Tag Archives: redemption

That Time That I Went to a Methodist Church on Ash Wednesday

Last night, I entered Zion Methodist Church in Grand Forks, ND, just in time to find a bathroom before the service started.  As a seasoned pastor’s wife, I knew exactly where to go to find an empty restroom – down the stairs and to the left is the typical floor plan.  I swiftly found the door, switched on the light, and closed the stall door in front of me.  I went through the motions that need not be described and started falling toward the toilet seat to take care of business and get back upstairs in time for the service.

Rewind a bit:  fall I did.

It turns out that I had found the nursery restroom, and the toilet seats are toddler height.  I know: those who have met me in person are thinking, “That’s perfect!”  However, let me just tell you all that, though the height may have been perfect, I was not prepared for it.

I had started my march toward that moment on Tuesday evening when I saw Facebook posts of our University of Mary students partying like it was 1987 for Mardi Gras – make your own masks and all. I have been awake odd hours this week, so I have had extra quiet and alone time this week to ruminate (isn’t that a great word) about how I planned to engage with Lent this year.

I grew up attending Mendenhall Presbyterian Church in East Grand Forks, MN.  After spending the first two and half years of my life being a world traveler, I spent the next 15 years in one spot.  When my mom and biological father (Air Force – hence, the world traveling) divorced, my mom had returned to the Red River Valley. As a single mom in the late 1970s, she was fortunate to find a church who welcomed her (and her organ-playing skills) with open arms.  When she married Rick in 1979, the church rejoiced with her.

I had no idea what liturgy was as a child.

In fact, it was not until I started to attend Grace Baptist Church that I realized some churches had a very similar liturgy (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians) while others had their own vein of liturgy.  Those with their own veins of liturgy often attempt to claim they are without liturgy; however, once I realized what liturgy was, it became clear that all churches have it whether they realize it or not.

Liturgy essentially means the rhythm with which we do church.  Some people would call it a service schedule, but it is more than that.

Each part of the service has a theological significance, and the liturgy of a church can reveal its theology.  Even the location of the podium in relation to the altar/communion table reveals part of the specific church’s liturgy.  For example, in the Baptist tradition, the Word of God and its interpretation (the sermon) are central to the service. The podium from which the pastor preaches the sermon would typically be in the center of the stage.  In contrast, for a Catholic tradition, the Eucharist (communion) is central which is why the podium remains off to the side with the altar in the center.

Some traditions have written liturgies – there are books that describe the rhythm of the church service during different parts of the year.  More liturgical Baptists like the church my children (Baylor students) attend in Texas hand you the liturgy of the day as a packet on your way into the service.  This is quite a switch from the announcement-laden bulletin that we have at our Baptist church in Bismarck. It has empty blanks for the sermon notes, but that is all of the hint you get about the order of service.

In the Baptist tradition that I have lived for the past 26 years, the liturgical calendar has two basic high points – Easter and Christmas.  While we may talk of Advent and Lent, they are not emphasized.  What a contrast to the Catholic lives with whom we interact at the University of Mary.  We live within sight of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, and even the parking lot knows its liturgical calendar.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  As the day approached, I had felt a pull toward the liturgical side of this day.  Had I grown up in the churches I have attended in later years, I might not even know what Ash Wednesday was.

If I had been in Bismarck this week, I could have attended the large mass on campus.  I read somewhere that Ash Wednesday is the second most highly attended mass in the Catholic tradition.

UMary students leave their backpacks in the hallway during mass.

UMary students leave their backpacks in the hallway during mass.

I consulted my Facebook friends who live in Grand Forks as to time and information about their Ash Wednesday services but ultimately had to make a decision based on the nicest website.  I guess that is what people who work for online high schools do – choose your life based on what people say they are about.

As I walked to my car after the service, I started to rate it in my mind.  After a few critical moments, I had to remind myself that Ash Wednesday has little to do with the church I attend and much more to do with God whom I went to worship and His impact in my life.  The point was not for the church to create some moving experience through the service.  Instead, the stillness, the lack of glitz, and the near somber attitude of those leading was liturgy.

Lent is not about entertaining me.  Rather, lent is about preparing my mind and heart to remember that all of this world’s sinfulness was placed on the body of a man who was also God, who would suffer in mysterious ways for that sin, and who brings redemption to us because of His conquering resurrection.

As the pastor described that he had prepared the ashes for last evening by burning the palm branches used in last year’s Palm Sunday service, I was moved.  As another pastor read Psalm 51 aloud, I was moved.  As the small group who had gathered to worship together sang songs that directed our minds to the saving work that Christ did on the cross, I was moved.

Being moved did not come from anything that they did but rather what I did in obedience to worship, remember, and consider.

It turned out that my junior math teacher attended the same service with her husband.  We sat together, sang together, went up for our ashes together, and connected briefly afterwards.  As I drove away from the church service, I thought again at the unity we have with others who believe in the uniqueness of Christ.

Because of that unity, I could walk into almost any church in almost any town in almost any country around the world and worship.  The world will know God’s love through Christ when we come together and worship in love.


Filed under faith, Relationships, Thoughts

Music Monday: “Some Nights” by Fun.

