Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We Are Not Born Too Late - Advent and Dorothy Day

A little Advent perspective from Dorothy Day.

“In Christ’s human life, there were always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd. The shepherds did it; their hurrying to the crib atoned for the people who would flee from Christ. The wise men did it; their journey across the world made up for those who refused to stir one hand’s breadth from the routine of their lives to go to Christ. Even the gifts the wise men brought have in themselves an obscure recompense and atonement for what would follow later in this Child’s life. For they brought gold, the king’s emblem, to make up for the crown of thorns that he would wear; they offered incense, the symbol of praise, to make up for the mockery and the spitting; they gave him myrrh, to heal and soothe, and he was wounded from head to foot and no one bathed his wounds. The women at the foot of the Cross did it too, making up for the crowd who stood by and sneered.

We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with.”

—Dorothy Day

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Daddy's Little Girl

My baby girl turns one today. Two years ago, this never seemed like a possibility. We’d been trying for a year to get pregnant with no luck. In contrast, we soon learned that most of our friends were extremely fertile. Hooray for them.

It is hard to see people you love succeed in areas you fail. You feel guilty because you are unable to enter into their joy completely. I learned that one man’s joy often shines a harsh light on another man’s pain.

I could not imagine in 2008 the joy and love I would feel today because I am a father. But I still remember the pain I felt back then, and I’m ok with that. Experiencing the pain makes the joy so much sweeter. It also reminds me that my beautiful daughter might be a bittersweet sight for friends who are dealing with infertility, failed adoptions or the death of a child. That dichotomy is real, it is tangible, and it must be wrestled with.

I want so many things for my daughter. I want her to be stronger than I am. I want her to succeed where I have failed. But I also want her to understand that some people look at the world and see beauty, while others only see pain. I want her to see both. And I want her to help those who cannot imagine anything but pain to see the beauty of God’s love flooding into a broken world.

Every night when I lay her down to sleep, I pray some version of this prayer:
Lord, we thank you for Vivian Mae
And all the joy she brings
We pray that you keep her safe
We pray that she grows up big and strong
And we pray that she will show the world your beauty
Vivian Mae, on October 13, 2009, you came into my life. You helped me see beauty where I had only seen pain. You pointed me back to another child, born without fanfare, when God’s love broke through the depravity of this world. I pray that you spend the rest of your life doing the same thing for everyone you meet.

Happy Birthday. Daddy loves you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

Death seems to be circling my life a lot. First it was the sudden passing of a friend and former coworker. More recently it has been friends dealing with the death of a child. And there are still a few friends whose battles with cancer and other such things are always on the brink of death.

In light of that, I found myself humming “Down To The River To Pray” a lot. I know it’s traditionally sung at baptisms and it isn’t really about death. But I think Alison Kraus’s version is haunting and would be a fitting soundtrack to a scene in a movie where a casket is being taken from a church.

When she sings it, I’m flooded with all of the feelings I get during a baptism. At baptism we remember what we take on faith – that Christ conquered death. And at a funeral we hold onto that hope. We’re not sure we can believe amidst our grief, but we hold onto it. We remember our baptismal vows and the faith they represent – that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prayer For Those Searching For Truth

Cardiphonia has some nice prayers for non-Christians to reflect on during the Lord's Supper. My favorite is the "Prayer for Those Searching for the Truth" [emphasis mine]:

Lord Jesus, you claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. Grant that I might be undaunted by the cost of following you as I consider the reasons for doing so. If what you claim is true, please guide me, teach me, and open to me the reality of who you are. Give me an understanding of you that is coherent, convincing, and that leads to the life that you promise. Amen.

Friday, August 13, 2010


If my soul could sing, it would sound Johnny Cash - a true American bad-ass and the original voice of downtrodden and road weary travelers clinging to an ancient hope. I miss you, Mr. Cash. This world needs more people like you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

God Only Knows That I Mean Well

It’s been a rough couple of weeks at the Reed homestead. It’s the busy time of year at my job, and a series of new student orientations has kept me at work later than I would like. There have been a few days this week where I never saw my daughter awake, because she was always asleep when I was home.

Add to that my recent decision to indefinitely postpone returning to seminary and instead [probably] pursue a part-time MBA, a decision I’ll try to expound upon in the future. All of that adds up to feeling pulled in a million directions. You’ve got to hustle in this life to try to pay the bills and to keep your relationships from going bankrupt. It too often feels like a doomed effort.

I heard Joe Henry’s song, “God Only Knows,” this morning, and it struck me as a great expression of my current sentiments. The last verse gets me every time”
God only knows that we can do
No more or less than he'll allow
God only knows that we mean well
God knows that we just don't know how
But I'll try to be your light in love
And pray that is enough for now
I'll try to be your light in love
And pray that is enough for now
I'll pray that is enough for now
I'll pray that is enough for now
I'll pray that is enough for now
I'll pray that is enough for now
God only knows that I mean well, and I pray that is enough for now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On Sincerity

Cleveland has had a rough week. Lebron James left for the glitter of Miami and famed cartoonist Harvey Pekar died. Anthony Bourdain has a great obituary for Pekar, in which he talks about how Cleveland will end up missing Pekar more than James. Harvey Pekar was in love with Cleveland, and he helped people see how beautiful it was. As Bourdain writes,
“...Harvey captured and chronicled every day what was--and will always be--beautiful about Cleveland: the still majestic gorgeousness of what once was--the uniquely quirky charm of what remains, the delightfully offbeat attitude of those who struggle to go on in a city they love and would never dream of leaving. What a two minute overview might depict as a dying, post-industrial town, Harvey celebrated as a living, breathing, richly textured society.”
Jim Russell and Aaron M. Renn both use Bourdain’s thoughts as a jumping off point to talk about urban development, the brain drain and the brand of a city. The moral of the story - not everyone wants Miami, and Cleveland shouldn't try to give it to them. Cities in the Midwest (like my own Indianapolis) will never be able to compete with a place like South Beach or L.A. When we do try to compete, it comes off as insincere and fake. It’s not who we are. Sincerity always wins, and we should strive to embrace it.

If you ask me why I love Indianapolis, I won’t list any of the sexy building projects like Lucas Oil Stadium or the new JW Marriott hotel being built for the 2012 Super Bowl. I’ll tell you about some of my favorite local restaurants like Jockamo and Papa Roux. I’ll tell you about the house I love and can actually afford located in a great neighborhood surrounded by great people (and I love the people because these are my people). And I’ll tell you how being in the Midwest gives me some weird sense of being grounded, and how that grounding helps me survive the day-to-day rhythms of life.

Like I said, not sexy. But I hope you would see my genuine love for this place - a place that can be hard to love because it requires a little work to find beauty. That’s a true statement about so many things I love in this world, including my faith. I want there to be a sexy reason to love Christianity in a post-Christian world, but all I have are deeply personal stories of God invading my world and filling the dullness with beauty. These things are not sexy, but they are sincere.

And maybe that’s better after all.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Give to the Wind Thy Fears

Don't you love it when a work of art invades your life at the exact moment you need it? That's how I feel about Nathan Partain's recording of his rearranged version of "Give to the Wind Thy Fears." I have never heard the hymn before, but I instantly love it. I don't think it gets much better than Nathan's music paired with a hymn that's older than our country.

It is worth taking the time to explore the rest of his music.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lord Have Mercy. Christ Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy.

You should read Andy Whitman's beautiful "Good Letters" entry about his sister's impending death.

I love liturgy, written prayers, and other related things. My dad is fond of cautioning that these items can become "rote." He views this as a negative, that memorization and recitation lead to a monotonous faith. That's the opposite of what it does.

I hope those words become rote. Because when I am faced with those inevitable moments when there are no answers, I will throw myself on the mercy of God. And the only words I will be able to utter will be those words written onto my heart over time and with repetition.

I have never met Andy Whitman, but I pray for God's mercy and strength. And I offer him this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer, because I do not have words to say it better:

"O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servant for whom our prayers are offered. Remember him, O Lord, in mercy, nourish his soul with patience, comfort him with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon him, and give him peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

I've been thinking a lot about issues like calling, the value of work, the American dream, etc. I've read books by Gary Vee, essays by Dorothy Sayers, and I just began to revisit The Call by Os Guinness.

But I think Andy Whitman's recent essay "Walker Percy and The Century of Merde," from the Good Letters blog at Image perfectly captures perfectly sums up the frustrations I have whenever I think about these issues.

"There is inherent nobility in work, my friends tell me. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with supporting your family. The notion of following your passions is a product of whiny Baby Boomers. Ask a thirteenth-century serf about following his passions.

Some days I listen. But not today. Me? I'll talk to you about Walker Percy and why he had it right. I'll talk to you about why it's all a big, stinking pile of merde without God in the equation, and that even with Him on your side you still might want to hold your nose."

[Author's note: There are no affiliate links in this post.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Freedom In Restriction

I love The White Stripes. At their best, I feel like they capture the essence of great garage rock. It's gritty and exciting, and you can't help but dance.1

But what I love more than the great music are the band's self-imposed restrictions. They tend to limit their composition to three components (vocals, drums, guitar or vocal, drums, piano).2

At first you think a restriction like that will lead to a creative dead-end. You may not use a 6th grade recorder ensemble, but you want the option on the table. Most of us believe that greater creativity requires access to greater options.

But instead it forces you to think outside of the proverbial [and cliched] box. You realize that the boundaries everyone else believes are suffocating are in fact freeing. Instead of squelching creative freedom, the restrictions actually force it to the surface.

A lot of things are that way. Frugality forces you to find creative ways to make ends meet. Dietary restrictions force you to expand your recipe box. And I would add that Christian social ethics [how your faith influences your actions in this world] force you to reconsider what it means to be human and to step into a new and creative life oriented by hope.

It's easy to focus on what we're not supposed to do as Christians. But as my pastor, Jason Dorsey, mentioned this past Sunday, we have a different - an otherworldly - perspective. Christianity is not about being afraid of hell or being coerced by God. It is about stepping into a new identity - an identity of hope. That identity given by God is the only way to break free from the faux freedom of our sinful nature. It is the only way to become truly human.

Yes, that new identity will require being different, both in what we do and in what we don't do. The same cross that saves us, restricts us and calls us to live our lives with a different perspective. The world may not understand, but by the grace of God, our lives will be more dangerous, more creative, and more profound because of it. And people will want to know what it's all about.

1 Yes, I dance. No, I won't dance for you. But I dare you to listen to "My Doorbell" and not shake your booty just a little.
2 While they don't do this in 100% of their songs, it is a restriction that dominates the vast majority of their music.

Friday, April 30, 2010

And I Will Hold On Hope

I've spent most of my life trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life. I want to pursue the passions of my heart, but I never want to commit to what those passions are. I want to live dangerously, but I want to mitigate risk. I want to take the right steps without ever tripping. [Yeah, I want to live in a dream world.]

In her biography, it's mentioned that St. Teresa of Avila "was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong." That pretty much sums up my life, which is why I found this prayer by her to be so beautiful:
Govern everything by your wisdom, O Lord,
so that my soul may always be serving you
in the way you will
and not as I choose.
Let me die to myself so that I may serve you;
let me live to you who are life itself.

I find that prayer to have a calming effect. Everything in the first paragraph of this post is focused on me and my desires. And when I focus on how I am going to live my life and how I am going to plan out the near future, I get paralyzed by indecision and wind up sitting in a corner listening to Whitney Houston albums. It isn't pretty.

Instead of focusing on my desires, [wait for it] I should focus on God's desires for my life. When you can hand over your dreams and passions to God, he transforms those passions into his passions. Instead of paralyzing indecision, you can grab onto hope. It's empowering.

I found myself thinking of that while listening to Mumford & Sons this week. Their song "The Cave" has so many good lines [full lyrics here]. Some of my favorites:
"And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again"

"Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be"

"So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears"
[Author's aside: That last part about orphans and knowing my call is especially poignant as my wife and I continue to talk about the idea of adoption. But that's a post for another time.]

We are called out of a life focused on ourselves and called into a life focused on God. Only then will we find the clarity to live as God's people in this world, a people marked by grace [and everything that means].

Nothing I've said is new. I've heard it a million times. But I suppose when a 16th century Spanish saint and a folk band from London conspire across the space-time continuum to persuade you to refocus your heart, you should probably shut-up and do it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Home Is Wherever I'm With You

I turn 30 this Friday. As a middle-class white American, I have the luxury of reflecting back on my life and trying to draw truth out of the existential mess – a luxury I partake in a lot. (If I can get my act together – and get through my Stats homework – I’ll post some thoughts on 3 decades of life later this week.)

I’ve had my ups and downs and roundabout paths. I never applied to film school (old regret that fades a little each year) and I started an MDiv, swore it off, and am now very close to starting it again. I’ve had more careers and more identity crisis than I care to remember.

But through the years I met a girl, we made a baby, and we’ve lived a good life. Everything else is just noise.

I have had trouble putting down roots over the last few years. There were the moves from Indianapolis to Minneapolis to Portland back to Minneapolis and finally back to Indianapolis. (That’s not even counting the failed and/or stalled attempts to move to Austin, Orlando, L.A., D.C., and South Korea.) And that girl – my wonderful wife, Nikki – was always along for the ride, no matter how crazy (or melodramatic) it/I was.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. And in the rush of celebrations with friends and family, I don’t want to forget to mention that I wouldn’t be here (or be who I am) without her. We do a poor job relishing life, and we do an even worse job of appreciating and celebrating the very people who make this life so great.

So, as I close up the third decade of my life, I just want to thank the woman I love. She’s still that girl I fell in love with in the J-Lab at Taylor, but she’s so much more than that. And whether we die in this house in Irvington sixty years from now or move again in five years, I know that home is wherever I’m with her.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just A Rude Boy With A New Toy

As you can tell, I got a little "blogged out" during Lent and haven't posted in over a week. I've been trying to craft a thoughtful reflection on my little Lenten experiment, because the world totally needs more people reflecting on the effectiveness of their own navel gazing. I have yet to deliver this magnum opus because of a combination of exhaustion (a.k.a. laziness) and being pulled in too many directions (a grown-up way of saying I have poor time management skills and an inability to say no).

When I get tired, I tend to veer headfirst into melodrama. I think we'd all like to avoid that. So instead of giving you what I was working on (a reflection on being a father that felt like it should air at 2 a.m. on Lifetime), I will give you a music video.

I've been going through some old CDs. It's probably just nostalgia, but I've softened on some of my old music. It's not that bad. So I think it's time to go back to a simpler time (1997) and rock out to a little O.C. Supertones. Everybody dance. You know you want to.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Good Man Died Yesterday

Michael Spencer died yesterday. You can find plenty of thoughts on Michael’s life and death, but I found Andy Whitman’s to be especially poignant.

