Describing Ash Wednesday

christianity, lent, Theology

I didn’t know what Ash Wednesday was until 2014, when I was in my first Lenten season at my United Methodist church. I may not have even gone to the service, except I was looking for community that evening and being introduced to a small group for the first time.

Ash Wednesday is now one of my favorite traditions. There’s something about a pastor marking a cross on your forehead while looking into your eyes and saying “Repent and believe the Gospel” that shakes you in your winter boots.

I didn’t understand what it was when I first received the ashes, and if I were to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the eternal significance of the service. Every time I try, I get blown away.

And since I couldn’t explain it well if I tried, here are my three favorite articles about Ash Wednesday.

Why Ashes? Connecting to who we are and who we can be – The United Methodist Church

When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin. We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

While this may sound fatalistic, it is not the end of the story. Lent leads to Easter, the day we celebrate that though our bodies are temporary and our lives are flawed, a day of resurrection will come when we will live in the presence of God forever.

One Wednesday every year we go to church remembering who we are, and hopeful of who we can be.

A little reading for Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday (from Accidental Saints) – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Here’s my image of Ash Wednesday: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. That where two or more are gathered, Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.

Ash (from Searching for Sunday) – Rachel Held-Evans

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone.  We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every  Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But a long time ago, a promise was made. A prophet called  Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Those who once repented in dust and ashes “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

We could not become like God, so God became like us.  God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.

On Demon Pigs

christianity, lent, millennials

I’m beginning to gain a reputation as the youth minister who tells her tweens really weird stories.

And I’m okay with that.

This week in our Lenton series we told the story of Jesus taking the disciples to Decapolis and curing men there of demons by casting them into pigs that go flailing off the cliff.

I made all of our 5th-7th graders pinky promise me that we wouldn’t get caught up on the “demons” portion of the story, but that instead we would focus on why Jesus would take the disciples to Decapolis (which is the purpose of this particular series–why does Jesus take us these places?). Decapolis was a place Jews weren’t supposed to go, as evidenced by the pigs there. But why would Jesus take them to that place?

Jesus took them to that place because he wanted to show the disciples that they could leave a potential anywhere. That place was unfamilar, a place unlike any place they’ve ever experienced before. But faith with God takes us to those places that were unfamiliar so that on one hand our hearts can be softened for that environment and learn from it…but also so that we can impact those places in the same way that we’ve been impacted.

As I processed this with my small group, I thought about places in my life that were unfamiliar, places that I was unaware of the possibility of potential. I usually jump to when I began college–I was this poor city kid in an affluent rural school, trying to figure out friends who went “mudding” for fun. I put up a wall between myself and others because I didn’t think that we would understand each other. But I learned a lot about community with people who came from all kinds of different backgrounds as me.

But I think I forgot about this. Or at least, didn’t associate it to what I’m experiencing now: Moving my life to Indianapolis has been extremely difficult. It’s been difficult to find community. I thought that was because I was in an environment where I no one could possibly understand me. There’s a lot of affluency in this culture, and I thought that they wouldn’t get me. I thought they wouldn’t understand my background. Or my humor. Or my pain. Or me.

But in a sense, it’s like when I went to college and explored a new culture. The thing that excited me when I moved to Indianapolis was the possibility of doing faith in a brand new way. But I didn’t realize that I was going to have to do community in a brand new way.

I think the biggest hurdle isn’t finding people who are like me. It’s finding people who want to do messy community with me. I’ve always been in places where people lay their junk out in the open. We weren’t the same, just people who wanted to live openly. People who knew that diversity didn’t hinder community, but was a symptom of it.

I feel like today is almost a turning point for me. I had my “AHA” moment and realized that I can build community anywhere with anyone, as long as they are willing to build it back. I can continue being my messy, open self as long as others can be messy and open. And that’s difficult to find. But that’s what the Church does.

On Peter’s Doubt


This week we began the season of Lent. This morning when I asked my students what “Lent” is they either had one of two answers:
1.  Belly gunk
2. When you give up something for 40 days and make everyone around you miserable.


We began the series in our church with the story found in Matthew 14:23-32:  Jesus insists that the disciples get onto a boat at sea, even though it is evening. Jewish culture believed that evil was at sea in the nighttime, but Jesus insists they go. Jesus is setting them up to be in a place of vulnerability, because, how else do you learn?  Jesus is away praying, and the storms come. Jesus walks on the water towards the boat, and the disciples think it’s a ghost–after all, they knew it was a bad idea to get on the boat!

Peter, who is my spirit animal disciple, cries out, “Jesus, if it’s really you, I want to walk too.”  This is why Peter is my spirit animal–he sees Jesus doing something, and he immediately wants to emulate it. Not a lot of thought goes into it; he just does.  But Peter gets caught in the waves and begins to sink, so he cries out to Jesus to save him. And Jesus says, “Why do you doubt?” and saves him.

I’ve always heard this story summed up as, “You need to just trust Jesus more.”

But oh, how that misses the point.

Peter didn’t doubt Jesus. Peter knew that Jesus could walk on water, he knew that Jesus could allow Peter to, and he knew that Jesus could save him when he began to sink.

What Peter didn’t trust in was his own ability to follow Jesus.

Again, I resonate with Peter, and I’m sure you do, too: So many times we hop out of the boat, eager to follow Jesus. But as soon as the waves begin to happen in life, we lose faith…not in God himself, but in our own ability to follow him.

But here’s the cool thing: Even when you don’t think you can follow him on your own, Jesus pulls you up and saves you.

The important thing is to just jump out of the boat.

So, what are the waves that keep you distracted?  What are the lies you believe that keep you from believing that you’re capable of being like Christ?