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Thursday, March 24, 2016

A reminder of the meaning of Lent and Holy Week

Lent is not a Ritual

Alexa has straight brownish-black hair, is better looking than Eva Longoria, can sing equally as well as Kelly Clarkson, and presents herself with a demeanor of contentedness.  One can stand and look at her in awe of a beauty that few possess.  She is an adopted Latina who could easily be mistaken for Native Ojibwe growing up near St. Cloud, Minnesota.  Almost two years ago, she tried to end her life by driving 90 miles an hour in a car at will.  She only had one wish at that moment: to die.  She couldn’t think of a way out but a fast one.  The trouble was, she lived.  She hurt her spine, but now she can easily pick up a child at the day care where I worked with her, recite Dr. Seuss, and win people over much more easily than herself.  She was given another chance by the employer, family, the hospital and her staff. That was after she had to sign over her adult rights to her parents, surrender her driver’s license, and live in a group home with limited social access.  
Alexa did not intend to ruin her life or live on a fringe level where most of it was controlled.  That is where bad decisions led her.  Yet she perseveres with little outside effort.  She is naturally likeable with a daunting smile, someone who gives and receives love with the children.  She volunteered for three months without even being offered a job. I also met a South American soccer player recently with a temper, and he walks with a severe limp for trying the same thing.  He was going 120 miles an hour and rolled over multiple times in a ditch.  
Second chances.  It’s something everyone wants—or maybe doesn’t.  Ducking below the radar, I recently made a mistake or series of mistakes that were unforgiveable by my standards during Lent.  I had a hard time confronting those I offended.  When I did, they did not believe me at face value.  The C & E people wouldn’t understand.  They just go to church on Christmas and Easter and may dip into a midweek Lent service for the free soup.  The problem is, passive Christians take Lent as “oh so” ritualistic.  They aren’t the extreme Opus Dei Christians who endure real whips and lashes to their backs and try to emulate Jesus’ pain as the albino guy did in the movie “The Da Vinci Code.” No, they’re the ones who stand around church after coffee hour, smiling and nodding, who come for the lemon bars.  Are those people me? Am I the one who became the phony Christian?  
I heard on Christian radio this morning this question: “Which one were you who stood under the cross while Jesus died?” I guess I could have been the one who divided the lot of clothing for money.  In light of my recent failings, the question remains to my audience: is your sense of betrayal to your God unintended or conscious?  Do you go to church because you know you belong to a future kingdom due to a sacrifice by God’s son, or do you go just to get by and relieve the guilt of not fully living a genuine life?  The question is relevant in today’s times when so many people are dying.  There are hundreds of Duluth youth on crystal meth.  There are more young adults who have contracted HIV.  There are old people stealing money, even from their spouses, so they can gamble.  There are people who have become demented just because society offered them the wrong dish.  I met an ex-Marine near Wright, MN, who has 600 guns.  Does he need this many guns to protect against an unperceivable threat?   There are people who fell into the road of iniquity because someone did not stop them or they did not trust their support system for help.  
Lent and God’s sacrifice should never be taken for granted.  Unbelievers drive up and down this country seeing churches in every town.  Even small Minnesota towns have four to six churches of all faiths.   Churches will survive all social changes, even the fact that our nation has become 14 percent atheist.  That is why those Christians asleep in the light must awaken those content in the dark.  Someone may not have a looming crisis.  They may not have a death in the family or a drug problem.  Yet they still need to recognize that if you are a Christian believer and want to acknowledge the importance of God’s desire to be in our lives, then don’t take Lent in stride.  It is a true ritual made by a truly holy man who came down in the flesh to die once and for all for the sins of mankind.  A ham dinner isn’t going to transcend the importance of this supernatural event—only the forgiveness and love that come directly from God and determine what our second chance will be. 

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