Michael’s blog The Internet Monk provided a great amount of inspiration and strength for me, especially when I was living in Portland and struggling with my faith. If my life (and my blog for that matter) could have one tenth of the intelligence, compassion and bravery that Michael exhibited, then I could die a happy man.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday - Our Empire Of Dirt

Good Friday is always a somber day for me. It's the day we remember Christ's conviction, torture and death. It was probably quite a sight. The crowd that loved him on Sunday is now jeering at him as he dies a torturous death.

Everything was going great for the crowd until the sun stopped shining for three hours, the temple curtain was torn in two, the earth shook, and people rose from the dead. At that point, I'm guessing they all thought something like, "Oh shit."

Or as the Roman centurion who witnessed the events said, "Surely this man was the Son of God."

It must have been suffocating to suddenly realize that you were wrong - to realize that you had just killed the Son of God. And all you could do was remember all the sins in your life that nailed him to that cross.

Our sin is never private - we never hurt just ourselves. No matter how hard we try to wash it away, there is still blood on our hands.

A Prayer For Good Friday
Lord, your love incarnate in your son has shown us the ugliness of our sin. Our crimes are so heinous that they require the ultimate sacrifice - the blood of your son. Even as we gaze on the cross, we are so arrogant that we claim to think you are evil for demanding such a sacrifice. Break us of our pride and rescue us in our sin.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, April 2, 2010

Johnny Cash - Hurt from kakofoni on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday - Our Lord Was Afraid

One of my favorite songs in recent memory is "Up On A Mountain" by The Welcome Wagon. It's a nice portrait of Christ's last night in Gethsemane when he goes to pray before he is betrayed by Judas Iscariot. He asks his most trusted apostles to come pray with him, and they can't stay awake. You can read the full account here.

Not long ago we were listening to it, and my wife pointed out the line, "Up on a mountain our LORD is afraid." She thought it odd to think of Jesus as being afraid, but he was. He begged God to find another way, and yet he ultimately submitted to the will of the Father.

It's a beautiful, tragic image of Jesus that I find comforting and inspiring in so many ways. But I think what strikes me the most is the image of Jesus Christ begging and pleading with God late at night for things to be different. He begs for comfort in the midst of fear. Anyone who has struggled with depression knows what that is like. [I should note that in Luke's version of the story, God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen him. He was not alone, even if he felt like it.]

It is Christ at his most human - he is vulnerable. The creator of the universe, the savior of the world, became man - and he was afraid. And I can relate to him. I can connect to him. And he can empathize with me because he has been afraid. He has faced the darkness. He has felt alone.

I think it's a sobering [and hopeful] image to reflect on this Maundy Thursday evening.

A Prayer For Maundy Thursday
Lord, we are afraid. We strive to find light, but all we see is darkness. We feel as if hope is dead. Send us your spirit to strengthen us. You are God who has known fear, and we pray for your empathy and your strength.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

"Up On A Mountain"
Words and Music: Vito Aiuto
© New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP

Up on a mountain our LORD is alone
Without a family, friends, or a home
He cries – ohhh, ohhh, ohhh –
Will you stay with me?
He cries – ohhh, ohhh, ohhh –
Will you wait with me?

Up on a mountain our LORD is afraid
Carrying all the mistakes we have made
And he knew – ohh, ohh, ohh – it’s a long way down
Do you know – ohh, ohhh – he came all the way down

Up in the heavens our LORD prays for you
He sent his Spirit to carry us through
So its true – ohhh, ohhh – that you’re not alone.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oh Mercy

The beauty of the cross is the image of mercy that it portrays. Mercy is unwarranted compassion and kindness. It is not being given the punishment that you deserve. If you are aware that you are imperfect and dead in your sins, then the cross is an image of beauty. If you have no real conviction that despite your best efforts you aren't good enough, then the cross is nothing more than a historical footnote blown out of proportion by generations of people you write off as delusional.

I am always amazed at how many people are too stubborn (or too ignorant) to admit they need mercy in their lives. Do they really believe that they have wronged no one? Do they have no regrets?

I can understand why you would think I'm an idiot for believing I need mercy from some God you either hate or find to be obsolete. But do you really believe that there are no people in this world you have wronged? Do you really believe that (if you are honest) you would say you do not crave forgiveness or mercy from someone in your life?

If you say no, then you have lived a life so shallow and cut-off from other people that you have never invested enough in someone's life to risk hurting them. You have never loved. Or you are so self-absorbed that you don't care if you have wronged someone. Either way I am sad for you.

It isn't constricting to admit that you need mercy. It is freeing, because you realize that you can't save yourself. And when you receive mercy, you realize what it means to be completely and fully loved. And isn't that a beautiful thing? Isn't that liberating? Isn't that something you want?

A Prayer For The Wednesday Of Holy Week
Lord, we have wronged those we love and we have wronged you. We have regrets that haunt us. We reject as lies the notion that regrets are for the weak minded. We know that our regrets remind us that we are human. They remind us that we are loved, and that we took that love for granted.

But in your mercy, you do not leave us regretting the mistakes of our youth. You sent your son to rebuild those broken relationships. You were the one who was wronged, and yet you were the one who paved the way to forgiveness. We did nothing and deserved nothing, and yet we have received so much. Please let us live in this world as people who have experienced mercy, and let us extend mercy to those around us.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

- Ben Reed, March 31, 2010

Mercy Now
Mary Gauthier

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor
Fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over
It won't be long and he won't be around
I love my father, and he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He's a stranger to freedom
He's shackled to his fears and doubts
The pain that he lives in is
Almost more than living will allow
I love my bother, and he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful
Who follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, well
They'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it
But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Can Act Like A Man

We're in the midst of holy week. It begins with Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and culminates in his betrayal, death and resurrection. It is the remembrance of the last week of a man's life. And in that last week, he is ultimately betrayed by a friend, denied by his closest disciple, and crucified by the very people who had praised his name a few days earlier.1

I tend to bristle when we merely try to draw examples of good living from Christ's life. He was more than a nice example for shallow devotional books best enjoyed over afternoon tea. He was God incarnate after all. But as I think about what he went through during that week - and how he want through it - I can't help but think, "Now that was a man."

I've been thinking a lot about masculinity and being a man. (I'm sure it's partly due to my discovery of blogs like The Art Of Manliness and 1001 Rules For My Unborn Son.) The crisis of manhood is a well documented "issue" in this country.2 I'm not sure I can add much to that discussion. I struggle with the same issues of passion, responsibility, identity, etc. But I do think that trying to focus more on Christ, and trying to find my identity in him (as opposed to other things like my work, my family, etc.) can help focus the questions surrounding those issues.

Christ was killed because he was not what the people expected. They thought he would bring a physical/political revolution, but he brought a spiritual revolution.3 They thought he would spill Roman blood, but his own blood was spilled. Christ was killed because he refused to conform to our expectations. Holy week is [in part] about Christ's subversion, destruction and redemption of our expectations of God.

Now that was a man.

We must live as fathers in a world filled with absent fathers. We must live as husbands in a world filled with undevoted husbands. We must live as men in a world that struggles to define what men are. And as we navigate that minefield, we would do well by the grace of God to try and subvert, destroy and redeem the old images of men that we have been given.

A Prayer For The Tuesday Of Holy Week
Lord, as we remember the last week of your son's life on earth, we are reminded of the courage and resilience he showed. He knew even as the people cheered that those same people would ultimately betray him. And yet in his love and mercy he fulfilled his mission to serve as a sacrifice for our sins. Fill us with the same love and mercy for others. Remind us that we are sinners who were saved not by any action on our part but by actions on your part - actions that only a loving God and father could undertake.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

1 If you'd like a nice devotional guide reflecting on this last week of God's life, Cardiphonia has posted a guide from Christ The King Presbyterian Church.