Some songs get your attention at the start of the very first note in the song.

Some Nights by Fun. is one of the those songs.

Take a listen for yourself by clicking here (warning: there is an F-bomb dropped).

What caught my attention?  The usual – the music itself, the vocals, and the lyrics.

The Music

  • The drum parts in this song are incredible.  Although they have diverse rhythms, the underlying beat is that of a battle hymn drum corps.  Incredible.
  • The electric guitar is present but not overpowering.  In what is portrayed in the music video as a Civil War ensemble, the electric guitar would seem out of place.  Not so!
  • The piano mirrors the drums but is an instrument unto itself.
  • Overall – each instrument is heard, but they truly represent an enseble.

The Vocals

  • I am continually impressed with the lead singer of this group. What he can do vocally sounds like a synthesizer. (Is it actually a synthesizer?)
  • The opening bars of the song sound like an acapella choir.  The harmony is amazing.  I love the all male ensemble – so fitting for this song.

The Lyrics

What is a song without its message?  This song speaks to us all as we struggle with why we are here, why we fight for some things, who we are trying to please, and where the meaning in all of it is.  The music video’s setting is a Civil War re-enactment, and this leads me to think about all of the world conflict that is going on.  But this song is not only about literal conflicts; it is also about the conflicts within each of us as we strive for love, acceptance, and meaning.

Overall: great song with an awesome beat.  We each can find something in it that speaks to us.  However, it is not a song about answers.  It is a song that brings up more questions.  Perhaps this is just part of our current culture – that we just ask more questions because we still don’t know what we stand for?

I have posted about Fun. before. Click here to read that post.

My Final Thought

I may not know what I stand for, but I do know who stands for me.  As a rule, I do not try to put my faith out there too much on this blog, but this song pushes me to share a bit.  Many years ago, I was confronted with the reality that I, as is true of all humans, am sinful.  On the other hand, God is holy.  Because of my sin and because of God’s holiness, there was a chasm between us – no matter how hard I tried, I could not get to Him on my own.  Not only is God holy but He is also loving.  Because of this love, He sent Jesus to die on a cross for me…for you…for all of us.  In doing so, the cross created a bridge so that God and I (we all) could be in relationship with each other.

It is not that I stand for God; it is that He stood and stands for me.  When the rest of life seems uncertain and when we do not know what we stand for, we can know that God stood up for us by sending His son to die so that we would have everlasting life – together with God…not separated (note: Hell).

Without God standing for me, life would be meaningless.  I would live only for today, and I would lack assurance of redemption not only of my soul but also of my poor decisions.  I have no bad luck to cash in because God will bring it all together for His good intentions.

Unlike the song by Fun. – which ends in uncertainty and despair – we can all be certain and hopeful because of what God has done and because of what God will do.  Amen!

1 Comment

Filed under faith, Music, Thoughts

Broadway Comes to Me!

As a teenager, Broadway musicals fascinated me. My first love – back in 1989 – was The Phantom of the Opera.  What girl was not in love with either Raoul or the Phantom?  As I mentioned in a previous blog post when the latest Twilight movie came out, some girls are enticed by the darkness of “bad boys.”  I personally had a great fascination with the darkness of the Phantom.  Unlike others, I actually read the book by Gaston Leroux.  Also unlike others, I took the fiction book at face value and decided that it was historical…that was what the forward said!

Because of my family situation growing up (see “Adoption – My Fairytale“), I spent time each summer in Rhode Island – only three hours from New York City.  Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in NYC was a huge dream.  And the dream came true!  For my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me two tickets – one for me and one for my Auntie Toni (see comments of “What’s in a Name?“).  It was an absolute blast! We spent the whole day getting hot and sweaty in the humidity of NYC in July.  At the end of the day, we took in The Phantom.  I did not want the night to end.  It obviously did, and twenty-one years later I am still a fan!

The Phantom was like a gateway drug into the Broadway world.  That introduction led to Cats, The Secret Garden, Man of La Mancha, and Into the Woods.  And then came the mother of all musicals…the one that would surpass all others in depth and beauty…the one that would touch my heart and soul in a way that none other could – Les Miserables.  Since marrying my huz, we have seen the musical together at least three times.  It is truly that good.  The best, hands down, was still the time – while we were poor and he was in seminary – that we saw it in New York City.  Taking my farm boy to Broadway was a great treat!

Early this past summer, I heard a radio advertisement telling us that Les Miserables was coming to the Orpeum in Minneapolis – literally ten minutes from our house – right during the Christmas season!  Well, it was sort of a no-brainer to the huz and me that this would make an excellent Christmas present, and, once we determined from whom, tickets were purchased and the date on the calendar saved by all.  Yesterday was the day…we took in a matinee!  That rhymed.  🙂  We kept the kids out of school, and the huz and I took vacation days from work – on a Thursday.  So fun!  We had great seats (that is an inside family joke that I will explain sometime in a different blog post because it is a great story), and we enjoyed every minute of the musical.

The musical condenses Victor Hugo’s 513,000 word novel by the same name into three hours of intensity with only about eighteen minutes of comic relief.  Chuck Colson’s explanation of the plot and themes is better than my attempt (literally the last twenty minutes) to summarize.  I am horrible at summarizing.

