Reflection February 18, 2018

"Dust to Dust" by: Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year). In many denominations, Ash Wednesday is celebrated with a sprinkling of ashes on the forehead. Words such as: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe the Good News” are said over the person receiving the ashes. (The ashes are traditionally the result of burning the left-over palms from the previous Palm Sunday.)

     Lent reminds us that we are finite creatures. Lent reminds us that we stand in need of God’s constant grace.  Lent reminds us to acknowledge both our precious mortality as well as our persistent immorality. Lent is a time to “sober up!”

     Some 20 years ago I attended a week-long retreat in New Mexico conducted by the well-known spiritual writer/speaker, Richard Rohr. Rohr presented us with five messages that we must all learn in life. I used these five “truths” almost ten years ago in the Advance. It’s probably time to repeat them.

    The 5 essential truths for life are:

            1) Life is hard;

            2) You are going to die;

            3) You are not that important;

            4) You are not in control;

            5) Your life is not about you.

     We’re all called to learn these five essential life truths. If we don’t learn them, we’ll waste our lives trying to show everyone how important we think we are.  We imagine that we’re really SPECIAL. Lent is the traditional time to get over this notion and understand we’re not that special. We’re really just like everyone else!

     If we cling to being SPECIAL, then we assume the rules don’t apply to us. If we’re SPECIAL, then the world should give us all kinds of “goodies” and accolades. If we’re SPECIAL then we can do what we want when we want. If we’re SPECIAL, then we drive as fast as we want whenever we want. If we’re SPECIAL, then we can ride the bumper of anyone who is not driving as fast as we want to drive. (I tell my students at Moraine Valley Community College: don’t marry anyone who rides the bumper of other drivers because he or she is not an essentially good and decent person!)

    Many of the ultra-rich and worldly powerful among us believe they’re SPECIAL. This mental aberration reveals itself in how the ultra-rich and powerful so often treat others. God keep us safe from the Machiavellian machinations of the ultra-rich and powerful. They pollute our shared, sacred world and call it progress. They glorify greed while falling prey to a miserable and miserly meanness of soul. Lord, keep us safe from becoming ultra-rich and powerful ourselves! Lord, keep us safe from being SPECIAL!

     Most of us want to live a pain-free life. When pain comes, we flee from it like the plague. Yet we need to teach our young that “life is hard” and they should prepare for it. No one can escape suffering and pain as they make their way through life.

     Many of us don’t really know what to do with our pain. Many of us try drugs and alcohol to diminish pain’s power. Commonly many of us scapegoat and project our pain onto others. We blame our parents for our pain. We blame our spouses for our pain. We blame our bosses for our pain. We blame “those people” for our pain. We blame God for our pain. It’s a never-ending list of who we can blame.

     We would do well to hold both the beauty and the tragedy of life in our hands until we’re transformed. We become transformed when we understand deep in our souls that our pain and our joys come and go as the mandated price for being alive. Life hurts! Life also heals! Life is both beautiful and horrific at the same time. Yet people fight each other over the most ridiculous things. Many of us never outgrow “the terrible twos.”

     It’s useless - as I’ve stated on more than one occasion - trying to divide the world into “good guys” and “bad guys.” For many of us, those who disagree with us are the “bad guys.” Those who agree with us are the “good guys.”

     Much of what passes for religion in our country is about finding scapegoats upon whom we project our anger and hatred and disappointments. Yet Jesus, in his life and death, took on the role of scapegoat in order to show how poisonous and destructive scapegoating really is. Lent is a good time to let go of our never-ending list of “enemies.”

     Lent is also be a good time to let go of our need for certitude. When it comes to faith, when it comes to our beliefs, we all know next to nothing. God is a deep and abiding Mystery.

     As a matter of fact, it might be helpful to call upon God thusly: “O Divine Mystery, Residing at the Heart of All There Is.” Such a title certainly says more than merely summoning up the rather bland name “God.” Give it a try and see what happens! How we call upon the Almighty makes a difference. Let’s ponder this during the days and nights of Lent!


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643