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)

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