2 Doesn't this whole thing strike you as an extremely western, middle-class issue? Do poor farmers in the third world have time for existential crisis about whether or not men with beards either are manly or not to be trusted? (Answer: Manly and sexy.)

3 By the way, a spiritual revolution should spill over into all areas of life. It is not contained to pithy spiritual discussions over afternoon tea.

Quick Blog Notes

So, we moved this weekend. Our internet provider, Brighthouse, promised to have us up and running with internet on Saturday. That didn't happen. In fact, we were told three different things over the last two weeks regarding transferring our service. The Brighthouse customer service rep even insinuated that my wife is an idiot. That didn't go well for him.

Anyway, the internet goes live in the Reed house today. While I could have run to a coffee shop and quickly posted some thoughts on Palm Sunday, Holy Week, etc., I chose to stay at home with my wife and work on unpacking boxes.

Regular posting should start again tonight.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Next Time I'm Paying People To Do This

I just spent all day packing up the rest of my house. We move into our new place tomorrow. I'm exhausted.

A Prayer For The Thirty-Third Day Of Lent
Lord, as we stand on the brink of new challenges and adventures, we pray for strength, wisdom and patience. We pray that you will give us strong roots, so that we might feel safe enough to step out in faith and accept new challenges. We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that you are good and will walk into that future with us.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Prayer Of Confession For The Thrity-First Day Of Lent

[Author's note: This prayer was inspired by reading Facebook status updates about the passage of the health care reform legislation. I am not offering an opinion on the topic, though I do have one. Instead, this is simply my frustrated response to the hatred I heard from a lot of people on all sides of the debate. We serve a higher purpose. We should start acting like it.]

Lord, we come to you with contrite hearts and ask forgiveness for our sins.

We have mistreated those who love us.
We hide behind walls while we hurl insults and slander.
We scream about problems at the top of our lungs, but suddenly lose our voice when pressed for answers.
We assume those who disagree with us are ignorant at best and evil at worst.
We declare your love on Sunday and spread hatred Monday through Saturday.
We have trivialized words like mercy, responsibility and love.
We claim to serve only you, yet our words and actions betray us - we serve other masters.
We are arrogant.
We have no compassion.

We have sinned in thought, word and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone.1

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 24, 2010

1 This line is taken from the confession often used during Episcopal/Anglican services in the U.S.A. It appears in The Book Of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church (U.S.A.), 1979.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sacrifice In The Time Of Zombies

My wife and I are busy packing up our house to move six blocks away to our new house. I hate moving. Every time we move, we seem to get rid of more stuff. And yet, I am always amazed at how much stuff we have. We really don't have that much when compared to some, but it still feels like a lot.

My wife and I are constantly trying to simplify our lives. We don't have cable. (I'm already addicted to too many shows as it is, why should I add more?) We don't go crazy on new clothes or other frivolous things. When we do spend money, we try to spend according to our convictions. This means supporting local restaurants like Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza, funding business plans for local shops like Homespun (which we'll do after the next pay day), and giving to organizations that have changed our lives like Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

And yet, it seems like we can always simplify more. I am constantly asking myself, "Am I too attached to my stuff and to certain lifestyle conveniences?" I am usually embarrassed by my responses.

Now, I have to worry about the message my consumer choices send to my daughter. She's never going to think I'm cool, so does it really matter if I get my beloved cardigans from The Gap or from Value World? Shouldn't she grow up in a household that views sacrifice as something that is required of us? Shouldn't she grow up seeing that our motivations - not just our actions - matter?

Sacrifice is a funny thing. It's easy to talk about at the bar over a pint with good friends. It's another thing to live it out. My wife and I talk about becoming foster parents or about adopting children. The questions we ask always seem to center around our own fear of sacrifice.

What if the foster child has lots of issues and is unstable? What if we adopt a child of a different race? Will our family not love them as much? What if I get attached to a foster child and then they leave?

What if the zombie apocalypse happens tomorrow and I find out that my dog, the dog I saved from certain death at the pound, has been a zombie spy all these years and turns on me during the final batttle, thus ending my attempt to save humanity?

When you get down to it, aren't most "what if" questions just as absurd as that last one? Aren't they really designed to help us feel good for considering a sacrifice while providing a "legitimate" out?

If I'm honest, I don't sacrifice enough.

Helping someone change a flat tire when you're late for work isn't a sacrifice. Having an annoying acquaintance over for dinner because you know they're lonely isn't a sacrifice. Giving up cable to spend more time with you're family isn't a sacrifice (I don't care who your family is). Giving away enough money to feel good about yourself but not enough to force lifestyle changes is not a sacrifice.

Selling everything you have and giving the money to the poor is a sacrifice. Loving your friend so much that you would lay down your life to save their's is a sacrifice. Letting your only son die to atone for the sins of the world is a sacrifice.

And so, as I pack up yet another house, I am asking myself, "Have I really sacrificed enough? What other excuses am I going to create to avoid what I know to be true in my heart? How self-absorbed can one man really be?"

A Prayer For The Thirtieth Day Of Lent
Lord, we are a self-righteous people. We make minor adjustments to our lifestyle and declare them as sacrifices. When we see news reports of famine, war, and injustice, we turn off the TV declaring, "Someone else will take care of this. We have sacrificed enough." And we write a check to soothe our soul.

Lord, remind us of the sacrifices you have endured because of your love for us. Break us of our pride. Show us how to truly sacrifice. Open our wallets to the needs of your world. Open our hearts to the needs of your people. Open our souls to our need for you.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hard To Believe, But I'm Not Perfect

I started Lent saying I would write a prayer for every day of Lent. Well, I missed a day. There was no prayer yesterday for those of you keeping score. Technically, Sundays are feast days and not included in the 40 days of Lent, but in my mind I was always going to write a prayer for every day beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. The best laid plans, yada, yada, yada.

I'll be honest, I knew trying to write something every day was going to be difficult, but I underestimated how difficult it would actually be. You can probably tell which days involved me throwing random Christian words together minutes before bedtime. Too often I convinced myself that I needed to say something deep and meaningful, which is pretty much garbage. I only need to be honest, and the honest answer is that I often don't have the words to pray.

I still try to pray though, because there is beauty in having the discipline to do something over and over because you know it's right even if it isn't fun. There is also beauty in knowing that my discipline will earn me nothing. Writing the prayers was never about me; it was always about reminding myself to pray for those in my life. If someone happens to be inspired by one of the prayers, then it's an added bonus. The exercise fell apart on the days that I forgot that and tried to create something profound.

I'll have more thoughts after Easter, but I do think this little exercise has made me more mindful of prayer and praying for the needs of others. I often don't have the words to pray, but there is something important about trying anyway.

So, Lenten daily prayers take two...

A Prayer For The Twenty-Ninth Day Of Lent
Lord, we never seem to have the words to express the thoughts of our hearts. If we are honest, we too often have trouble making sense of those same thoughts. Help us make sense of the tangle of emotions and ideas racing through our heads, and give us the words to express those to you. Even though you know our hearts, help us to pray so that we might grow closer to you. Transform the desires of our hearts into the desires of your heart.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 22, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Prayer For The Twenty-Eighth Day Of Lent

Lord, we thank you for spring. Give us reason to pause and enjoy the simple beauty that is springing up all around us. Your entire creation erupts into vibrant life and declares your glory to the world. For you are a God who loves beauty; the evidence is all around us. We pray that we will find inspiration from your creation.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 20, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

What Should I Be When I Grow Up? No, Really, Please Tell Me

I'm thinking about starting grad school. The problem is I have too many interests that I want to pursue. Focusing on my career in higher education doesn't really narrow it down too much. I could study student development, public policy, business or a handful of other degrees and gain useful knowledge for my career from all of them. Of course, there's always that nagging voice in the back of my head that wants me to pursue something completely fun and not readily employable (like film and media studies).

Add to that the daunting task of juggling a full-time job, family life and school work, and the whole prospect of grad school can be a bit overwhelming. I'm pretty close to asking a complete stranger what to do, and pursuing whatever path they tell me. (Does anyone else think that sounds like the plot of a crappy Jim Carrey movie? This is what my life has become. Rejected Jim Carrey scripts.)

A Prayer For The Twenty-Seventh Day Of Lent
Lord, we pray for clarity in our lives. You have given us passions and talents, yet we never seem to be able to piece them together. Bring order to the chaos of our thoughts, and give us the strength to live fearlessly as you would have us live. For we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us to find the purpose for which you have created us.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Prayer For The Twenty-Sixth Day Of Lent

Lord, may all our actions point others to you. May our creativity reflect the beauty of your world. May our intellect reflect the intricacies of your mind. May our humor remind others of the joy in this life. And may our love reflect the love that you embody in your very nature.

Give us the strength to live fearlessly and humbly as your people in this world.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day - It's Not About The Al-Al-Al-Al-Alcohol

I don't really know much about St. Patrick except that his feast day is celebrated by making fun of Irish people and trying to kill your liver with green beer. [By the way, I don't care how much green food coloring you put in it, Coors Light/Miller Lite/Bud Light still taste like horse piss. The only people who like green beer are alcoholics or people born without taste buds. If you're going to drink beer, you should drink something that actually tastes good.]

Well, it seems the real story of St. Patrick is actually much more dramatic. Joe Carter at the First Thoughts blog calls him "The Indiana Jones of Saints." He was kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, escaped from slavery, became a priest and then beat the crap out of a bunch of druids resulting in Ireland becoming Catholic. How is this not a movie1? Somebody call Peter Jackson.

A Prayer For St. Patrick's Day
Lord, may we be encouraged by the story of St. Patrick who endured kidnapping, slavery and near death. You were always with him, just like you are always with us. Remind us of your faithfulness, especially when we feel as if you are nowhere to be found. You are our defender and protector.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Prayer For The Faithful
May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

Thanks to Christine Sine at Godspace for posting this prayer.

1 According to IMDB there was a TV movie, but I think this deserves something greater.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everybody Poops

I just learned earlier this evening that the sewer has backed up at a friend's house and their basement is filling with poop. A few minutes later I heard my wife on the phone telling someone about her explosive diarrhea at The Cheesecake Factory. (I don't even want to know the context of that conversation.) I guess Christian community involves a lot of crap - literally. A good sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

A Prayer For The Twenty-Fourth Day Of Lent
Lord, we take ourselves too seriously. Remind us that you are both the God who is with us in misery and the God who is with us in joy. You are the God who created laughter. You are the God who created the platypus. Help us to find humor in the midst of our lives, even when it feels as if there is no humor to be found.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Long Nights In Irving Circle Park

Irvington has a spooky feel to it at night, which I suppose is appropriate for a place obsessed with Halloween and named after Washington Irving (author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"). I remember walking my dog, Annie, through Irving Circle Park one night a few days before Halloween last year. The combination of the crisp air, the crackling leaves beneath my feet, and a gusty east wind1 created a perfectly eerie Halloween atmosphere. The streets were deserted except for Annie and me, but it felt like someone - or something - was there. In that moment, I felt very, very alone.

I think some of the loneliest moments we have in life are when we feel like we must make a stand by ourselves. Tell me, what is lonelier than believing there is no one who loves you enough to stay with you through the night and fight - even if that fight is just against the east wind blowing through the deserted streets of Irvington?

And we are alone - we are alone in death and sin. I'm sorry; I don't really know how to sugarcoat it. Maybe I'm just overly cognizant of my own depravity [I am a Presbyterian after all], but I see evidence of my sin all the time. Sin is an alienating thing. I know whenever I think about it, I suddenly feel very alone. Because our sins seperate us from each other and from God.

But we are not without hope, because God has had mercy on the dead. Of course, we too often believe the lie that we have been left for dead in our sin.

There is something about the quiet city at night that seems to expose my feelings of loneliness and death. As someone who has struggled with depression, I can say that nighttime is long and oppressive. It is a battle to survive until morning. And so, when the autumn wind sends a chill down my spine in Irving Circle Park I don't have time to remember that it's just the wind. I'm too busy having flash backs to all those nights when my only prayer was, "Lord, just let me make it to morning."

So maybe it is just the east wind. Or maybe it's Satan trying to convince me that I am alone and that God has left me for dead. When that happens - when I feel like I'm the only one left in the war - I remember the story of the valley of the dry bones from Ezekiel. You can read the whole thing here, but my favorite part is:
9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
We were dead in our sin. But the God who saved us from death, gives us life. And we shall be raised up. And he will fight for us. The God who created the four winds will stop the lies that are spread in the whispers of the east wind. The God who suffered on the cross because he loved us will end our suffering. And the night shall be over; it will have no more power over us.

A Prayer For The Twenty-Third Day Of Lent
Lord, the wind whispers lies as we walk these dark streets. Our sin has roused us from our bed, and sent us into the night looking for solace. But there is no comfort alone in the dark. There are only lies - convincingly told - that seek to keep us from seeing the dawn. We throw ourselves on your mercy, and pray that you keep us safe until morning.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 15, 2010

"Mercy on the Dead"
You can listen to Nathan sing this song at his blog.

Weary from the hardened roads and rejected as a stranger,
No room to deliver Life for the mother of our savior,
Lonely, not but just a prayer to have strength to bear our Maker,
Struggling in the pains of birth hoping God would show his favor.

Oh have mercy on the dead!
Oh come breathe your breath out on this cold ground.
And where you find nothing left,
Raise up your children!

Dull ears and a broken cup was the people that you came to,
Thieves hiding inside your house where the dark could not perceive you,
No life and a withered branch was the garden that you came to,
Hail, coals and the cup of wrath, that you bore to make all things new.

Oh have mercy on the dead!
Oh come breathe your breath out on this cold ground.
And where you find nothing left,
Raise up your children!

The Holy One bends down to dust,
He speaks our name, He calls to us,
“Come out, My Child! You’re mine forever!”

Oh have mercy on the dead!
Oh come breathe your breath out on this cold ground.
And where you find nothing left,
Raise up your children!

1 I don't know if it really was an east wind, but I think east wind sounds good so I'm using it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Prayer For The Fourth Sunday Of Lent

Lord, we have collapsed in the middle of the road, unable to finish the journey. Any delusions of our grand plans for our own lives have been beaten out of us by the trials of this world. We used to say we were proud, but we had no idea what pride really was. We have been broken by the weight of trying to carry our own lives.

We look to you and can finally say, "Lord, save us from ourselves. We are not worthy. We do not deserve your love, and yet we throw ourselves at your mercy and beg for you to save us. We cannot continue to live like this. Do not let us wallow here in death."

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 14, 2010

"Hold Thou My Hand"
Fanny Crosby
, 1879

Hold thou my hand; so weak I am and helpless,
I dare not take one step without thy aid;
Hold thou my hand; for then O loving Savior,
No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid.

Hold thou my hand, and closer, draw me closer
To thy dear self - my hope, my joy, my all;
Hold thou my hand, lest haply I should wander,
And, missing thee, my trembling feet should fall.

Hold thou my hand; the way is dark before me
Without the sunlight of thy face divine;
But when by faith I catch its radiant glory,
What heights of joy, what rapturous songs are mine!

Hold thou my hand, that when I reach the margin
Of that lone river thou didst cross for me,
A heavenly light may flash along its waters,
And every wave like crystal bright shall be.

Hold thou my hand; so weak I am, and helpless,
I dare not take one step without thy aid;
I dare not take one step without thy aid.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Prayer For The Twenty-Second Day Of Lent

Lord, we say we want others to know us, yet we spend our days building walls around our lives. We say we want to have life-altering relationships, yet we spend more time faking depth than we do investing in those close to us. We spend every waking moment convincing ourselves we can avoid pain, only to come to the end of our lives and realize we are alone.

Lord, break down these barriers. Show us the life-changing nature of true community. For you embody community in your very triune nature. Remind us that we are created in your image and can only begin to understand your love when we live in a community centered on and supported by you.

-Ben Reed, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

For All Have Sinned

I love Lauren Winner. Her book Girl Meets God is one of my favorite spiritual memoirs. I saw this quote by her in Terry Mattingly's March 10, 2010, column. I think it's a simple, beautiful summary of what Lent is supposed to be.

[I've spent the last hour trying to write a blog entry that would match the intelligence and humility of her quote. I have failed miserably in that task. So, I will just leave you with her words.]

"The thing is, Lent isn't a therapeutic self-improvement project. We're supposed to take a hard look at our sins and then repent. But how do we get to repentance if we have never truly paused to examine our lives? ... Most of us are morally and spiritually sleepwalking. We need to wake up and see where we are and what we're doing."

A Prayer For The Twenty-First Day Of Lent
Lord, give us pause in the midst of our busy lives. Quiet the noise that bombards every waking moment. Remove every excuse we have to avoid self-reflection. And in that peaceful quiet, turn up the volume on our sin. Do not allow us to ignore our brokenness. Make us painfully aware of our need for a savior, and open our hearts to accept the grace you extend to us.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Prayer For The Twentieth Day Of Lent

Lord be with us through the dark of night. Keep us safe from the evil that threatens at the door. This fight has come to us because we dare to live as your people in the midst of a broken world, but we have nothing to fear because you are present. You go before us, behind us and with us. And even if in this night evil seems to have the upper-hand, we know that your justice will ultimately reign.

And so we pray for the strength to stand strong against the powers of this dark world. Hasten the sunrise and keep us through the night. Send your Holy Spirit to comfort us so that we will know that we do not face this darkness alone.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Prayer For The Nineteenth Day Of Lent

Lord, we are tired. We our overwhelmed by our sin and by the ineptitude of our vain attempts to save ourselves. Do not let us linger in this state, but come quickly to help us. Let your mercy flow, and let us accept the free gift of your grace. For we know that we cannot come to you, but in your mercy you have bridged the divide for us through the blood of your son. Do not let us forget that.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Loving Your Neighbor Is Hard. A Prayer For The Eighteenth Day Of Lent

Lord, we say all the right things about loving our neighbors and caring for those whose lives are closely linked with ours. But we lie. We are easily angered by people. We do not extend grace to others even though grace has been extended to us. When we are tested, we respond as the world responds - with anger and frustration.

Break us of our pride. Fill us with your Spirit. Help us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Change our hearts so that this area that is our glaring weakness can be transformed and the world can say, "Surely God is great because he filled those callous people with selfless love."

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 9, 2010

A Prayer Attributed To St. Francis
Taken From The Book Of Common Prayer for The Episcopal Church (1979)

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nothing Makes Sense. A Prayer For The Seventeenth Day Of Lent

Lord, we do not understand anything. We do not understand why evil persists in the world. We do not understand why injustice seems to win. We do not understand why our actions appear to make no difference in this life.

We do not understand why you have loved us as your children. We do not understand why you have sacrificed more than we could ever imagine. We do not understand why you have extended your grace to us, wretched sinners that we are.

We do not understand anything except that you are God and greatly to be praised. Remove our confusion and fill us with faith.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 8, 2010

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony Of American History
"Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

(Author disclaimer: There are no affiliate links in this post.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Is Not My Home

My wife and I are moving again. We're packing up our rented duplex and moving six blocks away to the house we're buying. I hate moving. Since we were married in 2003, we have moved from Indianapolis to Minneapolis to Portland back to Minneapolis and back to Indianapolis. That's not even counting the multiple places we've lived in all of those cities. So, I think I come by my hatred for moving honestly.

When you move that much, it's easy to feel like an orphan - like someone without a home. It's easy to convince yourself that you don't belong and that everyone else in the room knows you don't belong. I couldn't get a cup of coffee in Portland without realizing I didn't belong because everyone in there was cooler than me. I couldn't get through a Minnesota winter without realizing I didn't belong on the frozen tundra.

Being an orphan, at least spiritually, is something I've known for awhile. I have long felt stuck between two places - the church and the world. I have loved both and hated both more passionately than you can imagine. I once heard Vigilantes of Love in concert at Taylor University. The lead singer, Bill Malonee, said something to the effect of, "I'm a little too worldly for the church and a little too churchy for the world. I live in a place about the size of a postage stamp." I couldn't have said it better myself.

I used to think this sense of not belonging was a problem, but lately I've begun to wonder if we should all feel a little like orphans. The church should be a place where we learn about community and are refreshed, it should not be the end in-and-of itself. We go to church to experience God's grace in tangible ways. We are then compelled to go into the world to live out that grace for all to see in hopes that they too will want to be transformed by it.

We don't really fit in this world - not yet. But on Sundays during Lent we are reminded to look up from our obsession with our brokenness and set our eyes on the risen Lord who will someday fix this world. Then we will no longer be orphans. We will simply be home.

A Prayer For The Third Sunday Of Lent
Lord, we are orphans in this world. We are alone. Make your presence known to us. Remind us that you walk with us through this life. Be our father and mother when our parents neglect us. Be our brother and sister when those close to us fail us. But above all, be our Savior and bring about your kingdom so that all your orphans might finally have a home.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 7, 2010

Orphan Girl
Gillian Welch

I am an orphan on God's highway
But I'll share my troubles if you go my way
I have no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

I have had friendships pure and golden
But the ties of kinship I have not known them
I know no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

But when He calls me I will be able
To meet my family at God's table
I'll meet my mother my father
My sister my brother
No more orphan girl

Blessed Savior make me willing
And walk beside me until I'm with them
Be my mother my father
My sister my brother
I am an orphan girl

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Prayer For The Sixteenth Day Of Lent

Lord, we thank you for the arrival of spring in the midst of Lent. The signs of life give us hope in the midst of our great fast. Do not let us stumble, but renew our focus on your risen son. Quiet our hearts so that we might continue to make space and seek your will during this season of Lent.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Friday, March 5, 2010

This Too Shall Be Made Right

In my Google Docs account I have about a half dozen blog posts in various stages of production. They include reflections on the brokenness of the world, the problem of evil, thoughts on the fact that I didn't fight in The Crusades, and reflections on feeling stuck between the church and the world. I expect all of them to be written eventually, but not tonight. All of those posts need to "simmer" a little longer.

