reflected frequently on the power of peer pressure, societal conformity, and normative behavior that works against plastic avoidance. Some restaurants even bring you straws in your water WITHOUT ASKING.

Bottled water was easy. I have a lovely stainless steel water bottle (thanks, Maggie!) that helps me say NO to plastic disposable bottles. I carry it everywhere.

Takeaway beverage cups were also pretty easy. I have a stainless steel coffee mug that I fill at home. It’s cheaper than purchasing coffee out–and much more environmentally friendly. Plus, the coffee we make at home is usually better. I will admit to drinking from a Starbucks takeaway cup once this month. It was a lovely and thoughtful gift/gesture from my husband who was taking pity on my early-morning-caffeine-needy brain before an important presentation. It’s not something I would have done for myself, but one should never refuse radical generosity given in love.

No more plastic toothbrushes for me! I have switched to bamboo and won’t go back. It’s been a happy switch after the first couple of days of getting used to the “mouth feel” of unfinished bamboo vs. smooth plastic. Yes, it’s a little bit more expensive (but not significantly more than a good plastic toothbrush), but I feel better about the choice. n added plus with the brand I bought is that there was no plastic packaging! The four pack was completely packed in recyclable paper Woohoo!

Plastic shopping bags are something already we try at all costs to avoid. We carry reusable cloth bags in all of our cars; however, occasionally we do get caught out without our bags. There were at least two occasions that I had to resort to plastic during the month (for shame!). In retrospect, I could have asked to have the items loaded back into my cart and hauled them home in the trunk sans bags. One lives and learns.

Because we rarely dine out, take-away containers are not usually a concern. This month, however, we did order in Indian food for my birthday, so we ended up with some plastic and Styrofoam containers. We did recycle them, but still. We could have opted to dine out and bring our own glass take=away containers.

The purchase I’m most proud of during this Lenten discipline was toilet paper. I looked in the stores at the price of toilet paper wrapped in paper. All I could find were single rolls, and they were almost double the cost of comparable rolls wrapped in plastic. I am a frugalista, so that was simply unacceptable. I looked on line at office supply stores and found a cardboard case of 80 rolls of Angel Soft commercial grade at 40% discount. Wow! Who would have thought one could get so pumped about purchasing toilet paper?

In the end, I’m convinced that we could all live with a lot less plastic if we simply try and are aware of our purchases and choices. I’ve made some good changes that I’ll keep on doing–buying TP in bulk and using bamboo toothbrushes, for example. I will also keep on trying to avoid plastic in other areas of my life, including avoiding purchasing items that are grossly over-packaged in, yep–you guessed it–PLASTIC.

What tips do you have to avoid plastic whenever possible?

Photo: Your Best Digs, Creative Commons. Thanks!

 

 

Lenten Plastic-Less Discipline

dean-hochman-cc

Every year for the liturgical season of Lent, I identify one or more disciplines on which to focus and practice for the six week season. This year, I was convicted by a Facebook post to choose going plastic-less. I say “plastic-less” because as I’ve been preparing for this discipline I’ve become ever more aware of just how prevalent plastic is in our world and in our daily lives. Some people, like Julie Fathy and Béa Johnson, manage to do an amazing job at eliminating all or most plastic (and other forms of waste) from their lives, but it’s tough and it takes effort.

Thanks to Sarah Wilson I’m removing eight simple kinds of plastic from my life, hopefully way beyond Lent. No more

  • plastic cutlery (I have a backpacking set to use)
  • straws (don’t use them anyway)
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups (they’re plastic lined–ick)
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags (I already try to use cloth.)
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

My biggest challenge is to find bamboo toothbrushes locally so I don’t have to increase my carbon footprint by ordering them–and that has to be done by Wednesday. Everything else should be pretty easy to implement, a little more difficult to remember, and hopefully habit-forming.

What are you choosing for a Lenten discipline this year?

(Photo: Dean Hochman, Creative Commons. Thanks!)

Popcorn Please

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Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference in a day. For the Blezards almost nothing spells comfort like a big bowl of popcorn made the old-fashioned way: on the stove in a big pot with just a splash of oil, some sea salt, a little curry and red pepper powder, and a good upper arm workout. This simple treat is a Sunday night staple in our house and go-to weeknight comfort food after long meetings.

The simple pleasure of a big bowl of popcorn is much more than food to fill the belly. The taste, smell, and texture are infused with memories of childhood family television nights, memorable movies watched on the big screen, teen sleepovers, and making sticky-sweet popcorn balls for the holidays.

During this Lenten season, I am giving thanks for the simple things in life. Popcorn on a cold winter night is one of those simple pleasures that might easily taken for granted but is oh so worth savoring.

