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Dinner with the president
Tuesday evening my husband and I ate dinner together as we watched President Obama present his first economic address to a joint session of Congress and the nation. As he spoke I thought back on a recent conversation I had over a meal with a friend. As we talked that day, she revealed that her 401K had shrunk in value by $30,000 in one reporting period. We wondered out loud if it’s irresponsible to temporarily file financial statements without noting the bottom line. It seems less stressful.
We also talked about ways to manage the fear and uncertainty this economic downturn is creating for all Americans, regardless of one’s financial portfolio. President Obama addressed this issue numerous times over the course of his speech by pointing to the challenges faced by former generations of Americans and the various ways they employed ingenuity and hard work to improve their circumstances.
It introduces an interesting way to manage the fears we may be experiencing today: look back and learn. Examine how people cope. Consider as new some of the old. Bring solid practices of the past into the present, perhaps repackaged, but reintroduced nonetheless.
Let’s add one more layer to this line of thinking: Let’s incorporate the element of faith. How can faith in God and a relationship with Him practically work in our lives today, lives that include concerns we did not have a year ago? What can we build into our weekly calendar that will soothe and encourage us? Help us improve our emotional balance? Offer support to those around us with worries of their own? Enable us to confidently share God’s love with those who long to experience it?
It began afresh for me this week when I attended an Ash Wednesday service, signaling the start of the Lenten season. The president asked us to look back at American history; let’s look back for a moment at Christian church history to see how it might be incorporated in our lives.
Starting in the 4th century, after the death and resurrection of Christ, it became common practice for Christians to celebrate Lent. This time encompasses 40 weekdays, beginning with Ash Wednesday and culminating weeks later with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Easter Sunday. The church originally used this time to prepare people who wished to be baptized by introducing formal study and prayer. It also gave members time to prepare for this special event and and provided those who had abandoned formal church membership the chance to rejoin.
In some congregations, people are encouraged to give up favorite foods and occasionally fast. The idea is to experience discomfort and incorporate prayer during these times to help you intensely focus on the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Other churches encourage their members to take on service projects or join efforts to personally serve church and community members with specific needs.
Traditional churches make great use of color to signify the events of Lent. Gray for ashes, are intended to remind us that we were created from dust and to dust we will eventually return. Black for the result of our mistakes. At other times during the season red is used to remind us of the blood Christ shed for all and purple to signify royalty, repentance and suffering.
Flowers are frequently removed during this period and reintroduced on Easter Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death and our own opportunity for rebirth.
All of these traditions are in place to speak to a great life truth: there are lean times but always the hope of celebration. There are moments when we should be self reflective and contemplate the condition of our relationships with each other and with God. We may want to reevaluate any number of issues in our lives, rethink our responses, and ask God for the courage to make necessary changes.
There is also a moment when the reflection is set aside and the celebration can begin.
Most of all, this season provides a way for us to bring solid tradition back into our lives when we are thinking that life, as we like it, has been turned upside down. Despite the changes and disappointments we may have not ourselves created, there are people around us who are willing to share God’s love and bring additional support into our lives in response to their own thankfulness. There are programs and opportunities to serve, scattered about our communities and well publicized in our newspapers. Caring beyond ourselves can be healing and empowering. Let’s step away from our tendency to isolate and involves ourselves with the activities offered during this centuries old Lenten season. It’s a time to learn, grow, and be lifted up by a personal God who cares and is actively at work at this key time in our history.
God awaits our response.