But all of these future posts have a theme running through them - the need to have a long view of time, God's love and God's judgment. I have hope in a God who will someday set this world right, and that hope allows me to keep my head straight in this world filled with injustice, suffering and death. I am not God, and isn't that a beautiful, hopeful thing.

A Prayer For The Fifteenth Day Of Lent
Lord, we do not understand your love or your judgement. We do not understand why the poor are always with us. We do not understand why violence reigns. We do not understand why the world is the way it is.

Lord, remind us that you are in control. Remind us that you sent your son to provide a way out of our brokenness and sin. Remind us that you are not bound by our concepts of time. Remind us that you will fix this broken world. Remind us that you are God.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

This Too Shall Be Made Right
people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells
whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive
but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Prayer For The Fourteenth Day of Lent

Lord, the road is stretched out before us in all of its exits, detours, and unknown destinations. There is no map except the leading of your Holy Spirit and the passions you give us. Quiet our hearts and minds so that we can know your leading. Give us the wisdom and strength to step into the life - into the adventure - that you would have us lead.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Prayer For The Thirteenth Day Of Lent

Lord, here in the wilderness, alone with thoughts of our own sin and depravity, we are left without words to pray. We are reminded of the words of the apostle Paul about your son Jesus who, "humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross." And we know instantly that we do not deserve you. Do not leave us in the wilderness. O, Lord our strength, come quickly to help us.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 3, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where Are You? A Prayer For The Twelfth Day Of Lent

Lord, we do not understand anything. The earth shakes, and the poor die. We see the evil in the world, but we never see justice. Your son nears death on the cross and you never send your angels to rescue him, turning your back instead as he breathes his last.

And we ask, "Where are you?"

We cannot reconcile our personal experiences of redemption with the tragedy we see in the world. And we cannot reconcile the patience you require of us with our desire to put an end to injustice. You are not bound by the rules of space and time that constrain our frail humanity. Your mercy and grace is infinitely more than we can imagine. And yet we question everything you do, or more bluntly, we question everything we do not see you do.

Send your Holy Spirit to open our eyes to your work in the here and now. Give us the patience only your spirit can give, so that we can spend every last breath working as your agents in this world. Give us a glimpse of the future you promise so that our feet do not grow weary.

Remind us that when we ask, "Where are you?" you respond, "I am here. I have been here. And I will continue to be here. Where are you?"

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

I Cannot Do This Alone
A Lenten Prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.


(Thanks to GodSpace)

Monday, March 1, 2010

We Do Not Travel Alone - Resources For The Journey Of Lent

I'll be honest, this whole trying to be thoughtful and prayerful is harder than it sounded on Ash Wednesday. The 40 days of Lent are meant to mimic the 40 days Jesus fasted and wandered in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. And at times I feel like I'm in my own desert.

Luckily, I am not the only one making this journey. I have found the following resources to be very helpful in my reflections during Lent. I hope they can help you too. (If you come across others, please let me know in the comments.)

Cardiphonia - This site is a great resource for prayer and art in worship. Their Resources For Lent post has a nice collection of songs and other liturgical items for Lent.

Phyllis Tickle - She is best known for her series of books on the Divine Hours, which are a series of fixed hour prayers. In 2008, Beliefnet asked her to journal every day during Lent. You can find the archives here.

Lent & Beyond, An Anglican Prayer Blog - This blog began back during Lent 2004, and is maintained by a group of Anglicans who are concerned about the direction of the Episcopal church. (Anglicans feeling lost in their own denomination have a special place in my heart, My church in Minnesota fell into that camp, and I know how much those years of Anglican liturgy - and the people - impacted my life.) Even if you are not Anglican, I think they have some lovely prayers, reflections, etc.

Though much of Lent is spent reflecting on our own shortcomings, it is nice to know that others are struggling through these same things with us.

A Prayer For The Eleventh Day Of Lent
Lord, as we spend these days of Lent reflecting on our own brokenness, we realize how imperfect we are. We will never understand everything about you. By resting in the knowledge of your radical grace, we are forced to wrestle with difficult problems - problems that will never be resolved with our limited understanding. Make your glory known to us in magnificent and tangible ways. Invade our lives with your Holy Spirit, and let us know that you are God. Drive out our unbelief in ways that even the harshest skeptic can say, "I encountered God."

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, March 1, 2010

Rouse Us Daily By Your Prayers
Grant, Almighty God,
that as you shine on us by your word,
we may not be blind at midnight,
nor wilfully seek darkness,
and thus lull our minds asleep.

But may we be roused daily by your words,
and may we stir up ourselves more and more to fear your name
and thus present ourselves and all our pursuits,
as a sacrifice to you,
that you may peaceably rule,
and perpetually dwell in us,
until you gather us to your kingdom,
where there is reserved for us eternal rest and glory
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- John Calvin (Thanks to Lent & Beyond, An Anglican Prayer Blog)

(Author disclosure: There are no affiliate links in this post.)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ripping Up The Pavement - Streetcars And Orthodoxy

Last week I tweeted, "There are so many pot holes on Washington, it's like God's saying, 'Just rip up the street and put in the light rail now.'" One of my friends commented, "I love it when you can actually see the buried street car rails. And then after loving it, it makes me sad..."

People may not realize that Indianapolis used to have a great street car system. We gave it up to embrace the automobile and paved over the rails. Nearly 60 years later, Indianapolis (like many cities) is talking about installing light rail. We want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a system that is eerily similar to a system we used to have - a system we ripped out. It's like a giant civic do-over.

People are divided over the idea, with valid arguments on either side. But you have to admit, it's kind of odd that we essentially want to embrace an old technology - a technology we previously rejected. Maybe grandpa wasn't as dumb as we thought.

In my life, orthodox theology is like a streetcar. Sure it served a purpose at one time, but I grew to view it as quaint and outdated. Cars (liberal theology1 in this metaphor) seemed like a sexy upgrade (and as someone with an unhealthy love for Mr. Rogers cardigans, I need a sexy upgrade.) No more only taking paths predetermined by someone else. With the car, all roads lead - well, they lead wherever I want them to lead. And isn't my destination the only one that matters?

The failings of moving to cars as the nearly exclusive form of transportation are well known. We're fatter. We're more detached as a society. And I would add that the car (and the suburbs) made it easier for us to give up on the city instead of working through the difficult issues that naturally arise when diverse groups of people live in close proximity to each other.

I think the failings of liberal theology are similar. I can only speak for myself, but in my desire to "evolve beyond orthodoxy," I was hoping to find a nicer, friendly, less weird form of Christianity. Like many people, I assumed that by becoming more inclusive - by making Christianity more palatable to the world - that I would make Christianity more hopeful and more fulfilling for myself.

It fell apart. I'd never been so depressed in my life. I was amazed at the pompous attitudes of liberal Christians. (I suppose that happens when you believe you have saved Christianity from itself.) In fact, what I believe to be one of the most racist, most offensive sermons I have ever heard was given by a liberal Episcopalian priest in Oregon, but that's a story for another time.

It was a long road trip through the liberal wasteland, but ultimately, I became convinced of the beauty of orthodoxy. I realized that when you try to stand for everything, you end up standing for nothing. Liberal theology pushes the source of hope from Christ onto ourselves, and we will ultimately fail ourselves.

The beauty of orthodoxy is what I always thought was its worst aspect - how it remains unchanged. It provides a framework within which I can question and push and try to work through the issues that naturally arise when diverse groups of people try to live out the Gospel together. It reminds us that we are naive to believe that humanity can develop new problems that old wisdom cannot address. It reminds us that the God who defeated death is larger than all of this.