What are the simple things in which you take delight?

Oh Ashy Day!

Ash Wednesday Snow Day

Ashes and snow. Black and white that melts into shades of gray. When our bishop made the ashen sign of the cross on my forehead today I was both reminded of my mortality, of my foolish and sinful nature, and of the amazing hope of real life–eternal life–that I have in Jesus. Yes, this prodigal love and unmerited grace that Jesus extends reminds me of the pristine, sparkling snow that covers the dull, dingy landscape of this Pennsylvania winter. The love of our Lord makes everything new and clean and brightly hopeful again. Nothing, and no one, is beyond his gentle reach.

We live in the already and the not yet, in the gray area between yesterday and eternity. We are no longer forsaken but truly forgiven. Still the ash cross reminds me that my days here are numbered. I came from dust (really stardust if you want to be accurate about it) and to dust of the cosmos and beyond comprehension.

So Lord, teach me to number my days. Instruct me to amend and consider my ways. You do not desire pithy piety or rusty religiosity. You desire a real fast from my earthbound self, a radical reorientation and returning to your way. Yes, Lord, this cross on my forehead and the snow all around remind me of your glory and your goodness. I am so thankful that you love my dusty and imperfect human being self and that you are constantly reforming me to reflect your light and love. Ashes and snow. Dust and stardust. Grace and mercy. And above all love. Oh, ashy, snowy day!

 

Press On!

Athlete running road silhouette

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 3:13-14

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in the past. We humans all too often step into the quicksand of old ways of doing things and outdated thinking. Why? I’m sure there are a host of logical (and illogical) reasons, but the illusion of security seems to be one of the bigger quagmires into which we oh so willingly step. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard words like these: “Why should we change? We’ve been doing it this way since 1961? Oh, that’ll never work; our folks don’t like change. It’s too (fill in the blank with whatever rationalization comes to mind) to change.” The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. By blanketing ourselves with the vestiges of our sentimentalized or glorified pasts, we avoid stepping out into an uncertain and rapidly evolving future. Looking backward prevents us from seeing the things ahead that make us uncomfortable and that challenge our notions of how things ought to be. In short, and I’ll make a bold claim here, we open ourselves to the insidious nature of sin whenever we dig in our heels and circle our wagons.

People running in city marathon..

Take a look at this week’s gospel lesson (John 12:1-8). Jesus is dining at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In less than a week, Jesus’ life and ministry will take a turn that changes both history and humankind forever, yet right now life is going on as usual. Life as usual, that is, until Mary steps out of the circle of acceptable community behavior and chooses to anoint Jesus’ feet with a pound of expensive perfume. Judas Iscariot just can’t stand the act he sees taking place before his eyes. How dare she “waste” something of so much value! What a prodigal show of devotion, this anointing. Jesus reminds Judas of the bigger picture, a picture he cannot fathom in the present moment.

Yes, fear stifles us and prevents us from moving forward in ministry and mission, from following the one who holds the cosmos in his hands. Succumbing to the “what ifs” keeps us bound and blinded to new possibility. This is not what God intends for God’s people. God desires good for us, but we must keep pressing on in faith and listening for the voice of the Spirit’s guiding. We must quiet our own hearts and minds and stifle our angry, fearful voices to even begin to discern God’s will for our lives individually, our congregations corporately, and the church universally. Listen to the words of the Lord as recorded through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things,/or consider the things of old./I am about to do a new thing;/now it springs forth, do you not perceive it (Isaiah 43:18-19)?

Finish Line, Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Sky, Clouds and Sunburst.

Our God does new and wonderful things through ordinary people like you and me and calls us to look forward into kairos (divine) time. Yes, it is a step of immense faith, but do we really have any other palatable option? All of our fearful clinging to the past will get us nowhere but the future anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to press forward with purpose rather than cling to a pitiful illusion? We are all of us invited to join the great parade of the faithful who trust God enough to follow into the future, press on in the light of Christ, and sing good news with the psalmist:

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Note: This reflection originally appeared on the Stewardship of Life Website in 2010.

Photo Credits: © Warren Goldswain – Fotolia.com, © Chee-Onn Leong – Fotolia.com, and © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com.

Midweek Prayer (in the spirit of Taize’)

It’s a wet, snowy winter-into-spring kind of day in south-central Pennsylvania. We woke to about four inches of sloppy snow (much more on the mountains). It was supposed to be much worse, so schools, churches, and businesses opted to close in advance of the storm. If you’re looking for a meditative mid-week prayer option, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what the congregation I serve would have been doing tonight, had we not canceled all activities. Peace, blessing, and reflective quiet. (Note: I apologize for any ads that show up with the songs. You might try opening the hymns in separate windows to cue when you are ready.)