The moral complexity of this story of an “honest thief” does not blur the distinction between good and evil. Instead, it gives us a very rich picture of the struggle between good and evil.

The redemption of ex-convict Jean Valjean plays itself out against the story of “the redemption of a nation.” The moral, philosophical, and military upheavals that France had experienced over the years serve as a fitting backdrop to this story of the upheavals in one man’s heart and soul.

Just released from prison, Valjean robs a bishop, only to have the bishop forgive him and make him a present of the silver that he stole. We see how this kindness, forgiveness, and “unconditional love” help heal Valjean’s soul.

And we see Valjean become a kind and loving man who in turn helps transform others, even while having to elude recapture by the fanatical policeman Javert. He helps the prostitute Fantine, showing her compassion when no one else will, and later adopts her destitute little girl after her death.

Valjean eventually rises to heroic levels of love and sacrifice, able to show astonishing mercy to his enemies as well as those he loves—a mercy so great that Javert cannot comprehend it, and suffers a breakdown. It is through loving others that Valjean shows his love for God, and truly becomes transformed and fulfilled.

Three hours of great theology with some of the best music ever written is my idea of a great afternoon.  I wrote on my Facebook status that I would go again last night (remember, we had seen a matinee) if someone would have handed me tickets.  One of the best parts about living in Minneapolis is that Broadway comes to me.  What Colson doesn’t mention in the little diddy above is that, in addition to the Valjean/Javert storyline, there is a fun love triangle, a minor attempt at revolution (the Student’s Rebellion of Paris which preceded the French Revolution), and some scandalously entertaining scenes.

Although the cost of musicals might keep me from seeing this again and again as I would like to do, I can be thankful for the soundtrack.  Whenever I need a little refresher course in the story of redemption through Christ allowing God’s grace, and mercy for everyone, all I need to do is hit repeat on my iPod and listen to the soundtrack of Les Miserables.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grateful for My Family Bush

November is one of my favorite times to be on Facebook.  All throughout the month, people post their “thankfuls” each day.  Because I like to be slightly rebellious about some times (while being a joiner at other times), I do not participate in most things that I am told to do on Facebook.  I do not tell the color of my bra even though I am very much in favor of breast cancer awareness initiatives.  And I do not post daily thankfuls during November.

This morning, though, I awoke with a mind full of what I would say if I were to post the things that I am thankful for each day, and essentially this blog post started to write itself.  These are the types of “racing mind” moments for which this blog was created.  The verbal or written vomit of these ideas flowing from my head will then clear the mind so that it can do the tasks of the day.

I am thankful for my family bush.

While others still have a traditional family tree, many of us now have a family bush instead.  The painful world in which we live has made the family bush more common.  What I mean by this is that, instead of the traditional branches that connect neatly together from one family line into the next, we now see bundles of family lines intersecting due to death, divorce, remarriage, and single parenting.  While there is pain involved in this, there is also redemption.  My husband (a preacher-man) recently preached a sermon about why God hates divorce.  One of the reasons that God hates divorce is that it breaks the image of marriage.  God intended marriage for good; divorce breaks covenant not only between the two involved but also with God Himself.  But my huz is quick to point out that God realizes that, in our human state, divorce will happen because of sin in our world.  When that happens, God has a plan of redemption.

As much as family bushes represent the pain that has occurred in the lives of those who have them, they can also be seen as a symbol of the redemption that can, or possibly has, taken place in those lives.  This is so true in my own family bush!  When one would look at my entire family bush, there is a lot of redemption to be seen.  I am the oldest of eight “kids,” but there are two other “oldests” (we all happen to be girls too!) in my bush because they are the oldest child in their nuclear family.  My brother Marc and I were born to Paul and Von before their divorce.  Paul married Maggie, and they have three children who are my half-siblings.  Von married Rick.  Von passed away.  Rick married Janet who had been married previously and had three children who are my step-siblings.  The bush grows when we start adding the aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are all included because of these life interruptions.  I am blessed by each person who is a part of this bush.  They enrich my life and have played a part in who I am today.

There is no doubt in my mind that God did not intend for there to be divorce or even death as part of our original experience.  But that design was interrupted by the very first people who did not want God’s design for their lives.  Once they had disobeyed and saw how hard life was outside of God’s design, they yearned for something more.  Generations later, God interrupted that interruption with His own plan again – Jesus.  Realizing that humans were not capable of bringing about redemption by any act of their own, God provided for redemption by sending His son into the world to die as the payment for our sins, to conquer death and raise from the death, and to ascend to heaven to be once again with His Father.  Because of God’s intentional redesign of His plan, we now have the ability to live in a redeemed state.

In my younger years, I saw my family bush as a negative image because it represented the brokenness of what had been a family tree.  For years, I focused on the negative impact that these events have in my life.  While that is a natural thing, I think that I missed out on God’s blessings for my mind in realizing that He has redeemed the situation.  The family bush does not have to be a negative image; it can be a positive image of the redemptive power of what God has done and will do through this situation.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized