Only joking! I love the 9 o’clockers!
I am the son of a Baptist preacher. Growing up as an evangelical, I only knew that Lent was some sort of Catholic thing. When I was a boy the Romano family lived across the street. Once a year John Romano would gloomily inform my brother and me that he was unable to eat candy because he was giving it up for Lent. We could only stare at him in sympathetic amazement. What kind of religious holiday requires you to give up candy? Our main holidays, Christmas and Easter, were marked by great indulgences of candy and sweets. It is said that the Pharisee of old thanked God he was born neither a woman or a Gentile. I thanked God that I was not born a girl or a Catholic. Girls had to wear dresses, play silly girl games, and weren’t allowed on the football team. Catholics had to endure the rigors of Lent, whatever that was. In those days I thought nothing was quite as free as being born a Baptist boy. I went to college at Baylor University, a Baptist school, and majored in religion. Lent never came up in our course of studies. I went to a Baptist seminary and graduated still knowing nothing of Lent. I don’t recall the word Lent ever being mentioned in my 8 years of undergraduate and graduate theological training. I moved to San Antonio when I was 27. I was a minister who lived in hispanic town heavily influenced by Catholicism. Good Friday is a public school holiday in San Antonio. But I still had no idea what Lent was about. On Ash Wednesday, Christians in our city stop by their churches for the imposition of ashes on the first day of Lent. All over San Antonio you see people walking around with a smudge of black ash on their foreheads. Our first year in San Antonio I saw a woman with a smudge on her forehead. Wanting to save her from embarrassment, I whispered to her the way you do when you see someone whose pants are unzipped. “You have something on your forehead.” She stared at me in amazement. Growing up Catholic in a Catholic city, it probably never occurred to her that anyone would not know what Ash Wednesday was. It would be like a Vietnamese kid in Saigon asking someone what Tet was. “They’re ashes,” she whispered back, as though that bit of information was all I needed to clear up the misunderstanding. We stared at each other, two people having a complete cultural disconnect. I struggled to make sense of her response. And she seemed a little irritated, which confused me. I was only trying to help. “Okay,” I said. “Ashes, dirt, whatever. I was just letting you know in case you wanted to do something about it.” Fast forward to the present. I’m now 47 and have lived in San Antonio for 20 years. Not only do I know what Lent is, I can be found at our Baptist church every Ash Wednesday, imposing ashes on the foreheads of my Baptist friends. It is appropriate to begin Lent with a public acknowledgment of our imperfect humanity. The ashes are an ancient symbol of grief and penitence. They remind us of our humanity. We are made of the same dust to which we will one day return when death takes us. The imposition of ashes begins a 46 day period of prayer and introspection. Some people go without things that provide them comfort, hoping instead to find comfort from God. We are imitating Jesus in this, for the gospels tell us he spent 40 days in the desert to pray and fast and prepare himself for his ministry. Admittedly, as Baptists, we aren’t experts at Ash Wednesday. The first year we didn’t burn the palm leaves completely enough. And I tried mixing them with water instead of oil. We ended up with a dry mixture of leaves and ash that did not want to stick on the forehead, much less conform themselves to the shape of the cross. I remember watching with embarrassment as a fleck of unburned leaf detached itself from a woman’s forehead and drifted down to settle on the tip of her nose. The next year I was a little heavy on the oil, creating a dark black paste. My daughter and her friend sneaked into my office after the service and smeared it under their eyes, like football players. I posted a picture of them in a blog entry that somehow got picked up by Wikipedia and is still listed as a reference in their article about Ash Wednesday. How’s that for irony? The man who had no idea what Ash Wednesday was is now listed as an authoritative source at Wikipedia. But perhaps that is more appropriate than it seems. Who better to represent the ritual that symbolizes our frail humanity than a bunch of stumbling Baptists who can’t mix their ashes correctly and whose daughters are wont to play them after the service? I sometimes wonder where the woman is that I ran into our first year in San Antonio. She could be anywhere in the world now. But I’m confident that on Ash Wednesday, we will be together in the Spirit of Christ. I’d love to join her at church on that day. Perhaps she could be the one to impose the ashes upon me. We have now been brought together by the same tradition that once kept us apart. We share a common humanity and a common faith in Christ. We are sister and brother, born of the same dust and destined to return to it. May God bless her and draw her closer to God’s presence this Lenten season, wherever she is.
Men and women who are destined for the fires of Hell are to be treated differently, under new Vatican sex discrimination rules. Men will from now on be pelted with fire and brimstone, while the women’s souls are more likely to be broken on a wheel. “Men and women sin in different ways” says Monsignor Wojciech Giertych, personal theologian to Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican has always regarded women as being so different they ban the clergy from marrying one, and assert ordaining them to be unthinkable. Men are defined as more likey to succumb to lust. That’s not to say women aren’t dreadful temptresses; but they are more likey to display pride, envy and anger, as any man married to a nagging wife can testify. Many husbands will take comfort that their wives will be tortured on a wheel by God and spend eternity in agony.
It’s time we stopped this vile practice in St Aug’s – maybe! See THIS!
Readings and Notices for Sunday …epiphany-6
If you have 15 minutes to spare, a wee listen to The Provost’s words on Sunday may give you a wee lift for the day!