Lenten Midweek Prayer in the Spirit of Taize’

(Light candles)

Song: “The Lord is my Light”

Psalm 39

1I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

2I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse,

3my heart became hot within me. While I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:

4“Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

5You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Selah

6Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.

7“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

8Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool.

9I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.

10Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

11“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath. Selah

12“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears.

13Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.”

Reading from Scripture

Luke 13:18-21

18He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Song: “In God Alone”

Silence

Allow ample time to still your heart in silence and wait for the Lord. We usually allow 7-10 minutes in our worship.

Song: “Lord, Hear my Prayer”

Intercessions

As we continue our Lenten sojourn may we remember those who travel. Keep them safe. Guide them to their destinations. Give them hope and bread for the journey. Lead them beside your still waters and give calm to their weary souls.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who have no place to call their own, no pillow on which to rest their weary heads, no money to buy their bread. Open not only our hearts and minds, but our hands and resources to share with those who have greater need.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who are ill, who live with chronic conditions, who are oppressed, and who mourn. We name them now in our hearts or on our lips. (Name those for whom you pray.) Surround them with your love and care. Heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, and walk with the dying and grieving. Show us the way to provide care and comfort.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember families, communities, nations, and leaders. Guide and direct those who lead to be gentle, wise, and prudent. Let your Holy Spirit surround them and enfold them so that they may be good and just in their servant leadership.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

We lift our petitions, our hope, and our dreams to you, O gracious Creator. Enliven and sustain us, giving us strength for the journey ahead. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom,

the power and the glory are yours.

Now and for ever.

Amen.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, open the eyes of my heart to see your world afresh. Let me never be blind to injustice, to meanness, and to pain. Enable me to be fully present to you and to all your people in each moment of each precious day. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Let me be the hands, feet, eyes, and presence of Christ to others. Equip me. Stir me. Discomfort me. But, always, always, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.

Song: “Jesus, Remember Me”

Until we meet again, go in peace to  love and serve the Lord.

Note: Scripture readings (NRSV) are taken from the ELCA Daily Lectionary. The Lord’s Prayer is the modern ecumenical translation. The prayers are my own–now yours to share. Blessings!

Simple Lent & Simple Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks-Living Activity

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

Photos by David Shankbone and Natalie Maynor. Thanks!

On the Thin Edge of Health

With Lent has come a busier schedule both in my ministry and in teaching two online writing classes. Of course, to top it all off, both my dear spouse and I have found ourselves on the thin edge of health, fighting sinus infections that haven’t become full-blown but that are hanging on with annoying tenacity. Because of this lingering malaise, I did not post any entries last week, and I am sorry.

Good health is important, and Lent is a good time to think about health. Our bodies are made to sustain themselves when we eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get sufficient rest. It’s the times when life becomes too hectic and we make compromises that dis-ease can set it. For me, a sinus infection is my body’s reminder that I am not taking care of myself, and I had better slow down.

I’ve kept exercising, albeit gently with yoga. I’ve indulged in a few much -needed naps, and I am eating simply and well. Hopefully, I’ll be back on solid health footing soon.

How about you? How are you tending to your health and wellness in the midst of wild weather swings, a glut of germs to share, and busy lives?

Photo by Hamron. Thanks!

First Fruits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give to God first, and give your best.

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

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

Being Content

“The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is, then, a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is.” –Thomas Merton

At the end of this week, just how content are you? Are you content with your home, your relationships, your clothing, the food you had to eat, your car, your job? Do you find yourself saying, “I wish…” or “If only…”?

Lent invites us to journey inward to find contentment so that we can look outward and share our lives with others. How wonderful this world would be if we all stopped seeking any kind of preferential or special treatment or ceased to make demands! What might our world look like if knowing we have enough we can look to see that our sisters and brothers have plenty, too?

Today I watched a short video about “first world problems” voiced/acted by people in developing nations. It was a humbling few minutes. Even though I consider myself a person of fairly simple needs, I was struck and a bit embarrassed by all that I take for granted during the course of a day. I say this not to shame or point a finger at anyone, only to share my experience.

How much is enough? How much is too much? What does it mean to be content? I can answer these questions for myself, but I cannot answer them for you. Why not spend a few minutes contemplating these questions as you lean into a new week?

Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it:

Photo by JustinLowery.com. Thanks!

Note: I will be taking a Sabbath from blogging every Sunday during Lent. I hope you will enjoy some quiet time, too!