Maybe light rail won't save the city. Maybe it won't reverse the negative impact of the car and urban sprawl. Maybe it won't force people in the suburbs to care about what happens in the city. But I do believe that orthodox theology can save us from the failings of liberal theology. I do believe that ancient truths are relevant to contemporary problems. And I do believe that taking a leap of faith to believe in a God who conquered death is the only way to achieve true hope.

A Prayer For The Second Sunday Of Lent
Lord, we have spent great time and energy trying to bury the truth with which we were raised. We have sold out our hope in you in exchange for some watered down, Hallmark branded version of inclusion. We hate salvation that is not easy and does not play by the rules we have created in our own wisdom. We are a stupid people.

But you love us in our stubbornness and our stupidity. You did not let us linger in our sin, but you sent your son to save us. Send your Holy Spirit to compel us to accept your son as our savior. Humble us in our pride. Show us the way back to orthodoxy.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, February 28, 2010

1When I say liberal theology, I mean the branch of Christianity that tends to assume the Bible and/or church tradition is no longer a valid basis for Christian theology. They tend to want to make Christianity more inclusive and thus de-emphasize some of the more "exclusive" aspects, such as salvation being only through Christ. This is a broad definition and is meant more as a guideline, not a definitive statement about those who would call themselves liberal Christians.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Prayer For The Tenth Day Of Lent

Lord, we try to do what is right. We try to live out the Gospel, even when we are not sure we believe it. Give us the strength to continue to live as we should. Bless our devotion, and allow faith to follow action. Help our hearts to accept the path that our feet know to travel. Light the way and fill us with the faith that only your Holy Spirit can give.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, February 27, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Prayer For The Ninth Day Of Lent

Lord, we pray for silence in our lives. Quiet the noise in the world around us, and allow us to rest. Quiet the noise in our minds, and allow us clarity of thought. Quiet the noise in our hearts, and open us up to receive your Holy Spirit. Give us the patience to make sense of the chaos in which we live.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

If I ever saw you do anything that wasn't ninety percent selfish, I'd die of shock.

Lent is designed to prepare us for Easter, when we will celebrate the risen Christ. But before we get to Easter, we must deal with Good Friday - the night when Christ is crucified. And that crucifixion in all of its gore shines a harsh light on my selfishness. On that night, God the Father chose to turn his back on his own son. He chose to let him suffer and die as payment for our sins.

I have a daughter, and if you ever tried to hurt her, you would have to kill me first. And I'm not an easy out. I would use every last bit of my strength to keep you from hurting my child. Even knowing that, I cannot begin to imagine the sacrifice that God made for me. It was the most selfless act ever.

I think helping a friend move on a Saturday is a sacrifice. I don't know the first thing about sacrifice, or about love. "Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12b-13) By that definition, I don't know that I love that many people. Isn't it sad that after so much has been sacrificed for me, that I find it so hard to truly sacrifice for others? Isn't sad that I find it so hard to love?

A Prayer For The Eighth Day Of Lent

Lord, we are a selfish people. We care more about our own comfort than we do about those in need. We mistake discomfort for sacrifice. We dare question your love and your goodness, even though you sacrificed your son for us. We do not want to turn from our selfish ambitions, so we declare you imaginary, irrelevant or dead in order to avoid the sacrifice that following you demands. Give us opportunities to truly sacrifice in your name, and send your Holy Spirit to empower us to sacrifice when you ask us to.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Prayer For The Seventh Day Of Lent

Lord, this winter seems to have no end. We only need to walk outside our door to feel a sense of despair. Winter is your way of reminding us that we are horrible people who deserve nothing more than death. Please do not leave us here. Give us a glimpse of spring - give us a glimpse of the empty tomb - during the long winter of Lent so that we can have the strength to continue forward.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

-Ben Reed, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Course It's Weird - Some Dude Rose From The Dead

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."
-Flannery O'Connor
As I've been trying to create space during Lent in which to encounter God, I've been convicted of some wrong attitudes I've had over the last few years. One of the biggest is my unwillingness to live as someone truly transformed by the Gospel. I don't want to live that way because it would be weird.

It's weird because Christianity is weird. We believe that God humbled himself and became man. We believe that he was crucified, took on the weight of our sin, died and was buried. We believe that he rose from the dead. That's just weird.

And it should inspire weird lives. If we're honest, we're not that weird. (And "witty" t-shirts are not divine weirdness; they're just bad art.) How are our priorities, our actions or even our expectations about life, any different than those who don't believe in Christianity?

But I don't want to be weird; I want to be liked. I'm afraid that people will be turned off by the weirdness of a life truly transformed by the Gospel. Some might be turned off, but what I don't realize is that the weirdness is what's beautiful.

Whenever I feel like I need to be reminded of the beauty of being weird in the name of God, I pull out a little Danielson. While they've taken various forms over the years, the driving creative force has always been Daniel Smith. His lyrics are Christian (and a little weird), and his music tends to fall toward the less accessible end of the spectrum.

The beautiful thing is that his faith leads him to make challenging art that people are forced to wrestle with. There is a documentary out about the band called Danielson: a Family Movie. I haven't seen it, but the trailer (embedded below) gives you a taste for how so many fans are almost disgusted (or at least annoyed) by the band's overt faith. But the beauty of the art keeps drawing them in.

I know I have trouble being comfortable in my own skin. I care too much what others think. I need to embrace the weirdness of the Gospel and the way it changed my life. And I need to live it out in all of it's beautiful, awe inspiring weirdness.

As Daniel Smith [I believe it's Daniel] says in the trailer, "It's not for us, by us, to us, or about us. So, we just keep pointing to the creator of music - the maker." May we all strive to do just that.

A Prayer For The Sixth Day Of Lent
Lord we thank you for the truth you have revealed to us in your son, Jesus Christ. And we praise you for the beautiful, awe-inspiring weirdness that is the Gospel. Send us your Holy Spirit so that we can embody this weirdness for the world to see. Let it permeate our lives. Let it inspire beauty. Let it force us to redefine the expectations of the world. Let it shine so bright that the world must wrestle with it's beauty, it's intricacy and it's revolution. Lord, make us weird.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

"Did I Step On Your Trumpet"
Lyrics and Music by Daniel Smith
Copyright 2006

Did I step on your trumpet
Or did I lump
Lump them in with you

I put your name on the ballot
'Cause you should run
Though you don't want to

I've been called the wet blanket
By cranks who I out rank with no thanks
Who do not have a

Yes I know how to be quiet just one more thing
I made you something

I wrote for you a lovely sonnet
'Bout two great friends
Your truly and you

We'll grant just one social skill
Share a gesture of goodwill

I try
To relate
With my shipmates

Then I just start blurting out the first thing on my mind

How am I looking in your frilly bonnet
With the diamond on it
I guess I better go

I'm a people magnet
When I wear your jacket
Good luck getting this

Pleasing people
Is so predictable
We love you now
Then stab you how many

Time I obsess
And am making a mess
Failing to impress you
In all that I can't do

Would you take care of my pet parrot
And feed him these
He speaks less than me

You speak so much about my casket
My body basket
Did I do something wrong

We'll grant one more social clue
The landfill shall be home to you

All my ships
Sailing relatons
Have finally found

Who I am made out to be
Me and free of

Pleasing people
Is so predictable
We love you now
Then stab you how many
Time I obsess
And am making a mess
Failing to impress you
In all that I can't

Be just who you're made to be
Pappa is so mighty pleased with thee

Did I Step On Your Trumpet? from Sounds Familyre on Vimeo.